Friday, February 24, 2012

Movies about Teaching(or just schools in some way)

Action, Romance, Sci-Fi, and Musical are among the dozens of movie genres listed on the IMDB website.  The TU feels compelled to argue for the inclusion of at least one more.  Teacher Movies.  Movies about teaching, like the profession, defy simple explanation.  Yet perhaps they like no other medium convey what the job can really be like.  If you watch all these  simultaneously...maybe then you'd get a glimpse into the average teacher's day.  In a world where teachers no longer have any allies, sometimes a movie about what you do can get you through.

We are no Siskel and Ebert but we do watch a lot of movies.  Ergo, we are experts.  In no particular order here is the not so  anticipated Teaching Underground list of definitive Teacher movies with contributor commentary included.  Enjoy. 

Feel free to add your own favorites in the comments section

Stand and Deliver(1988)
Lindsay’s take:
Jaime Escalante, are you serious?  Could he have been more awesome?  Edward James Olmos does an amazing job portraying one of the most inspiring teachers ever.  I got past the comb-over and really admire that Escalante for the difference he made in kids lives.  I never took Calculus but bet I could learn a great deal from him.  He died last year and TU tips its cap to him and this movie.  By the way Lou Diamond Philips has been in more movies than anyone, ever.

Turner's take: 
I was young enough to confuse Olmos' role in this film with his role in Miami Vice.  Pretty confusing.  I did learn the power of expectations from this film.  But we sometimes only take half of the formula from this film.  The expectations alone didn't make those kids succeed.  They worked hard.  I like that the film emphasizes how much learning is about a relationship between students and teachers.

Lindsay’s take:
"Real Teaching Leaves a Mark"  Perhaps the most unappreciated of the films on our list.  Morgan Spurlock's  “Office” style film was oh so close to completely nailing it.  Honestly it is probably the most realistic movie.  But I was left wanting a little more follow through with some of the humor in the story.  But if you are a teacher, you HAVE to watch it.  Ignore what offends and just laugh at the stupidity of half of what we endure.  You can almost get a sense of the terror when things go south.

Turner's take: 
My favorite teacher movie!  I completely relate to the first year teacher in this film.  Perhaps my only criticism of the movie would be that they had to plant hidden cameras in my school to gain so much inside information on it.  Either that or we have more similarities than we think among public schools.  From what I've read, this movie was actually made by teachers on a ten thousand dollar budget.  Well worth it.

“You’re a horrible teacher”  “Well you would know cause you’re a horrible student”

Lean on Me(1989)
Lindsay’s take:
Morgan Freeman does what he always does.  And he makes the arrogant but admirable Joe Clark jump off the screen.  I am glad I don’t work for Clark.  But this movie is deep.  What lies beneath?  State takeovers, school reform, racial and economic disparity, failing schools…it was there all along.  Why didn’t I see it?  Clearly I’ll have to go back and watch this one again through the lens of a teacher in today’s world.  Moral of this movie:  Bull Horns = Respect  Oh and know your schools alma mater, or else.  

Turner's take:
Morgan Freeman patrolling the halls with a baseball bat.  That's all I've got to say. 

Mr. Holland’s Opus(1995)
Lindsay’s take:
Now I subbed for a music teacher when I first started and it was nothing like this movie.  #1 Dreyfus isn’t crazy and all band teachers have to be crazy.  Certifiable.  #2 Siskel and Ebert gave it two thumbs up.  This film came out as I was finishing up my education and I realized at some point while watching that hey…teaching? That can be pretty amazing stuff.  (I was naïve)   Funny how Holland “fell” into  teaching.  Not sure I did either.  That’s about where the similarities end.  Gotta admit being a little creeped out by the whole Rowena situation and bummed when I found out Louis Russ died.  Full range of emotions, I give it two thumbs in the ear. 

Turner's take: 
I think the value of this film is the understanding the importance of "non-academic" subjects in education.  It also shows just how different the tasks of teaching are from one subject area to the next.  Other than that, I've got to admit, it isn't one of my favorites.

Dead Poet’s Society(1989)
Lindsay’s take:
I ‘m not ever sure what this movie was actually about.  But it was really good.  Man Mork did a great job.  And when they stood on that desk at the end.  Enough to make a shy kid like I was at the time pick a fight with a bully.  I think that every teacher is required to stand on their desk at least once in their career.   Wait…he got fired?    I really can't explain why I haven't been then.  “Oh Captain,  my captain!”

Turner's take:
Usually I stand on my desk when I need to bang on the ceiling to get the language teachers upstairs to quiet down.  But, this movie showed that education is really about growing into one's self much more than filling a brain with facts. 

"Carpe Diem"

Ferris Bueller;s Day Off(1986)
 Lindsay’s take:
Maybe, just maybe the most culturally significant.  They just don’t seem to write characters like this anymore.  Ferris, Cameron, Sloane, Mr. Rooney and everyone’s favorite Ben Stein as everyone's favorite  “Economics teacher”.  Required joke at some point in every class is the line “Bueller, Bueller”  The experts throw in "Anyone? Anyone?  Voodoo economics.”   This film is about one man’s struggle to take it easy…our crafty protagonist gets through it all and beats the system and shows what can really happen when you take a day off from school.  This movie is dangerous.  Basically a guidebook to fool parents.  It should be banned.  I am glad it is not because it features my all time favorite actress Mia Sara who plays Sloane(who I maybe had a crush on then)   If Mia reads maybe she’ll find my E-mail on here…just saying.   I always felt bad for Cameron and not sure I really liked Ferris.  Maybe I should only feel bad for Mr. Rooney?  Or Charlie Sheen who really stretched himself as an actor in this one playing someone whacked out on drugs.
"You still Here?  It’s over. Go Home.  Go.”

Turner's take:
"Save Ferris!"  A parent told me just the other day that she'd given her son permission to miss a week of school to go skiing in Colorado with some friends.  He's a good kid, good grades, works well with others, etc.  She felt a little guilty, but I would do the same thing.  Now sometimes a kid skipping school or parents letting them do it is just irresponsible.  But sometimes a little break from the routine can turn into quite a life shaping experience.  Just ask Ferris.

The Breakfast Club(1985)
Lindsay's take:
This movie like that song help me escape back to a time when life wasn’t so complicated.
Can a movie end any better?  This is the oldest film on our list and as a pre-teen in 1985 this was one of  those John Hughes’ films that potentially changed lives.  Not sure how but that doesn’t matter.  Anthony Michael Hall was and probably still is one of my biggest idols.  At the time I am not sure I got have the humor in here but I laughed none the less.   For the serious among you take this as a cautionary tale about leaving kids unsupervised.  For the not so serious they never actually ate breakfast…hmmm?  

Turner's take:
This film made me think that I definitely wanted Saturday detention when I got to high school.  It's easy to forget how much emotional baggage we carry as teenagers.  Watching a film like this every now and again helps put you back in that place and hopefully understand that some of the things about teenagers that we find trite and silly are really significant markers in their lives.

Billy Madison(1995)
Lindsay’s take:
A good escape and I am pretty sure it is a true story.   Sandler movies are well Sandler movies but perhaps no other film collapses the process of education so well(really?).  Chris Farley does his thing and too many one liners to recount.
There is for me no greater line in filmaking than when during the academic decathalon the following is spoken by the judge.   As a tennis coach and fan, Bridgette Wilson gives me yet another reason to appreciate Pete Sampras. 

Turner's take: 
I know it's from a different film, but I'm so glad that Sandler refers to the Medulla Oblongata in The Waterboy.  My psych students remember it so much better because of it.  As silly as the film is, watching a grown person invade the life of school kids at least makes you think about the reason and purpose of education in the first place.

Honorable Mention  that we considered
School of Rock 
Dangerous Minds
   Coolio's best song

To Sir with Love
   (before our time)
Freedom Writers
   (never saw it...too artsy?)


  1. the movie TEACHERS with Nick Nolte is the best teaching movie ever! Came out in the early 80's and portrays life in an inner city high school with a diverse staff. SUMMER SCHOOL is a great comedy teaching movie that is about a PE teacher forced to teach English to a bunch of misfits in summer school to gain his tenure. Lastly, CLASS OF 1984 was a great punk rock movie about a gang of high school kids who go to war with a substitute teacher. Which reminds me, THE SUBSTITUTE was a great teaching movie staring Tom Berringer who fights bad dudes in school. You should also include the movie FAME to your list as well.

  2. I remember TEACHERS, but never saw it. I was young when it came out. I had totally forgotten about SUMMER SCHOOL. I remember that one in the theaters. Loved it at the time, but I don't know if it would stand the test of time. I've yet to see CLASS OF 1984 or THE SUBSTITUTE.

  3. No doubt we left a lot on the table here. Thought about Teachers but Nolte's heyday is a little before me. Can't remember all the details but thought it was decent. Summer School...that kid that was in the bathroom the whole time. ClassicHad the girl from Melrose Place and of course Mark Harmon of NCIS(Leroy Jethro Gibbs). The that the Tom Berrenger one where he'd a former soldier? Not quite as good to me as "The Principal". Who feeds a dog chili?(that's a story for another day)

  4. The Freedom Writers is actually a great movie. I think it is based on a true story--which makes it pretty inspiring. Love your blog.

  5. Jen,
    I haven't seen The Freedom Writers yet. I know it's not particularly new, but my movie experiences over the last ten years has been relatively sparse.

  6. Jen,
    I judge you to be a wise individual based on your comments about the blog. :) Maybe that'll convince me to watch The Freedom Writers. I better not cry though...

    I thought of one more film even though it is a documentary. American Teacher
    Why? Cause Matt Damon is awesome, that's why.