8 Movies That Remind Teachers Why They Teach

8 Movies That Remind Teachers Why They Teach

While all movies are a great source of entertainment, movies that feature the role of teachers and their impact on students can be inspiring. Movies that feature this experience of teaching can be validating for educators.

All teachers- from first year novices to veterans-can enjoy the lessons or the messages in many of the films listed below. They show teachers as leaders (The Great Debaters), as mentors (Finding Forrester), or as unconventional disrupters in educational settings (School of Rock). Some films show teachers with experiences may seem familiar (Mean Girls) while others showcased experiences that should be avoided (Bad Teacher).

The following eight films are some of the best teacher films of the 21st Century (2000 to present). Whatever a teacher's reason to watch, these eight movies show how central the teaching profession can be at the heart of a good story.

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The Great Debaters

Director: Denzel Washington (2007); Rated PG-13 for depiction of strong thematic material including violence and disturbing images, and for language and brief sexuality.

Genre: Drama (based on a true story)

Plot Summary:
Melvin B. Tolson (played by Denzel Washington) a professor (1935-36), at Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, inspired by the Harlem Renaissance, coached their debate team to a nearly-undefeated season. This film records the first debate between U.S. students from white and Negro colleges that ended with an invitation to face debate champions from Harvard University.

Tolson's team of four, which included a female student, is tested in encounters with Jim Crow laws, sexism, a lynch mob, an arrest and near riot, a love affair, jealousy, and a national radio audience.


Melvin B. Tolson: "I am here to help you to find, take back, and keep your righteous mind."
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Freedom Writers

Director: Richard LaGravenese; (2007) rated PG-13 for violent content, some thematic material and language

Genre: Drama

Plot Summary:
When a young teacher Erin Gruwell (played by Hilary Swank) requires an assignment of writing a daily journal, her reluctant and low-achieving students begin to open up to her.

The storyline of the movie begins with scenes from the 1992 Los Angeles Riots. Gruwell inspires her class of at-risk students to learn tolerance, to develop motivation, and to pursue education beyond high school.


Erin Gruwell: "But to get respect you have to give it… "
Andre: "… Why should I give you my respect to you? Because you're a teacher? I don't know you. How do I know you're not a liar standing up there. How do I know you're not a bad person standing up there? I'm not just gonna give you my respect because you're called a teacher."
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Finding Forrester

Director: Gus Van Sant (2000); Rated PG-13 for brief strong language and some sexual references

Genre: Drama

Plot Summary:
Jamal Wallace (played by Rob Brown) is an exceptionally gifted basketball player. As a result, he receives a scholarship to a prestigious prep school in Manhattan.

Suspect circumstances lead him to encounter a reclusive writer, William Forrester ​(played by Sean Connery) There are shades of the real-life reclusive writer JD Salinger (Catcher in the Rye) in the character of Forrester.

Their unlikely friendship eventually leads Forrester to deal with his reclusiveness and for Wallace to develop strength in meeting the racial prejudices in order to pursue his true dream - writing.


Forrester: "No thinking - that comes later. You must write your first draft with your heart. You rewrite with your head. The first key to writing is… to write, not to think!"
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The Emperor's Club

Director: Michael Hoffman (2002); Rated PG-13 for some sexual content.

Genre: Drama

Plot Summary:
Classics professor William Hundert (played by Kevin Kline) is a passionate and principled teacher. His contol is challenged, and then altered, when a new student, Sedgewick Bell (played by Emile Hirsch) walks into his classroom. The fierce battle of wills between teacher and student develops into a close student-teacher relationship. Hundert recalls how this relationship still haunts him a quarter of a century later.


William Hundert: "However much we stumble, it is a teacher's burden always to hope, that with learning, a boy's character might be changed. And, so, the destiny of a man."
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Mean Girls

Director: Mark Waters (2004); rated PG-13 for sexual content, language and some teen partying

Genre: Comedy

Plot Summary:
Cady Heron (played by Lindsay Lohan), has been homeschooled in Africa for 15 years. When she enters public school for the first time, she meets members of the clique the "Plastics"-considered the meanest or worst- in the school. Heron joins and eventually gets assimilated into the group of three unkind girls.

Teacher Ms. Norbury (played by Tina Fey) is eventually able to show how the damage from school gossip and bullying reflects on those who participate. Heron's attempt to bring down the members of the "Plastics" offers a humorous take on a serious issue in some high schools.


Ms. Norbury: to Cady "I know having a boyfriend might seem like the only thing important to you right now, but you don't have to dumb yourself down in order for a guy to like you."
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School of Rock

Director: Richard Linklater (2003); Rated PG-13 for some rude humor and drug references.

Genre: Comedy

Plot Summary:
When down and out rock star Dewey Finn ( Jack Black) gets fired from his band, he faces a mountain of debts. The only job available is as a 4th grade substitute teacher at an uptight private school. Despite battles with the school principal Rosalie Mullins (played by Joan Cusack), his unconventional teaching of a rock and roll curriculum has a powerful effect on his students. He leads students in a "battle of the bands" competition, one which would solve his financial problems and also put him back in the spotlight.


Dewey Finn: "I'm a teacher. All I need are minds for molding."
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Take the Lead

Director: Liz Friedlander (2006); Rated PG-13 for thematic material, language and some violence

Genre: Drama

Plot Summary:
When quiet and unassuming dance instructor Pierre Dulaine (played by Antonio Banderas) witnesses a student vandalize a car outside a school, he volunteers to teach dance to students. He argues that learning to dance competitively will provide an opportunity for students to learn respect, dignity, self-confidence, trust, and teamwork.

Set in New York, Dulaine struggles against the prejudice and ignorance of the students, parents and other teachers. His determination brings the group to compete in a ballroom dance contest.


Pierre Dulaine: "To do something, anything, is hard. It's much easier to blame your father, your mother, the environment, the government, the lack of money, but even if you find a place to assign the blame,it doesn't make the problems go away."
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Bad Teacher

Director: Jake Kasdan (2011); Rated R for sexual content, nudity, language and some drug use.

Genre: Comedy (adult)

Plot Summary:
Elizabeth Halsey (played by Cameron Diaz) is an awful teacher: foul-mouthed, scheming, and unscrupulous. But, in order to pay for breast-implant surgery, she takes a position at a middle school. Once she learns there is a pay bonus for the teacher whose class scores highest on the state exam, she abandons her plan to take it easy by showing films and sleeping in class. To make sure her scheme works, she steals the test booklet and answers.

The only skill she has as a teacher is her (brutal) honesty with students. Perky teacher Amy Squirrel (played by Lucy Punch) competes with Halsey; gym teacher Russell Gettis (played by Jason Segel) provides droll commentary on Halsey's antics.

The film's satirical look at education is more comical than uplifting: definitely NOT for students.


Elizabeth Halsey: takes bite out of an apple "I thought the teachers were supposed to get the apples."
Amy Squirrel: "Well, I think the students teach me at least as much as I teach them. That's just something I say sometimes."
Elizabeth Halsey: "Stupid."
tosses apple at a recycle bin and misses