Whether or not you ever had a memorable teacher growing up — someone who went the extra mile to make that connection or to ensure that you did everything you could do to reach your full potential — you’re sure to have had a memorable movie teacher. Cinema is littered with inspiring tales of teachers who face unassailable odds to break through to their ragtag group of misfit students and inspire them to new levels of educational and personal success.
Here is a roundup of some of our favorites:
10. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
Miss Jean Brodie (Maggie Smith) reminds the girls in her Scottish school over and over again that she is there in her “prime” to teach them to be the best and most intelligent young women that they can be. She says, “I am in the business of putting old heads on young shoulders” and “I am a teacher! I am a teacher, first, last, always!” Not everyone will agree on her methods, but you can’t deny her dedication.
9. Dangerous Minds
Former Marine Louanne Johnson (Michelle Pfeiffer) struggles to connect with her students during her first year of teaching in an inner-city school. Through her persistence and her efforts to find a personal connection with her students, she helps her students find success in school and learn that there are more options for them in life.
8. Freedom Writers
Here’s another story about a struggling young teacher in a tough inner-city school. The movie is based on the true story of Erin Gruwell (Hilary Swank) who inspires her students to write about their lives and to pursue their education beyond high school. Many of her students went on to become teachers themselves.
7. To Sir, With Love
Mark Thackeray (Sidney Poitier) is another young teacher — this time, a former engineer — working in a school on the bad side of town — this time, in London. Thackeray throws out the school’s lesson plans and teaches his students some real lessons about life, including the discrimination of both race and class.
6. The School of Rock
Jack Black plays Dewey Finn, a broke rocker who nabs a teaching position through a case of mistaken identity. He doesn’t take the position seriously at first, but after deciding that the students at his upscale prep school need an education in creativity and self-expression, he makes a connection through music.
5. Lean on Me
Joe Clark (Morgan Freeman) was technically a principal, not a teacher, but his character was a memorable one in the genre. Clark took an authoritarian approach — winning respect through discipline instead of trying to be his students’ friend. Turns out that kids really do respect rules: the kids in the film became better students after Clark started enforcing the rules.
Blue Rain (Paula Patton) reaches out to Precious (Gabourey Sidibe) and helps her to learn to read and write and, ultimately, pass the GED. Precious was raped by her father and abused by her mother, and Ms. Rain is one of the only people to try to help Precious change her situation.
3. Stand and Deliver
Jaime Escalante (Edward James Olmos) does such a good job of teaching his students that they are accused of cheating. He inspires his students to build their self-esteem by learning math and, ultimately, passing the AP Calculus exam. Other teachers had given up on the students as un-teachable.
2. Mr. Holland’s Opus
Glenn Holland (Richard Dreyfus) comes to teaching as a young, frustrated composer trying to pay his bills. He uses music to make a connection with his students — ultimately finding his true calling and composing his true “opus.”
1. Dead Poet’s Society
This is one of the quintessential movies about inspirational teachers. John Keating (Robin Williams) helps his prep school students connect with their inner desires and to learn more about life than what is in their textbooks and their college prep plans.