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Education Opinion

Lessons From Educators on the Big Screen: Part III

By Matthew Lynch — June 09, 2014 2 min read

It may be true that Hollywood tends to glamorous things and turn true stories into not-so-true ones for the screen, but there are also a lot of impactful films that serve a purpose. In the case of teachers, Hollywood has produced some great examples of lessons that are integral to strong educators. Last week I mentioned six of my favorites that fall into this category, and today I want to add my final three.

Won’t Back Down (2012): Teachers unions panned this one because of its implications that organizations like theirs were to blame for school underperformance. At the heart of the movie, though, is a teacher (played by Viola Davis) partnering with parents to make a difference in the lives of the people who mattered: students. The movie is set in Pittsburgh which I think is important because it tells an urban, inner-city story. I think this is the type of film that makes people uncomfortable, but in all the right ways. I also appreciate that in this film parents are part of the solution - I think that in and of itself is a powerful message to teachers.

Remember the Titans (2000): There are teachers in the classroom, and there are teachers outside it. This Denzel Washington classic shows that character and belief, despite all odds, can overcome a lot. The racial tensions in the movie demonstrated through a high school football team also show how schools are at often at the front lines of social change. Important changes do not just happen overnight, either. They take dedication, especially when the stakes are high. Washington’s character isn’t easy on his students either. He pushes them to point of being uncomfortable but brings them past their barriers in the process.

Stand and Deliver (1988): It’s not easy to teach students who are not willing to learn, particularly if the subject is calculus. In this Edward James Olmos classic, he takes control of a class of dropout prone students and not only keeps them in school, but teaches them some of the toughest topics. The students featured are not surprisingly urban and low-income (but some of the strongest teachers are needed in these very schools, even today). Where this movie was ahead of its time was in its depiction of Hispanic students. Other movies with students in need of saving had maybe one or two Hispanic characters, but the high school in this one is predominantly full of this demographic. Since 1988, the Hispanic K-12 population has exploded, making this movie even more relevant and impactful to the educators of today.

All 10 of the movies I put on my list are ones that made me stop and think about my career when I first saw them. Scenes from them still pop in my head and in some cases, inspire me. It can be so easy to get caught up in the monotony and paper-pushing of the education industry and in the process, lose sight of the truly important parts of teaching. Taking a few moments to watch these movies for the first time, or rewatch them, can restore your faith in the profession. After all, no one ever got into teaching to fill out reports correctly, or pass through as many students as possible. We all have our deep-seeded reasons for becoming educators and the characteristics we see on the screen in these movies remind us of our own ideals.

In reading through my list, are there any movies that you think I missed? What films about teachers have made the biggest impact on your career?

Dr. Matthew Lynch is the author of the newly released textbook, The Call to Teach: An Introduction to Teaching. To order it via Amazon, please click on the following link.

The opinions expressed in Education Futures: Emerging Trends in K-12 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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