Back to School!!! Top 5 Teacher Movies
September 1, 2010 30 Comments
It’s September already — can you believe it?! The last days of summer are upon us and Labor Day, is right around the corner. With that, the start of the new school year. Kids getting back on the bus, parents inwardly feeling giddy, and teachers secretly wishing for just another 2 weeks of vacation before the beginning of a whole new school year. I have a few classes to teach myself this Fall semester, which I remain excited about. So in the spirit of “Going Back to School,” I thought I’d come up with a list to commemorate the event — the Top 5 Movies About Teachers! There are not very many great ones to pick from, so I kept it to just a select few. To all the teachers…WELCOME BACK TO WAKING UP AT THE CRACK OF ASS, WRITING LESSON PLANS, GRADING POOR PAPERS, & DEALING WITH IDIOTIC PARENTS!!! Don’t worry, Thanksgiving vacation isn’t so far away…
THE TOP 5 MOVIES ABOUT TEACHERS
Arthur Penn directs this classic film, based on the poignant and celebrated true story. Anne Bancroft plays Annie Sullivan, a teacher who is determined to reach her deaf and blind student, Helen Keller (Patty Duke) despite the pupil’s unruly and unwilling attitude. Helen has been blind and deaf since birth and is now in danger of being sent away to an institution because of her inability to communicate. Through sheer will, determination, heart and ingenuity, Annie breaks through to her young student. Both Bancroft and Duke created the roles on Broadway and reprised their characters here in this inspirational and touching motion picture. They also took home Oscars for their work here. William Gibson adapts his own stage play — a riveting film that touches on so many emotions and leaves us always in wonder.
#4. Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939)
All I can say here is watch the original film because nothing else compares to this classic. Robert Donat pulled a major upset this year winning the “Best Actor” Oscar (besting Clark Gable, among others) for portraying Mr. Chipping, an old history teacher who looks back on his long teaching career, his students and Katherine (Greer Garson), the love of his life. At first, Mr. Chipping can’t seem to handle his students and is even threatened by the Headmaster — if he doesn’t use proper discipline and gain the respect of his students, he will be fired. He eventually gains their respect and aspires to someday be Headmaster himself. Mr. Chipping is a shy and quiet guy and when he goes abroad with a colleague and friend, he meets the lovely Katherine. The two fall in love and she heads back with him to the very traditional setting of the Brookfield Boarding School. Donat is terrific to watch here, portraying a teacher who learns so much through teaching these boys, year after year. In such a phenomenal year for films, this one tens to be forgotten, but it really shouldn’t. It stands on its own merit and a must-see for every educator out there.
#3. Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995)
I adore this movie. Richard Dreyfuss plays a musician and composer who takes on a teaching job to support his family. He takes it on temporarily and yearns to leave to get back to his dream of being a successful composer. But the years go by one by one and he finds himself stuck. Little by little, he takes a more active interest in his students and the community itself. By the end, Mr. Holland realizes that he has truly made a remarkable impact on his students and his influence as a teacher, much more profound than any he would have had as a composer. A touching script by Patrick Sheane Duncan and directed with great sleight of hand by Stephen Herek. Dreyfuss gives a tour-de-force performance as Mr. Holland and we see not only him as music instructor, but the difficulties he has with his wife (Glenne Headly) and deaf son, who he shuts out throughout his childhood. The film also does a very nice job of taking us through the ever-changing social elements in society as the years go on. It’s a moving film and a great profile of a teacher who doesn’t really have his heart into it at first, and can think of nothing more he would want to do by the end of his brilliant tenure.
#2. To Sir, With Love (1967)
First we saw Sidney Poitier on the other side of the classroom in Blackboard Jungle (another excellent film that just missed the cut). Here, he plays Mark Thackeray, an engineer-turned-teacher who takes on a teaching position in the rough part of East End London. So many of the other teachers have already given up on these rowdy, hopeless kids and Thackeray immediately realizes what he is up against. Poitier is the exemplary inspirational figure here (much like our teacher in the #1 film) — he sees that the standard method of teaching straight from the textbooks isn’t going to reach these kids. So he throws them out and decides to teach them about life. He also gets pretty damn tough with them ( as when he rips into the girls in his class: “I am sick of your foul language, your crude behavior and your sluttish manner. There are certain things a decent woman keeps private…If you must play these filthy games, do them in your homes, and not in my classroom!“). In doing so, he gains their respect, their attention and their trust. Like all of the other educators on this list, Thackeray changes the lives of his students and leaves an ever-lasting impact. Poitier is all commanding here and the film also manages to tackle such controversial issues as race and socio-economic politics. A rousing film…
I don’t care what you say…this isn’t only my favorite “teacher movie,” but one of my all-time favorite movies period. I don’t know why so many give this film grief — is it because of the overly dramatic “Oh Captain, my Captain” at the end when certain students stand on their desks one by one? You think that’s a bit hokey? Eh, I’ll buy that. Of course, that scene always makes me cry, but there are so many others that bring on such a well of emotion in me. Set in the 1950’s era at a New England boys prep school, the students are introduced to their new, unorthodox instructor, John Keating (Robin Williams). Williams gives a remarkable performance here and his Professor Keating is one of the most inspirational figures I have witnessed in recent film, having changed the lives of his students forever. He is everything that a teacher should be — intelligent, witty, creative, inspiring, and caring. The center of the film to me has always been the character of the extremely shy Todd Anderson (a much younger Ethan Hawke) and his “awakening” of sorts. The scene where Keating forces Todd to recite an ad-lib poem in front of the class is the film’s highpoint for me, as the camera goes round and round. Peter Weir directs what I think to be his best film so far, with gorgeous cinematography and great supporting performances by Josh Charles, Robert Sean Leonard, Kurtwood Smith, and Norman Lloyd. Keating is wholly devoted to teaching his children more than what they read in the antiquated textbooks — he is interested in teaching them about finding themselves and lighting a spark beneath them. A superlative teacher and a truly magnificent film. Thank you, Captain!