Back to School!!! Top 5 Teacher Movies

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…



#5. The Miracle Worker (1962)

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…

#1. Dead Poet’s Society (1989)

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!

30 Responses to Back to School!!! Top 5 Teacher Movies

  1. Bluej says:

    Great List…I love finding unique top 10 lists and yours is superb!

  2. Heather says:

    To Sir With Love and Dead Poets Society were the first two that popped in my head. Dead Poets Society is definitely the greatest ever. O Captain O Captain! Sheesh, here it gets me all choked up. Robin Williams is so underutilized.

    Mr. Hollands Opus was good but sooo wishy washy I haven’t watched it in years.

    I thought of Stand and Deliver, cheesy, but a good movie. I don’t care what anyone says, I loved Dangerous Minds! And hell, I even liked Renaissance Man. And hey, what of Professor Lupin from Harry Potter?

    Perhaps not the best representation of teachers but some that I wish would have been mine would have included:

    Arnie in Kindergarten Cop: IT’S NOT A TUMAH!!!!!!!!

    Miss Lippy in Billy Madison or Veronica Vaughn, I wouldn’t mind sharing milk with her.

  3. I’ve seen 3 of the movies you listed. Dead Poet’s Society is one of my favourite movies. And I think I know the scene you speak off. Its one of my favourite movie scenes as well and is part of my The Scene series

    Another one I liked was Les choristes. Its a pretty popular french movie about a teacher who goes to teach at a rigid boarding school for troubled boys and orphans. And through music, encourages them to have fun, motivates them to learn and be better people. And of course the music in it was just beautiful.

    • Yes, that is the scene! Great choice to post on your blog. Nicely done. It always gives me goose-bumps. Thanks for the recommendation…I never saw that one. I saw the french film “The Class” a couple of years ago but wasn’t thrilled with it.

  4. Novroz says:

    This is a great Read. I have never watched any of those movies but your post makes me want to see it.

    I’ve hheard a lot about dead poet’s society but never got the chance to see it.

    Tell you the truth, I can’t recall any teacher movies that impressed me…tho I am a teacher, I should take example of those teacher movies. The ones that give strong impression on me are Japanese Dorama about teachers

    • Oh, you MUST check out Dead Poets — it’s wonderful! If you are a teacher, I’d also watch To Sir and Mr. Chips as well…classics and inspiring. Others like Lean on Me and Dangerous Minds get hokey and too Hollywood-y for my taste.

      • Novroz says:

        I’ll keep that in mind, the problem with old movies is they are hard to find…but I’ll keep my eyes open if those movies appear in one of TV Channels here or in my frequent DVD shops. Thanks for sharing it.

  5. Aiden R says:

    John Keating = the man. Robert Sean Leonard’s dad = one of the biggest sonsofbitches of all-time.

    I’m also on the Half Nelson bandwagon, but I’m kinda used to not seeing eye-to-eye with eveyrone on that.

    Solid list, man.

  6. Aaron Weiss says:

    No love for High School High?

  7. Nora says:

    I LOVE Mr. Holland’s Opus, and Dead Poet’s! another really good one: Dangerous Minds

    • I considered Dangerous Minds, but didn’t come close to the top 5. Holland doesn’t get much love for some reason, so I had to include – it’s too good of a movie and he was amazing.

  8. tracey says:

    Mr. Thackeray is my all-time favorite!!!
    But I do love Mr. Keating. “Listen, you hear it?….carpe….hear it?”

  9. Zelle says:

    Wonder if john keating complained about waking up at the “crack of ass” too

  10. Joel Burman says:

    A great Swedish film about a teacher is “Ole dole doff” by Jan Troell more famous for his emigrant adaptations and of course “Hets” written by your house god Ingo Bergman.

    But where’s Ferris Buehlers day off???

    • Oooo…thanks for the recommendation. I actually take evryone’s rec’s and get to them at some point. ferris is awesome, of course, but I was focusing on films that examined the teachers a bit more. And lay off my Ingmar — the guy rocked!!! 🙂

  11. rtm says:

    You have the most awesome lists Peter, love this one and so timely! I adore Dead Poets Society when I was in Jr high, love that movie! I also love Prof. Dumbledore in HP movies… I wish I had a teacher like him, so wise and caring.

    • Thanks, Ruth! Greatly appreciated. Very kind of you. I try to be timely, if I can be (holiday films in December, Scary films in october, etc…). Glad to hear you also love DPS…a few of my former students tagged me as Dumbledore on Facebook as “Teacher of the Decade” which I was greatly humbled by. Thanks, again, Ruth!!! I try to keep up with the awesome FlixChatter site….

  12. Raul Duke says:

    Some low brow humor for this subject…

    Animal House and Back to School with Dangerfield my picks.

  13. MAGGIE SIMI says:


  14. kaymayer says:

    I’ve only seen Dead Poets Society and was surprised when you didn’t pick the movies that I had been thinking when I read the title; such as Freedom Writers, Stand and Deliver, Lean on Me, Up the Down Staircase, Half Nelson, and of course Kindergarten Cop 😉
    I’ll definitely have to make a point of seeing some of the ones in your list!

    • Of the ones you mentioned, Up the Down Staircase was thoroughly considered. A very good film. I was very disappointed in Half Nelson. I liked Freedom Writers and Stand/Deliver very much, but in my opinion, not in the same league as these others….

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