In honor of National Teachers’ Day today, we highlight some of the best movies that depict the inspiring, real-life stories of teachers who transformed the lives of their students.
Stand and Deliver (1988)
Starring Edward James Olmos as East L.A. math teacher Jaime Escalante, Stand and Deliver tells the story of how an emotionally intelligent math teacher uses his charm, sarcasm, and real-world applications to turn his failing Latino math students into top-scoring geniuses. Their academic turnaround was so dramatic that the school board accused them of cheating.
Lean on Me (1989)
Morgan Freeman stars as the no-nonsense and controversial principal Joe Louis Clark in Lean on Me. Based on Clark’s experience overseeing the inner city high school of East Side High in Paterson, New Jersey, the film shows how he — through radical measures — turned a drug and gang-infested school into a place of accountability where students could feel safe and take pride in their school and education.
Dangerous Minds (1995)
How can this film’s name pop up without thinking of Coolio’s rap hit “Gangsta’s Paradise”? But Dangerous Minds isn’t just about the rough-and-tumble life urban students have to face every day — it’s about the powerful connection a teacher, ex-marine Louann Johnson (played by Michelle Pfeiffer), makes with her students… through candy bars, fancy dinner giveaways, and a little bit of Bob Dylan. A little trivia: Pfeiffer was quite pregnant during filming — hence why you see her wearing big blazers, jackets and loose clothing.
Freedom Writers (2007)
In Freedom Writers, high achieving teacher Erin Gruwell (played by Hilary Swank) was not used to failing until she began teaching literature in a racially divided inner city Los Angeles school. Her students do not take to her, but after much trial and error, she finally breaks through when she discusses the subject of racism. Giving her students journals to write down their stories, Gruwell gives them hope to look beyond their violent and tough upbringing and towards a better future. Today Gruwell has established a Freedom Writers Foundation to use writing to change students’ lives.
The Class (2008) – French
Based on a semi-autobiographical novel from French teacher Francois Begaudeau, The Class is a drama about a French language and lit teacher connecting to his “problem students” at a diverse Parisian middle school. Touching on themes of displacement, assimilation, and white privilege, The Class has a realistic documentary feel and an added bonus is that Begaudeau plays himself as the teacher.