Education Careers in Film: The Best Movies About Teachers

The best movies about teachers are those that illustrate education careers as the difficult, but rewarding, endeavors they are. Here are just a few of them:

  • Blackboard Jungle (1955), starring John Ford, Vic Morrow, and Sidney Poitier. A war veteran takes a teaching job at a tough, inner-city boys’ high school. He comes out on the losing end when he tries to discipline some of his violent students, but his innate decency and determination to stand up for his principles make his students reluctantly respect him. He decides to continue teaching to help other troubled students. This classic was the first movie to accurately depict the aggression and racial tensions that are still an issue in many schools today and quickly became the standard by which all other teaching movies modeled themselves.
  • To Sir, With Love (1967), starring Sidney Poitier. Sidney Poitier returns to high school in this movie, only as a teacher instead of a student. An engineer who grudgingly accepts a teaching job in London when he can’t find anything better, Poitier’s character at first allows his uncontrollable students to goad him into losing his temper. He then decides to win his students over by abandoning standard teaching methods in favor of open discussions and treating them with dignity and esteem, making them call each other “Sir” and “Miss.”
  • Up the Down Staircase (1967), starring Sandy Dennis. An idealistic, young teacher hopes to impart classic English literature to her municipal New York high school students but is quickly disillusioned by their indifference and by her battles with school bureaucracy. Tempted to leave for a “real” teaching job at a private college, she ultimately decides to stay at the high school for the sake of the small, but genuine, differences she has managed to make in the lives of some of her students. This film takes a rare, humorous look at the ironies of education careers.
  • The Girls of Huntingdon House (1973), starring Shirley Jones and Sissy Spacek. In this made-for-TV movie, Shirley Jones portrays an English teacher at a maternity home for pregnant girls. She is continually at odds with free-spirited student Sara, who accuses her of being emotionally stunted. Jones’s character slowly begins to bond with her students and ultimately learns a lesson from Sara about allowing herself to express and be guided by her feelings.
  • Stand and Deliver (1988), starring Edward James Olmos. This film depicts the true story of real-life math teacher Jaime Escalante, who uses his Hispanic cultural background to teach his East Los Angeles high school class the importance of self-improvement. When his class is unfairly accused of cheating to pass a calculus test, the students prove their intelligence by retaking-and again passing-the exam with only one day of preparation.
  • Dead Poets’ Society (1989), starring Robin Williams. An eccentric teacher at a posh New England prep school encourages his poetry class of wealthy young men to rebel against the rigid expectations of society and follow their own ambitions with his catch-phrase of “Carpe diem” (“Seize the day”).
  • Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995), starring Richard Dreyfuss. A discouraged high school music teacher discovers on his last day of teaching that he really has made a difference when his former students perform his unheard orchestral piece in public for the first time.