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Top 10 films for disillusioned teachers to watch and be inspired

It is an unfortunate fact that teaching has become an easy industry to become disillusioned with. Indeed, it is the case that far too many teachers these days feel they are employed to hit targets rather than inspire children to learn. This is of course a great shame as becoming disenchanted with a job that, for many in the profession feels like a lifelong calling, can feel almost feel like a personal betrayal somehow.

Fortunately, these blips are often nothing more than half-expected troughs on the undulating graph of life and as such they are invariably followed by a peak of some kind eventually. However, whilst some educators are happy (or perhaps, resigned) to waiting for this peak to manifest itself, others prefer to try and stir up their own ’recovery’. One of the easiest, cheapest and often most effective ways of doing this is by watching an inspirational film that is either based around, or deals with issues that are pertinent to teaching.

Below are ten education relevant films which are so good they are almost guaranteed to make even the most deflated of educators go into work feeling comprehensively re-engaged and invigorated.

1. Dead Poets Society

Robin Williams portrayal of Professor John Keating, a romantic English teacher whose passion for life, love and poetry touches off a series of rebellions in the hearts of his students, has helped to make Dead Poets Society a perennial favourite among teachers everywhere. Indeed Williams’ superb performance was so potent that, following his untimely death in August 2014, countless educators all around the world revealed how watching Dead Poets directly inspired them to become teachers. A seminal film from an actor who was, at that time, at the very top of his game: truly unmissable.

2. The History Boys

Based on the wonderful (and to many, even better) Alan Bennett play of the same name, The History Boys is an infectiously inspiring film which illustrates just how profound an impact a teacher can have on boys on the brink of adulthood. Set in Sheffield during the 1980s, the film revolves the unorthodox teaching style of Mr Hector (Richard Griffiths), a flamboyant yet flawed educator who does all he can to coach the eponymous class through their Oxford and Cambridge entrance exams. Touching, funny and exalting in equal measure, this film should be a permanent fixture in any educator’s DVD collection.

3. To Sir, With Love

This classic film casts Sidney Poitier as an idealistic American engineer-turned-teacher who is given the unenviable task of trying to educate rowdy, anti-social kids in a tough inner-city school in the East End of London. One of the first films within the genre to deal with discrimination (both racial and economic), To Sir With Love shows how endeavouring to teach young adults about life as well as square roots and split infinitives really can pay dividends, even in the toughest of settings. A real gem.

4. Goodbye, Mr Chips

Arguably the ’daddy’ of all inspirational teacher movies, Goodbye Mr Chips - adapted from the sublime book by James Hilton – is a bona fide classic. The Mr Chips in question is actually Mr Chipping, a shy teacher played with great subtlety and grace by Robert Donat who devotes his life to teaching "his boys" after his wife dies. A wistfully nostalgic yet wholly touching film, Donat’s performance was so moving he beat Clark Gable (as Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind) to win the 1940 Best Actor Oscar.

5. The Miracle Worker

Few films about teaching have managed to portray professional determination and personal commitment with the same degree of charm as The Miracle Worker. Anne Bancroft plays Annie Sullivan, a teacher who musters up near-superhuman levels of purpose and resoluteness to reach out and connect with Helen Keller (Patty Duke), her blind, deaf and thoroughly uncooperative student. Bancroft and Duke won Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress Oscars respectively for their artful illustration of how a determined teacher can – in the end - make an awe-inspiring impact on a student.

6. Mr Holland’s Opus

One of the better ’accidental purpose’ teaching movies out there, Mr Holland’s Opus tells the story of classical musician Glenn Holland (Richard Dreyfuss), a busy, ambitious man who believes working as a teacher will afford him plenty of spare time (fool, fool, fool) so that he can compose the classical masterpiece he’s always dreamed of producing. Eventually of course, Mr Holland discovers how rewarding a career in musical education can be, reminding us along the way that, as frustrating and futile as teaching can seem sometimes, it really can change lives, and not just those of the students either.

7. Precious

This is a very powerful, ’warts and all’ movie which shows how education is often the only way out for kids who are burdened with serious domestic and social problems. The film follows the life of Claireece Precious Jones (played magnificently by Gabourey Sibibe) an obese and largely illiterate 16-year-old girl who, because of her violent abusive mother, believes she is dumb and worthless. Precious eventually gets put in an alternative learning programme at school where she comes under the tutorship of Ms Rain (Paula Patton), a modest, reserved teacher who educates quietly and consistently. In time, Precious, along with the other young women in the programme, begins to realise that the power of reading and writing can help her to grow and heal. A very moving (and at times, disturbing) film, Precious reminds educators how the classroom itself can be a sanctuary and that education can be more than just a tool for academic progression.

8. Stand and Deliver

Based on a true story, Stand and Deliver tells the incredible tale of Jaime Escalante (Edward James Olmos), an unconventional and somewhat sarcastic maths teacher who uses numerical problems his kids can relate to (“How many girlfriends does Juan have?”) to help turn his class of failing kids into veritable maths geniuses, one day at a time. The way in which Mr Escalante relentlessly sticks to his principals of taking complex material and breaking it down so that everyone can learn really is very inspiring.

9. To Be and To Have (Etre et Avoir)

This documentary-type film set in a one-room school in rural France is a truly life-affirming piece of cinema. The film follows teacher Georges Lopez as he deals with the myriad problems (with amazing patience it must be said) that come from having to teach students ranging in age from four to eleven. Don’t let the small scale budget or documentary approach put you off; this is wonderful portrait of a truly dedicated teacher and as such it will make any educators’ shoulders feel significantly lighter when the final credits roll.

10. Grease

A rogue choice I know, but there is one reason and one reason alone why this film gets put in the top ten: it’s to remind teachers that working in a school really can be a whole lot of fun at times.

And let’s be honest; it’s hard to feel down or deflated when you’ve got the chorus of “Summer Nights” going round and round your head..?

Image courtesy of, frustrated teacher.










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