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Best Teacher Movies

A high school science teacher inspires her students to look to the sky and dream big in the movie October Sky.

Photo ©1999 Universal Studios

Back to school time can be an event either anticipated or dreaded. No matter what your mood, these preparations are sure to be enhanced by remembering the positive benefits of the learning experience.

Although some movie depictions, especially those marketed to teens, tend to show schools and teachers in a less than favorable light, there are many films that celebrate these institutions and professionals. If you have some reluctant students at your house, you may want to dust off one of the following inspirational titles to help them appreciate the doors an education can open.

“Celebrate "back to school" time with some inspirational classroom classics.”

To Sir, With Love

This is perhaps the classic of all teaching movies. In this 1967 production Sidney Poitier plays Mark Thackeray, an unemployed engineer who takes on a job teaching undisciplined high school students in an East End London school. One of the first in this genre, it sets up the scenario of a frustrated teacher and rebellious kids who will eventually meet on middle ground.

Stand and Deliver

Edward James Olmos stars in Stand and Deliver. Based on the true story of Jamie Escalante, the film follows the California teacher's challenges as he attempts to prepare a group of inner-city kids to take the AP Calculus exam. This film drives home a timeless point that, no matter where you live or what color your skin may be, you've got to have "ganas" (desire) in order to reach your goals.

Mr. Holland’s Opus

Mr. Holland (Richard Dreyfuss) didn't set out to be a teacher. Instead the musician hoped to compose something influential, like an opus. When things don't work out as planned, he finds himself in a high school trying to inspire students with varying levels of talent. Yet the struggling educator and awkward father finds as the years pass that he touches and is touched by many people. And in an unpredictable and unexpected way he discovers this path might have been the right one all along.

October Sky

Homer Hickam (Jake Gyllenhaal) grows up in a small town in West Virginia, where it is assumed everyone's future will be working in the local coalmine. But the teen, with a fascination for rockets, envisions a different career path. Thanks to the encouragement of his teacher Miss Frieda Riley (Laura Dern), Homer is literally able to shoot for the moon.

Remember the Titans

Remember the Titans dramatizes the real events that transpired after an African-American football coach (Denzel Washington) is hired to helm a racially integrated high school team during their first year together. Will Patton co-stars as the white coach whose position was given away, and who is now expected to act as an assistant to the black usurper. As the two men work together, they also help the members of the Titans learn tolerance, cooperation, respect and even love for those on the opposite side of the racial divide.

Freedom Writers

Erin Gruwell's real life story is told in Freedom Writers. The inexperienced high school teacher (played by Hilary Swank) is forced to change her lesson plan when faced with a classroom full of racial intolerance and gang violence. Despite the students' aggressive outbreaks and the administration's lack of support, Erin's perseverance helps the hopeless find a venue for their voices through journal writing.

Great Debaters

Mel Tolson (Denzel Washington) is a Texas professor who encourages his African-American students to believe they can take on the world. In 1935, he puts together and coaches a debate team that eventually goes on to compete against Harvard University. A mix of actual events with fictional elements, the movie shows Tolson's faith in the power of the spoken word.

Akeela and the Bee

Akeelah (Keke Palmer) has an unusual talent for spelling. But it isn't until she teams up with a former university professor (Laurence Fishburne) that the young girl is able to really hone her skills and begin competing in various bees. As she does so, she also discovers her gift is affecting the lives of her family, friends, fellow competitors, teachers and the residents of the inner-city neighborhood she calls home.

Paper Clips

This documentary is about a real school in Whitwell, Tennessee. While studying history, the pupils decide to collect 6 million paper clips to help them visualize how many Jews were killed during Hitler's Nazi regime. Yet as they begin to amass the metal fasteners, neither the students nor the teachers realize how this educational project will change their lives and attract the attention of the world.

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