Movies… they make us laugh, cry, yell, cheer, and smile. We learn lessons from film, we draw inspiration, and we even make life decisions based on the movies that we watch.
As a teacher or school administrator, you look for inspiration everywhere, including from movies. Below are six movies that have important lessons for educators.
I’ve skipped over some of the more obvious contenders, such as “Stand and Deliver” or “Lean On Me,” in favor of others films that may not be as well known. Each movie I chose has a “fresh” rating from Rotten Tomatoes (60% or higher).
1. “Akeelah and the Bee”
Movie Premise: Akeelah is an 11-year old girl from Los Angeles with a knack for spelling. Her passion for words leads her to join multiple spelling bees under the tutelage of Dr. Larabee, a visiting English professor. Although Akeelah’s mother attempts to discourage her from participating in these contents, the support of Dr. Larabee and her community drives her to succeed despite the odds.
Support breeds success: Throughout the film, Akeelah is discouraged from her developing her talent because of who she is, an African-American girl living in poverty. She’s told that “spelling bees are for someone else.” Keep in mind that no matter a child’s background or socioeconomic status, sometimes all it takes is encouragement from a teacher or administrator to bring out their talents and inspire success.
2. “Dead Poets Society”
Movie premise: A classroom of English students at a stuffy and dull, yet well-respected prep school have their worldview turned upside down when a new teacher, Mr. John Keating, is hired. Mr. Keating introduces his boys to a new, free-thinking mindset through the power of poetry and encourages them to “make their lives extraordinary.”
Deviate from convention: The lesson Mr. Keating tries to teach his students is to look at things from different perspectives and break from rigid conventions. Although in the end, Mr. Keating’s teachings are made the scapegoat for tragedies at the school, it is the rigid conventions that are to blame. Teachers and administrators should strive to inspire their students to embrace their individuality and seek something for themselves.
3. “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”
Movie premise: A hilarious look into the daily lives of California high school students— one student is looking for love, one looking to make a quick buck off of his classmates, one balancing his work, school, and social lives, and most importantly, one goofy surfer battling his strict history teacher.
No student is a lost cause: Our surfer, Jeff Spicoli, is the most unmotivated and goofy student in history. He is late to class, he’s never sober, and he even orders pizza to class, much to the chagrin of his teacher, Mr. Hand. Although Spicoli’s run-ins with Mr. Hand always result in laughs, it’s hard not to admire the way Mr. Hand holds his composure.
In the end, Mr. Hand goes the extra mile to make sure he doesn’t fail his class by teaching “on Mr. Spicoli’s time.” He takes his job as an educator so seriously that he arrives at Spicoli’s house unannounced and after school hours to teach him everything that he missed during class. Mr. Hand is a fantastic example of a teacher that doesn’t give up on his students.
4. “Freedom Writers”
Movie premise: A passionate and dedicated California teacher, Erin Gruwell, struggles to bridge the gap between herself and her racially divided students in order to get them to graduate. She has them keep journals that detail the violent struggles they deal with inside and outside school. Ms. Gruwell then tailors her lessons to relate to her student’s struggles. This movie is based on a true story.
Understanding and adapting: Every student is different. Each one has their own experiences that either help or hinder their academic success. Ms. Gruwell takes the time to learn about her students, which in turn allows her to understand what holds them back (or drives them) and is able to do what no one thought was possible: educate these “at-risk” students.
Rather than treating your classroom and students as a homogenous bunch, understanding their perspective gives you the ability to adapt to the differences of your students. Recognizing that individuality allows you to create lessons and assignments that take experiences, strengths, and weaknesses into account so your students can succeed.
5. “School of Rock”
Movie premise: Dewey Finn, a washed up guitarist, impersonates his roommate as a substitute teacher at a local prep school in order to make ends meet. After discovering the musical talents of his students, he starts a classroom band under the guise of a class project in order to enter the local Battle of the Bands. Albeit far from his intentions, Dewey discovers he has quite a knack for teaching.
Finding student strengths: Dewey Finn’s greatest asset is his ability to discover the strengths and passions of his students. This is most obvious when a previously shy student with an incredible voice is brought up from being a roadie (equipment handling) to sing backup vocals.
Dewey also tailors each homework assignment, which consists of listening to albums from various rock bands, to each of his student’s strengths: Hendrix for the guitarist, Pink Floyd for one of his backup singers, and so on and so forth. This lesson is meant to give the students examples of prominent artists that match their strengths in order to give them more creative inspiration when writing music for the band.
Discovering individual strengths in your students is important, since no two children learn the same way.
6. “Karate Kid”
Movie premise: When teenager Daniel LaRusso and his mother move to Los Angeles from New Jersey, Daniel runs into the town bullies who harass and beat him up on multiple occasions. These confrontations continue until Daniel’s apartment maintenance man, Mr. Miyagi, steps in and wards off these bullies with his skill in karate.
Mr. Miyagi agrees to teach Daniel the art of karate, but does so through unconventional means—he assigns Daniel menial tasks such as waxing a car, painting a fence, and sanding a floor so that Daniel can defend himself and enter the local tournament.
Include larger lessons in everyday classroom activities: Daniel is understandably frustrated when it seems to him that Mr.Miyagi is putting him through these menial chores for the heck of it, but after Mr.Miyagi demonstrates the lessons of these chores, Daniel comes to appreciate his teacher’s methods.
Assigning lessons with seemingly menial goals but ulterior motives can give your students a certain appreciation for their education. The realization that your students were learning more than they knew all along, such as management skills for class projects, make lessons all the more effective.
Another example is assigning short story time during class for students to write out their own short stories during one period and then present them to the class the next day. Not only does this give your students writing and public speaking experience, but the short timespan also tests their ability to manage and plan their time effectively in order to write out a story in one class period.
What movies have inspired you as an educator? Please let us know in the comments below.
The Capterra school administration blog is full of useful resources and interesting lists that you can use to help your students and become a better educator. If you enjoyed this list, be sure to check out these other posts on our blog: