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NEA Member Movie Marathon

Remembering Why You Teach

As winter vacation approaches, your days will inevitably be busy with holiday preparations and social events. But either before or after the traditional holidays, be sure to make time for yourself! We’ve compiled a list of NEA member-recommended movies to inspire and energize you as you head back to the classroom in the New Year.

Hollywood Drama:

Dead Poets' Society (1989)

This film tops many “Best Teacher Movies” lists, and for good reason. Robin Williams gives an outstanding performance as unconventional English teacher John Keating in a very conventional private school. Several teachers say this tops their personal favorites, too.

“Robin Williams was able to plant the emotion of literature into the soul of teenage boys and they 'got it' because their educator had the gift—that incredible ability to pass on excitement and passion about a subject. It inspired me to not lose my passion for instilling the love of learning to young children.”—Stephanie Cromwell, retired elementary teacher.

“The passion and love for the written word that John Keating has for his class is contagious. Any time a cynical teacher tries to drown out the progress with negativity, or county curriculum tries to lull both me and the students to sleep with key terms and objective indicators, I think of Keating having a student read the introduction to a textbook on poetry.”—Zachary Brandt, 6th grade English teacher.

The Emperor’s Club (2002)

An idealistic prep school teacher attempts to redeem an incorrigible student.

“This movie inspired me because it taught me the valuable lesson that no matter how hard I try, I may not always change the life or values of every single student I work with. Teachers need to remember that it is not their fault when one student has not learned the valuable lesson of being an honest person—but 95% of the students did learn it and will learn from your example. We do make a difference.”—Erin Hass, 7th grade resource.

Mr. Holland's Opus (1995)

A professional musician/composer forced to teach to support his family realizes he’s had as much (if not more) of an impact from teaching as he would have as a composer.

“It paralleled my life as a music teacher. I never expected to be in it forever. I wound up loving it and fighting for legitimacy. And finally the realization of touching so many lives.”—Ronald P. Frezzo, IB and vocal music teacher.

Based on real people and events:

Stand and Deliver (1988)

A classic teacher movie with an important message: never believe students are unable to learn. Instead of teaching to the lowest common denominator, Jaime Escalante (Edward James Olmos) sets his sights on getting his students to pass the AP Calculus exam.

According to Carla Malozowski, staff development teacher, “I would have to say that my number one movie is “Stand and Deliver.” I was impressed that Jamie does not try to change his students as do many of the teachers in other movies. He connects with who they are and brings out their potential. He shows his students he cares about them, values them and respects them.”

Freedom Writers (2007)

Erin Gruwell's (Hilary Swank) passion to become a teacher is soon challenged by a group of African American, Latino and Asian gangbangers who hate her even more than each other. When Erin begins to listen to them in a way no adult ever has, she begins to understand that for these kids, getting through the day alive is enough.

Coach Carter (2005)

A high school basketball coach requires student athletes to maintain a specific GPA. When their grades drop, he cancels games and locks the gym to the outrage of the school board and community.

Remember the Titans (2000)

According to Adrian Unger, middle school English teacher, “A great film of how football brought together a racially divided Virginia community in 1971. The film shows ways to overcome and achieve.”

Lean on Me (1989)

The dedicated but tyrannical Joe Clark (Morgan Freeman) is appointed the principal of a decaying inner-city school that he is determined to improve.

Conrack (1974)

Author Pat Conroy is a young teacher with inadequate training for his assignment who must find ways to reach his students.

The Miracle Worker (1962)

Annie Sullivan (Anne Bancroft) uses tough love to get through to the deaf and blind Helen Keller (Patty Duke). The famous water scene is especially inspiring.


Mad Hot Ballroom (2005)

The documentary follows teachers in several boroughs of New York City as they teach their 5th and 6th grade students ballroom dance.

“[Mad Hot Ballroom] is definitely a film that inspires. It's the kind of movie that you won't be able to stop watching....check it out!” Susan Leckie, 10th grade English and AP Literature teacher.

Paper Clips (2004)

Struggling to grasp the concept of six-million Holocaust victims, the students at Whitwell Middle School in rural Tennessee decide to collect six-million paper clips to better understand the extent of this crime against humanity.

According to Robert Hines, History Chair, “This entire movie is inspirational—how an area with few or no Jewish residents was inspired by a teacher's efforts and how it grew into a very large and permanent project.”

So whether you decide to watch an old favorite or check out one of the lesser-known movies, kick back, relax and be inspired.


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