In today’s world, teaching is not an easy job: Long hours, burnout, low pay, and educational bureaucracies can make a career in teaching often feel like an uphill battle and a daily grind. But for many teachers, a life in education often feels like a calling.
Here are just a few great cinematic tales that demonstrate the truth that great teaching is more than just another job. As these films show, teaching can be a truly life-changing experience for teachers and students alike.
1. Dead Poets Society (1989)
Definitely one of the best movies ever made about teaching as a calling. “Dead Poets Society” details the entrance of a vibrant new English teacher into the staid environment of a prestigious New England prep school.
While school administrators at Welton Academy seem determined to squeeze all the life out of their charges’ studies, the new teacher at the school (played to fever pitch by the great Robin Williams) implores them to “seize the day” and live life to its fullest. Filled with profound meditations on the transience of life, “Dead Poets Society” also shows the impact that teachers can have on their students.
2. The Paper Chase (1973)
Perhaps the best film ever made about going to law school, “The Paper Chase” follows the antics and tribulations of first-year Harvard Law student James Hart. He shows how he copes with the curriculum of stodgy contracts professor Charles W. Kingsfield. While Kingsfield isn’t the most charming teacher in the world, the old-school professor’s attempts to mold a new generation of legal minds shows us that teaching shapes the world we live in profound and unexpected ways.
3. Stand and Deliver (1988)
Based on a remarkable true story, “Stand and Deliver” demonstrates to viewers that good teaching can make an enormous impact on the futures of new generations of learners. The biographical depiction of East Los Angeles teacher James Escalante’s efforts to turn inner-city students into sterling mathematical minds has to be seen to be believed. To this day, Escalante justly remains a legendary figure in the field of education.
4. Good Will Hunting (1997)
A film as much about class consciousness as it is about love, “Good Will Hunting” introduced the brilliant but troubled Will Hunting to the hearts and households across the world when the film was released in 1997.
Indeed, few can forget the story of the lowly MIT janitor from the wrong side of the tracks who stood the world of mathematical theorists on its ear. But it is Robin Williams’s stunning performance as a down-on-his-luck community college professor who teaches Hunting about life in all its glory that really makes the movie great. The film also features a great soundtrack by the then-unknown songwriter (and troubled genius) Elliott Smith.
5. School of Rock (2003)
Too often, good teaching is equated with stern discipline. But Jack Black’s breakout role as hapless musician Dewey Finn shows that making learning fun should be any teacher’s goal. Black’s students at the elite Horace Green prep school are an uninspired lot until the power of music takes their academic performance to new heights. The film is a must-watch for anyone who has ever regarded teaching as their calling.
6. The Harry Potter Series (2001-2011)
The “Harry Potter” series tend to focus on the lives and problems of students like Harry, Hermione, and Ron. However, the teachers of the elite Hogwarts School are just as central to the plot of each of the eight films.
In fact, the esteemed teachers of wizardry and witchcraft that mill about Hogwarts show that teaching isn’t just about having fun. At its best, teaching shapes the values of a new generation of learners. As these films show, our young friends, like Harry and Hermione, would be utterly lost without the guidance of quality educators.
7. Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995)
Perhaps the most authentic portrayal of modern teaching in the big screen, “Mr. Holland’s Opus” is the story of an aspiring composer who takes a job teaching high school in Oregon to pay the bills for his growing family.
But Holland soon realizes that his greatest impact on society will come from his teaching rather than from his music. “Mr. Holland’s Opus” pulls no punches in its portrayal of teaching careers. The film shows the ups and downs of teaching in a realistic and even unflattering light. But the high points of the film will resonate with anyone who has ever viewed teaching as a calling.
8. With Honors (1994)
Ironically, the greatest teachers portrayed in “With Honors” aren’t the numerous Harvard professors that our protagonist Monty Kessler runs across while scrambling to write his senior thesis. The film is about accepting guidance from people who have a genuine love of life. If you love movies featuring ivy-clad school buildings set amid crisp New England landscapes, “With Honors” will make for a home-run viewing experience. But the film’s lessons about life will last long after the film has ended.
These are just a few of the best films that show teaching as a calling. For anyone who has considered a career in education or has felt a call towards teaching, consider watching any of these films for inspiration. They can be a truly life-changing (and career-changing) experience.