Now that I have recovered from the anguish of summer break coming to a close, it’s time to get inspired to teach again! For me, there is no greater inspiration than to watch my favorite teacher movies. I have selected five films which I believe are the best teacher movies of all time!  There was no research behind the list, just pure opinion preceded with a synopsis of each film. So without further adieu here are:




5. TEACHERS (1984) Nick Nolte, JoBeth Williams, Ralph Macchio

SYNOPSIS:  A burned out teacher, played by Nick Nolte, tries to maintain order against the backdrop of a pending lawsuit against his school district when it comes to light they gave a diploma to an illiterate student. (IMDB)

REASONING: Not only do Nick Nolte and Judd Hirsch give great performances, but the teachers and staff being portrayed are very similar to what you see in every school. You have the stuff shirted Ditto, who gets his moniker from the teach-by-worksheet method. He ends up dying in the classroom and nobody notices. You got the substitute teacher, who is actually a mental patient, dressing up like Abraham Lincoln and George Washington to teach history, and the kids never learned better. If you want to see the good, the bad and the ugly in the classroom and see just exactly what it is that happens on campuses all over the country, than watch this one. Plus it’s Nick Nolte! Who else goes from 0- grape nuts in 2.5 seconds. Bonus, one of my former acting teachers has a bit part as one of the secretaries.



4. DETACHMENT (2011) Adrien Brody, Christina Hendricks, Marcia Gay Harden

SYNOPSIS: A substitute teacher who drifts from classroom to classroom finds a connection to the students and teachers during his latest assignment. (IMDB)

REASONING: If you have ever subbed before you can truly understand how void of connection schools can be. This movie is at times difficult to watch, yet still compelling. Once again, the realism of the profession is portrayed nicely by an all star cast. Not only do you see what teachers in inner city school districts go through, you also see how the profession of teaching affects the personal lives of the teachers and staff. Detachment is a must see if you are an educator. It is a little darker than most of the films on this list, however, as one of my favorite teachers once said, “Those that embrace the darkness, can better appreciate the light.”


3.LEAN ON ME (1989) Morgan Freeman

Warner Bros.

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

REASONING: I know some of you would want me to put this higher, but this is my list and I can place them how I wish! The next three for me are hard to determine considering the amount of inspiration that these movies give educators. But, I have to place this masterpiece as third. True, it is a very compelling story about overcoming incredible odds. It is extremely inspirational in the sense that it shows you just what could be possible with some leadership and a vision. Of course Morgan Freeman, the voice of God himself, gives one of his best performances ever. I rank it third only because he only worked there one year and was immediately fired the next. We talked a great deal about this film in my education leadership classes. Some would call his leadership skills necessary and effective, others would judge his leadership by fear as contrary to educational principles and non sustainable. A great movie regardless!


2. DEAD POETS SOCIETY (1989) Robin Williams, Robert Sean Leonard

Touchestone Pictures

SYNOPSIS: English teacher John Keating inspires his students to look at poetry with a different perspective of authentic knowledge and feelings. (IMDB)

REASONING: Come on, do I really need to explain this one? Okay, I suppose I do. I don’t know any teacher that never once saw this movie and dreamed of their students standing on their desks shouting, “Oh Captain, my Captain!” Every educator in the country, after watching this movie, was inspired to rip the introduction from the crappy text books we are given. John Keating is what teaching should be. I think by far this is one of the late Robin Williams’ finest performances!


1.Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995) Richard Dreyfus

Hollywood Pictures

SYNOPSIS: A frustrated composer finds fulfillment as a high school music teacher. (IMDB)

REASONING: I don’t think the synopsis of this well crafted film gives it any true justice. In the Red Pen’s opinion, this is the quintessential teacher movie. Holland does not want to teach. He sees teaching as a paycheck. A for now job, while he composes a masterpiece that will make him famous. As his dreams of being a great composer fade into a hobby, he learns to love teaching. His magnus -opus ends up being all the lives that he has touched in his 40 year journey in front of the classroom. Teaching can be a lonely and thankless service. Rarely do teachers see their impact on the students that sat in the desks before us. One could only hope for the type of retirement ceremony that he receives!

If you have not seen some of these and you are a teacher, I highly recommend you do!

So, what would be your top 5? Comment, share with friends and get them to subscribe. Make sure you subscribe as well if you haven’t already! Until next week my friends…