There are hundreds of movies that include teachers and schools as part of the storyline without making them the main focus. But which ones have a solid message, and which ones give teachers both recognition and inspiration? Truly, what are the best teacher movies of all time?
These twenty movies celebrate teaching grades K-12 and keep much of the attention centered on the classroom. Each finds its own niche to inspire educators in very different ways.
Best Teacher Movies – Our Top 20
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Stand and Deliver. Click the photo to see the Price & Viewing Options on Amazon.
When a computer science instructor is hired at an East Los Angeles school, he doesn’t expect that he’ll be teaching mathematics much less teaching to a group of unmotivated students. Using his own Hispanic background, he finds a way to connect. He’s convinced they are capable of passing the AP Calculus exam, which eventually pits teacher against critics who can’t believe these students could have accomplished such a feat. The movie is based on the true life of teacher Jaime Escalante who believed that any student has the ability to perform at the highest level.
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Lean on Me. Click the photo to see the Price & Viewing Options on Amazon.
Taking some liberties with the true story of Joe Clark, “Lean on Me” still delivers a poignant message about the need for leadership in our schools. Clark takes some extreme (and questionable) measures as the new principal of a struggling New Jersey high school. His approach is disciplinarian, but his heart is with the students and providing them with an opportunity to learn.
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The Class (Entre les Murs). Click the photo to see the Price & Viewing Options on Amazon.
Proving that challenges in teaching are universal, “The Class” comes from an autobiography by former teacher François Bégaudeau who worked at a multi-ethnic school in Paris. It’s a great example of teachers and administrators collaborating to help students. Bégaudeau uniquely portrays himself in the movie. Filmed entirely in the classroom we see only the school perspective just as teachers do.
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To Sir, With Love. Click the photo to see the Price & Viewing Options on Amazon.
A London high school teacher insists his students treat one another as adults to prepare them for their eventual graduation and hopes this approach will also cause them to be more serious about their studies. It’s an autobiographical account from Eustace Edward Ricardo Braithwaite who taught in the 1950s. Although the movie took some liberties with the true timing of the story, the methods and many other elements from the book are the same.
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Beyond the Blackboard. Click the photo to see the Price & Viewing Options on Amazon.
This Hallmark movie is based on the experience of Stacey Bess whose first teaching position was in a homeless shelter in Salt Lake City. She’s required to teach a wide range of ages without materials or even desks. Yet she learns perseverance and overcoming bureaucracy.
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Goodbye, Mr. Chips. Click the photo to see the Price & Viewing Options on Amazon.
The movie has been remade four times, but the original 1939 version is the one to watch. Despite the film occasionally showing its age, the sentimental story of a teacher’s connection to his students perseveres. Robert Donat portrays Mr. Chipping, a teacher at a boy’s boarding school whose students come and go through his life. It was nominated for Best Film and Donat won the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role. The film is an adaptation of a book by James Hilton who was inspired by his own boarding school experience.
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Up the Down Staircase. Click the photo to see the Price & Viewing Options on Amazon.
The title itself conveys what it’s like when ideals and reality collide. A young teacher has a vision of what she would like to teach her inner-city students, which isn’t quite so simple. The movie is based on a 1964 novel by Bel Kaufman that was also converted into a play.
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Dangerous Minds. Click the photo to see the Price & Viewing Options on Amazon.
The movie is based on the autobiography by LouAnn Johnson, a former marine corps officer. She uses some unorthodox methods in the classroom to motivate her students. It has mixed reviews from teachers but certainly shows some aspect of challenges teachers face when parents don’t support their child’s education.
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Freedom Writers. Click the photo to see the Price & Viewing Options on Amazon.
Taken from the perspectives of both student and teacher, it’s a glimpse of a racially-divided school in Long Beach, California. The book, “Freedom Writers Diary” by Erin Gruwell, is compiled from her students’ true diary entries. Gruwell has tried everything she can to encourage her students to show up and pay attention. As she starts to break through she insists they keep a journal. Change doesn’t happen overnight but through perseverance Gruwell and her students see one another in a new light.
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Blackboard Jungle. Click the photo to see the Price & Viewing Options on Amazon.
Despite being filmed in 1955, much of the movie still resonates today. A new teacher starts a job at an inner-city school plagued with racism and hatred. The school struggles to retain its staff after one teacher is nearly raped and two others are eventually mugged. The Evan Hunter novel was written a year before the film and depicts the violence, gangs and challenging social structure some students face.
Five teacher movies that make you want to cheer
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Mr. Holland’s Opus. Click the photo to see the Price & Viewing Options on Amazon.
It could be said that the movie is a more modern take on “Goodbye, Mr. Chips.” Richard Dreyfus, who won an Academy Award in “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” plays musician Glen Holland. He takes a teaching position that’s meant to be temporary while he pursues his own passion of writing a symphony. It’s an excellent reminder of the lifelong impact a teacher can have on students.
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Coach Carter. Click the photo to see the Price & Viewing Options on Amazon.
There’s more to life than a championship game. That message is behind this true story of a basketball coach who leads his team to a winning season, then suspends them for letting their grades slip. Sometimes seeing the best in students and believing they can live up those expectations is one of the most important things a teacher can do. Coach Ken Carter reminds teachers of that importance.
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Dead Poets Society. Click the photo to see the Price & Viewing Options on Amazon.
Will you ever hear “O Captain, my Captain” and “carpe Diem” in the same way? Robin Williams plays a professor at a boys’ boarding school who impassions students through use of poetry. While the story is fiction, elements are based upon the scriptwriter’s personal experiences. The academic year is filled with tragedy, self-expression and perspective.
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Hoosiers. Click the photo to see the Price & Viewing Options on Amazon.
Many of the teaching moments in “Hoosiers” occur in the gymnasium versus the classroom, but it’s a movie filled with hope and dreaming big. The classic film tackles redemption, respect and conflicts with a school board in a small town. It’s not always considered a top teacher movie but the connection a teacher and coach have with the kids is reason to cheer.
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Remember the Titans. Click the photo to see the Price & Viewing Options on Amazon.
A school board integrates two formerly segregated high schools, forcing students and players to learn to trust one another. Their attitudes filter into the rest of the community. It goes to show that what happens in a school can impact what happens in a community.
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Kindergarten Cop. Click the photo to see the Price & Viewing Options on Amazon.
Proving that teaching is a tough profession, kindergarten nearly defeats cop-turned-educator Arnold Schwarzenegger on day one of this 1990 classic. He joins the teaching ranks as part of an undercover gig to track a drug dealer and develops a complete appreciation for the job. He’s also graced with the sometimes humorous insight of home life that teachers of the very young often get from their students.
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School of Rock. Click the photo to see the Price & Viewing Options on Amazon.
Helping kids find and embrace their unique talents is one reason that School of Rock is such a popular movie with teachers. Granted, the film has some unreal moments from an educator perspective, but the heart of the movie is to help students find their passion. The idea of a group project, allowing each student to approach it with their own skills and build confidence, can be a good lesson for all of us.
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Teachers. Click the photo to see the Price & Viewing Options on Amazon.
The 1984 film has some silliness but also a strong cast, with students played by Laura Dern, Ralph Macchio and Crispin Glover. Some teachers are a bit of a caricature, but their interactions beyond the classroom are a part of what makes the movie feel sincere. High school teacher Alex Jurel has lost his interest in teaching after years of dealing with administration and difficult students. He has to find his way by remembering the reason he became a teacher.
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Chalk. Click the photo to see the Price & Viewing Options on Amazon.
This mockumentary from 2006 gives a viewpoint from a group of relatively-new high school teachers. If you enjoy The Office or films like Best in Show, you’ll appreciate this funny and often cringe-worthy perspective of teaching. Their year in the classroom has some unreal moments but in the end it makes us all reflect on what we like about teaching.
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Bad Teacher. Click the photo to see the Price & Viewing Options on Amazon.
Like a train wreck, it can be hard to look away from this 2011 movie. Cameron Diaz plays a teacher whose motivations are initially more about material things than her middle school students. Fortunately her supporting cast portrays examples of great teachers and how we can all find ways to help one another.
Some of these films may simplify teaching, others may make it seem like a herculean sacrifice. The truth for the vast majority of teachers is somewhere in between. Hopefully each teacher can find a motivation by these films whenever they feel challenged.