Best Movies About Teachers

By Sean Thiessen | Published

jack black, school of rock

Teachers help shape the world, and the great ones make an impact that lasts a lifetime. Teacher movies explore the complex relationship between mentor and student, and challenge their characters and audiences to be better. Here is our list of the best teacher movies to help lift you toward your fullest potential.

6. The Great Debaters (2007)

Denzel Washington is one of the best actors to ever do it, and for The Great Debaters, he jumped into the director’s chair as well. The result is a compelling historical drama about the debate team at Wiley College, a historically Black school, working its way to the top of the collegiate debate circuit in 1935.

Denzel Washington plays Melvin B. Tolson, the coach that used unorthodox tactics and unflinching determination to impact the history of collegiate debate. Set largely in Texas, the film faces racism and civil rights head on. It is a gut wrenching and inspiring tale that shows just how big of an impact a teacher can have.

5. School of Rock (2003)

jack black

Jack Black’s character in School of Rock is not technically a teacher, but that does not stop him from imparting some of the most important lessons the kids of Horace Green Prep will ever learn.

Directed by Richard Linklater, School of Rock tells the story of Dewey Finn, a failing rock star hopeful who fraudulently accepts a substitute teacher gig to help pay the rent. He discovers that the class he’s subbing for is full of talented musicians, so he recruits to help him win the Battle of the Bands.

School of Rock is a hilarious and heartwarming teacher movie that stands the test of time. In what is perhaps his greatest performance, Jack Black anchors this bona fide classic that will make a music lover out of anyone.

4. Freedom Writers (2007)

In Freedom Writers, Hilary Swank stars as Erin Gruell, a teacher at a high school in Long Beach, California in the 1990s. The school is deeply divided on racial lines and impacted daily by gang violence. Gruell struggles to connect to the students, but eventually gets them to open up by writing their experiences in journals.

The real Erin Gruell published a compilation of these writings called The Freedom Writers Diary in 1999, giving voice to teenagers in often overlooked or misunderstood communities. This inspirational tale shines a light on the difference a teacher can make while never shying away from the sacrifices and risks involved in changing a broken system.

3. Half Nelson (2006)

The world is full of reasons to love Ryan Gosling, but Half Nelson is a gem among gems. This 2006 indie darling stars Gosling as a beloved teacher and high school basketball coach who struggles in his personal life with a cocaine addiction.

When one of his students catches him using, their relationship takes a complex path. All the while, the student is swayed by a local drug dealer (Anthony Mackie) to sell for him.

Half Nelson premiered at Sundance in 2006 and was released later that year. Critics embraced the film’s subtle and powerful performances, as well as its commitment to reality and ambiguity. Half Nelson contains deep humanity, and it is a teacher movie that can teach us all a thing or two about common struggles.

2. Stand And Deliver (1988)

Who said math class can’t be interesting? Inspired by a true story, Stand and Deliver follows Jaime Escalante, a mathematics teacher who took his class from failing simple arithmetic to passing calculus.

Actor Edward James Olmos delivers an Academy Award-nominated performance as Escalante. With heart, humor, and honesty, Olmos portrays Escalante’s strange educational tactics that turns math class into somewhere you actually want to be.

Stand and Deliver is a critical piece of Latino cinema and brilliant teacher movie that solves the inspiration equation.

1. Dead Poets Society (1989)

Oh captain, my captain! No teacher movie tops the heroism and heartbreak of Dead Poets Society. Robin Williams delivers one of his finest dramatic performances as Mr. Keating, an English teacher at a stuffy prep school, who teaches his students about the richness of life through literature and poetry.

Keating goes beyond stopping to smell the roses. He challenges his students with carpe diem – a Latin phrase meaning “seize the day.” In a world focused on test scores, great colleges, and good jobs, Keating’s students embrace the words of dead poets and discover what it means to have a beating heart.

Dead Poets Society is a film that asks its audience to contemplate the meaning of life, the course of destiny, and what it takes to stand up for the things that matters most. Teacher movies are often uplifting, but Dead Poets Society offers a complex story as bittersweet as life itself.