Here’s the thing about teacher movies: they’re all the same. Like exactly the same. Here’s the formula: an instructor, often reluctantly, is saddled with the job of teaching a difficult subject to a group of students who, more than likely, want no part of the educational process. After some initially frosty relations, the teacher taps into a well of passion for the subject, thereby breaking through to a point where he or she understands the students, and vice versa. The students then accomplish their goals thanks to the inspiration of their noble guru. And wouldn’t you know it, the teacher learns a few things along the way, too: because education is a two-way street, yo! Here it is as an algebraic equation:
[G(T + S)]2 = I
Where G = students’ goals, T = teacher’s passion, S = student’s reluctance to learn, and I = total inspiration.
Because we’re dealing in such a formulaic category, it’s tough to pick the actual “Ultimate Teacher Movie.” But I’m going with a simple guideline: which one is the most entertaining? And the answer is clear:
Summer School (1987)
I know I’m supposed to pick To Sir, With Love or Stand and Deliver or Lean on Me or The Miracle Worker. And those are all very good movies. Which is exactly the problem. You want a teacher? Let’s talk about Freddy Shoop (played by Mark Harmon). This guy goes through a lot. First, he’s a gym teacher teaching English. Second, it was summer! Mark Thackeray may not have wanted to teach, either, but at least he didn’t have to sacrifice a Hawaiian vacation. Also (spoiler alert!), the kid who was in the bathroom got the highest score on the test.
“What are you watching?”
“Safe use of Power Tools.”
“I remember you, where you been?”
“For six weeks?”
“My zipper got stuck.”
“You passed and I failed? You asshole, how could you do that to me?”
“It was an accident! I’ll take it again! I can fail, I know I can!”
To Sir With Love (1967)
“I am sick of your foul language, your crude behavior and your sluttish manner.”
This film may not have invented the whole “inspirational teacher” thing, but thanks to Sidney Poitier, it set the standard.
Stand and Deliver (1988)
“Tough guys don’t do math. Tough guys fry chicken for a living.”
Edward James Olmos shines in the powerful role of Mr. Escalante, a Hispanic teacher who’s trying to convince his Hispanic students that math is worth learning.
Dead Poets’ Society (1989)
“Sucking all the marrow out of life doesn’t mean choking on the bone.”
A few years before taking up a career as a parody of himself, Robin Williams taught 90 percent of Americans the only Latin phrase they know.
• School of Rock (2003)
“Your kids have all really touched me, and I’m pretty sure that I’ve touched them.
Inverted formula! The teacher is a terror, and the kids are eager to learn!
Lean On Me (1989)
“We don’t want a good principal! We want Mr. Clark!”
OK, you got me: this is more of a “principal” movie, but why not? Morgan Freeman stars as “Crazy Joe” Clark, the tough-as-nails principal who cleans up a tough town. Comes with its own version of the “coach stays” scene from Hoosiers.
The Miracle Worker (1962)
“It’s less trouble to feel sorry for her than it is to teach her anything better.”
Anne Bancroft stars as the woman who taught Helen Keller how to speak. Eric Cartman’s musical version was pretty good, too.