Stenhouse goes to the Oscars

February 19th, 2009

Teaching is not often associated with glamour – except when movie directors take this noble profession to the big screen. While we at Stenhouse Publishers are as far away from the glamour of Hollywood as we can possibly get, with the approach of the Academy Awards this weekend we wondered: What are some of the best movies about education and teachers?

We asked some of our authors to share their picks. Happy viewing!

Ann Marie Corgill
My favorite is Pay It Forward.  I’ve loved this movie enough to watch it again from time to time (and I don’t really like to sit still long enough unless the movie is really great.)  I loved it because one child changed the world, and that’s really what school is all about.  We want our students to believe they can change the world for the better.  Such a great story!  And a tear jerker too.

Kathy Collins
I would recommend Half Nelson–it’s not exactly a “feel-good” classroom movie, and many parts of it are hard to watch (and stomach), but I appreciated the complexities it presented.  Ryan Gosling plays a new teacher, but he doesn’t portray that stereotypical image we often see, that of an idealistic, shiny, new teacher who moves mountains in his first year of teaching.  No, this guy has issues, major issues, mixed in with his idealism and deep concern for his students.  I wouldn’t call it an enjoyable movie, but I would say it’s thought-provoking.

I’ve heard that The Class is a wonderful French movie about teaching and learning that casts actual students, not actors.  I haven’t seen it yet, but I plan to watch it when it’s available on Netflix.

Although it’s not a movie about schools and teachers, I highly recommend Season 4 of The Wire, an HBO series.  The whole season takes place largely in a middle school setting, and it deals with the intersection of school reform, urban education issues, politics of education, and so on.  My suggestion is that you begin with Season 1 and work your way through the series. There are threads, characters, and story lines that run across the seasons and it will help you to understand what’s going on in Season 4.

Liz Hale
I am probably not alone in saying that Stand and Deliver is one of my favorite teaching movies.  Inspiring every time I watch it (and well-acted which makes many viewings possible), this movie is based on the true story of high school teacher Jaime Escalante, who helped his far below grade level high school students eventually pass the AP Calculus exam.

My favorite scene is when Jaime is teaching negative numbers and using an analogy of digging a hole in the sand (negative) and then filling the hole (positive). He approaches Angel, a resistant gang member, and asks him several times what +1 and -1 equal.  After a few “Come on…just fill the hole” encouragements, Angel finally quietly says the right answer, zero, to which Jaime responds, “Good”.  The fact that negative numbers is a concept usually learned in middle school is not brought up.  What this scene and the movie drive home for me is the power teachers have to affect the way students see themselves.  Students have to feel successful, even if in small ways, if they are going to believe in themselves, and they’ll only think we believe in them if we don’t resist where they are.

Jeff Anderson
Even though the movie, Field of Dreams is not about teaching, it had a huge influence on me as I decided that teaching was what I wanted to give my life to. It made me sure. In the movie, Doc “Moonlight” Graham, played by Burt Lancaster, didn’t go on to the baseball career he dreamed of (something he sometimes regretted–or thought he did). Instead, he became a doctor and was able to help people and children, and that was a life worth living. Yeah, he missed the stardom and life of a pro ball player, but dreams are truly fulfilled when we make others’ lives better. That’s what satisfies our soul. His discovery was mine. And I have never been sorry that I have given my life to children and the people who serve them. That’s the life I built, and boy did the joy come.

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