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Teacher Movies


In a recent article in the New York Times, a high school history teacher argued that movies like "Freedom Writers" create unrealisti—and even hazardous—expectations for educators. In a discussion about the article, some members of the Teacher Leaders Network emphatically agreed, suggesting that teacher-hero movies diminish the achievements of real teachers and can lead to a skewed perspective on the teaching life.

What's your view? Do Hollywood portrayals of educators do a disservice to the teaching profession? Or are they inspirational? Which teacher movies stand out for you?


I wish there were more movies depicting successful teachers! I love "Stand and Deliver", "Lean on Me", and " Mr. Holland's Opus". They show real challenges teachers face from the students and administration to the impact on their families . They also so a great job of demonstrating the type of commitment and passion we should have for our own students and schools. The recent movie about Ron Clark could have been much better. I was disappointed with it. The movie did not even show his greatest accomplishments as a teacher which are detailed in his book. Hollywood does not care about the teaching profession, they are interested only in making money. However, I am more concerned with T.V. shows, which are on far more often, like "Boston Public". Many people actually believe that show is reality and it does do teachers a disservice. There are some real life events in that show but teachers are not always portrayed in the best light.

I like seeing movies of very successful teachers. We all define success in our own way. If the media wants to portray one of our very own doing things well, then so be it. We get so little publicity for all the good we do, let's take advantage of it. Freedom writers is a real story and she was brave enough to defy the status quo. Many of us would have been fired for the same thing, but she wasn't and is an inspiration for me. We get so caught up in doing what we are told regardless of whether we believe that it is right that we forget that we too have choices. The world is not changed by people who always do what they are told. It is the ones that go out on a limb and take chances. Let's celebrate those that have a vision. Not everyone can or wants teaching to consume their lives, but it happens to many. Let's support and celebrate all that portray the profession positively.

I think that some who complain about unrealistic expectations set by Hollywood "teachers" are giving the public too little credit for distinguishing between dramatizations and real life.

People don't look down on their physicians because they are not as perfect (or good-looking) as the stars of Gray's Anatomy.

People don't really expect their police departments to be run like those of CSI.

People don't expect their President to be as thoughtful and wise as Jeb Bartlett. Hmm...I guess maybe they should.

I haven't seen the movie "Freedom Writers", but I did hear Erin Gruwell speak at a BTSA seminar. She was definitely an inspiration. This was before the movie came out, but she said that she had quite a bit of input and was very happy with how the movie portrayed the situation. She had seen it and approved. So I am planning to see it soon.

I had the opportunity to see the preview of "Freedom Writers" at the NCTE National Convention in Nashville, and I was truly inspired to continue to passionately pursue ways to reach children that have been deemed unreachable by so many societal labels. At this point, I believe that any positive, inspirational view of the teaching profession is a proverbial 'breath of fresh air' and should be celebrated not bashed.

Although movies with a teacher-hero can tap into my desire to accomplish miracles with my students, by reaching and inspiring the most challenging of individuals, I think such movies do not recognize that good teaching is often developed through collaboration with others. Instead of showing how teachers can work together to develop an exciting and rigorous curriculum, these movies suggest that the go-it-alone-against-all-odds is the way great things are achieved. These movies do create an unrealistic expectation of the self-sacrificing efforts the lone teacher must exert in order to turn around their difficult kids. We need to applaud the hard work that is being done in countless classrooms across the country and be more ready to share resources and real experiences so that collectively we can hone our craft. In addition, many of the issues we face in the classroom today are because our children do not have supportive home environments, leaving the classroom teacher to remediate. Instead, I believe economic policy reform would help to create better working opportunities for parents in the inner cities, thereby helping them to develop more stable households for their children. By putting forward images of teacher-heroes to fix-all, we all continue in the illusion that the holy grail of teaching succcess is self-sacrifice and a magic, dramatic turn-around of students. Real teaching is about steady, daily efforts that are tailored to meet students' individual needs, the results of which may not be seen immediately, and often go unspoken.

When people I know saw the movie Freedom Writers, they said it reminded them of me. A real life teacher. Nothing more nothing less, just doing what we do everyday.

I have always been a fan of good teacher movies based on true stories (Note: A great book, My Posse Don't Do Homework, was ruined with the casting of Michelle Pfeifer as the ex-marine teacher in Dangerous Minds but salvaged by Annie Potts in the short-lived tv series...may have been the post-Monday Night Football time slot.)In fact I collect them and review them with a critical eye to their flaws as well as brilliance. Many of these movies highlight good teacher practices i.e. the importance of getting to know your students and their backgrounds, control efforts vs. facilitation, alternative assessment, meaningful instruction etc.

I prefer these movies to the horrific portrayal of teachers in such movies as The Substitute (all versions...though some HS teachers may fantasize)and tv series such as Boston Public and Teachers. Talk about twisted. But I am sure law enforcement and the medical profession are not keen on how they are portrayed and the inaccuracies that abound at times...

I would hope these inspirational movies would encourage folks to read the books upon which they are based. Many of them concern years of struggle which cannot be accurately reflected in a two-hour time span. The Freedom Writers book covers a span of five years and was authored by 150 students and one teacher.

In an age where celebrities and sports stars are seen as heroes and role models, I applaud those who would portray our public servants, scientists, mathematicians etc. as real heroes and role models.

Just for kicks you should track down the Cosby episode, "Millionaire Teacher" which is both hilariously funny (and bittersweet as it was dedicated to his late son, Enis) send up of Entertainment Tonight in which teachers are enticed by million dollar contracts and recruited like sports stars...a clever, satirical indictment of our country.

I did enjoy Freedom Writers (and Lean on Me and Stand and Deliver). As an educator, I am inspired by success stories. There were, however, two parts to Freedom Writers that were glossed over- Erin Gruwell's committment to her students ruined her marriage (at least that is how it is portrayed in the movie), and Gruwell only taught high school for 4 years. She moved on to college-level teaching when the students featured in the movie graduated high school. These 2 facts reassured me that while I may never live up to the "mythological teacher ideal," my 10 years of teaching in an urban school have made an impact.

One more thing- if you want a realistic view of a teacher's life in an urban school, I suggest reading Teacher Man by Frank McCourt. McCourt is his usual witty self while describing his career in the NYC public schools.

When I watched "Freedom Writers" I saw two stories unfolding simultaneously: The story of the brilliant teacher who makes a connection to her students and succeeds; and more subtle background story of the insane toll that her efforts took on her personal life.

The first story is inspiring and uplifting. Like "Coach Carter" and "Stand and Deliver," these students were very real, very tough, and completely written off by the educational administration. Erin broke through and succeeded with these kids.

The second story is revealing and frustrating. Erin received extreme animosity and undermining from her department chair and only half-hearted support from her administrators. She worked (essentially) for no salary because she poured every dime back into the classroom, even working two other jobs to supply money for classroom necessities. This was so draining and destructive that she lost her marriage and depended on her retired father for funds to live. She could only manage this for a short time and left the school as soon as her first group of kids graduated.

One of the reasons I entered teaching was viewing the film "Dead Poets Society", starring Robin Williams. I adore this film - not for the tragic ending - but for the classrom scenes and the interplay between Mr. Keating and the other teachers and administrators. I find the film to be an inspiration and revisit it with some regularity to remind myself why I do this.

I also am enamored of "The Emperor's Club" and "History Boys", as well as the television programs "Welcome Back, Kotter" and "Head of the Class".

I think that it is interesting to note that most teachers in films are shown in a ver positive ligt, usually as the hero or the person trying to redeem the school or system they find themselves in. Yes, the characters are larger than life, but these are works of fiction, not documentaries, and I agree with theearly post which posited that the general public/audience knows the difference between what is real and what is exaggerated. Thus, in my opinion these films are actually a benefit to ou profession in that they bring the story of teaching to a wider audience, because, and let's be honest, many,many people really do not understand what teachers do, how they do it, and why they choose to do so. These films help to bridge that chas of understanding.

i enjoyed the movie "freedom writers" purely from an entertainment perspective. my problem with the movie is it showed what a great thing this teacher did with a class of students that nobody wanted. i don't know about anyone else, but what did she do with her other classes. i know she wasn't hired to teach just one class. i have 6 classes. i am curious to find out not only how she did in those other classes, but also what other subjects did she teach. did she pour all her efforts into this one class and basically forgot about the others?

Most often Hollywood paints a picture of unrealistic adventures. These adventures make the nonteaching world believe things like without funds, material, equipment or even a certified teacher every student in the class can make leaps and bound in all areas of education. Parents and administration can fight this stand in teacher all a long the way ,but she prevails and the students are lifted from that year of education a stars of the school. Bull-Crap 101

Movies tend to embellish a bit, but they do bring national attention to various issues. I recently viewed Stand and Deliver, and I think it tells a wonderful story about persistence and success. I am not a teacher, so I do not know what it is really like in a classroom. However, the film certainly provided me with some background on the situation faced by many districts. I don't think teachers are held to that "hero standard" any more than other types of heroes. I think portraying the hero-teacher helps high-light the profession and demonstrates some of the outstanding things teachers face and accomplish.

I did not see Freedom Writers, but I think we all need heroes. I think people are aware that film is not reality, but we need to be inspired outside of our daily actions.

I am not a teacher, but I want to believe that teachers have lasting impact in student's lives and that they are there beyond a classroom. One of my favorite teachers films is Finding Forrester with Sean Connery - it's about the passion you bring to your profession.

Anytime we can improve the image of teachers and their impact on children, it's a good thing.

I think that the public has a skewed view of teachers to begin with and that these movies only add to the problem. Most people that they can "teach" (witness homeschooling) because they have been in a "classroom"; this is in stark contrast to other professional fields such as law or medicine. When they see these movies, they make unconscious connections. Either the teachers are way too "good" or so dedicated it is a 24 hour job or they are completely irresponsible - witness Boston Public. Hollywood doesn't have a clue - and I am not at all sure the public needs any more fiction.

I spent this past weekend viewing Freedom Writers twice. This movie is more than about teachers in a classroom. Teachers are not saviours. For me, this movie was about:
1. One person can make one small change to facilitate big changes in self and others.
2. Writing is a poweful medium for giving voice to who we are. Writing our own stories is the true healer. Forget the national inquirer, fox news, american idol,blogs, emails, myspace, etc. give a child pen and paper, and you've given him a ticket to all the universes of God!
3. Love conquers all. Love what you do and it catches those who are ready to receive it!

I thing Teacher movies do make a false impression mainly on the parents on how teachers should behave. However, its great inspiration. It can motivate other teachers to do better and maybe for some parents let the see how much some teachers can care. It all depends on how the person watching wants to see it. Thats why we're individuals

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