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5 movies with teachers who heroically made a difference in students' lives

An empty cinema room with a lot of chairs
We hope you enjoy this list of movies while cinema rooms aren't open to the public (Credit: Getty Images)

Being an inspiring teacher is not an easy task. In order to become one, the educator needs the ability to empathize, understand the individual and collective needs of the students, assimilate broader contexts, and build a learning path that connects all of this information in a loving and emotional way. Nevertheless, it is as difficult as it is rewarding when the pupils recognize the master’s efforts in not only teaching the subject they were supposed to, but also creating life-changing links and helping on bigger issues.

Most of us can easily remember one or more teachers and professors who were, at some point, revolutionary to our way of thinking and understanding the world. In the past years, cinema gave us many characters that embody this “life guru” aura, creating some highly heart-warming movies.

To honor the memory of the greatest teachers who ever lived on this planet, we decided to make a list of the best movies about this profession ever released - in our opinion, of course.

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5) Stand and Deliver (1988)

The film directed by Ramón Menéndez portraits the story of mathematics teacher, Jaime Escalante. Edward James Olmos was nominated for an Academy Award for his role as Escalante, a brave young teacher who starts working with High School students on East Los Angeles. He soon realizes that many Latino students from poor families were underperforming on their academic tasks. He then creates an advanced class on the weekends for them, while he teaches and motivates them to apply for AP Calculus Exam in their senior year.

The movie proceeds to a philosophical discussion about the racial cut and how society itself and even learning institutions can be demeaning to some groups of people.

4) Coach Carter (2005)

How many children in the United States dream of becoming the next NBA superstar? How many achieve this dream? The Richmond High School’s team coach, Ken Carter (Samuel L. Jackson), understands that the odds are stacked against his players.

When he first arrives to get ahead of the team, he finds a group of rude and disrespectful young men. Carter proceeds to apply discipline (he orders all the players to sign a contract with a number of requirements needed in order to play), to build character, and help the teenagers get through their biggest issues.

One of the topics required by the contract was that all students should keep good grades and couldn’t flunk. After winning a tournament and going undefeated on the season, Carter discovers that the players aren’t keeping up with their promises. So he cancels all trainings and gathers the team in the school library to study, causing the revolt of parents and all educational community. Carter stands to his principles and the team gets back in court only when they have settled the grades issue.

Coach Carter is a great movie to understand how one person can make a difference and benefit the lives of so many in the process.

3) Freedom Writers (2007)

Young teacher Erin Gruwell (Hillary Swank) accepts the challenge to work with at-risk students in Long Beach, California. The racial tension was increasing, with some of the students being rivals in local gangs.

Erin, a white woman, tries to help students understand that they should leave their differences behind, but she is pushed away by the invisible boundaries that were constructed for decades. She insists on the task, earning the students’ trust one small gesture at a time.

Gruwell abdicates her social and marital life, and even earning more money to stay with the students and help them reach their full potential. She encourages the pupils to write a journal, which later becomes the Freedom writers’ book.

2) Good Will Hunting (1997)

The movie that granted Ben Affleck and Matt Damon an Oscar for Original Screenplay and also awarded Robin Williams an Academy Award for his role as a supporting actor.

Will Hunting (Damon) is a janitor at MIT. Apart from keeping the institution clean, Hunting is also a self-taught unrecognized math genius. When Professor Gerald Lambeau (Stellan Skaarsgard) challenges his graduate students with a difficult mathematics problem, Will solves it anonymously on the blackboard, leaving Lambeau speechless. The professor keeps testing the unknown solver’s knowledge by setting even more difficult exercises. At some point Lambeau catches Will answering the question, but he flees.

On the other day, Hunting gets into a fight, and to avoid prison, starts attending classes with Landeau and having therapy sessions with Dr. Sean Maguire (Robin Williams). The three characters proceed on a journey of personal knowledge to help Will out with his life.

1) The Dead Poets Society

This one is a cliche in every list on this subject, but we couldn’t leave it out. It’s also another movie with Robin Williams, but this time with the leading role.

John Keating (Williams) is an English teacher at Welton Academy, an all-male, elite prep school, where he was a student himself. His unorthodox teaching methods raise concerns in the board of directors, but he gives the students the motivation to chase their dreams.

Some of the kids come together and restart the “Dead Poets Society”, a club for poetry and versing, including authorial texts. They start to stand tall against Welton’s obnoxious rules and their parents restrictive behavior.

Things fall apart when one of the students takes out his own life after being threatened by his father to leave the school and join a military academy. Welton’s headmaster pressures all the boys who took part in the society to blame Keating for the unfortunate events that succeeded.

They feel obligated to report the teacher, who gets fired. But before leaving, Keating witnesses a huge and brave performance by his students, who claim that they felt coerced by the authorities to denounce him. They stand up in their chairs in a revolutionary act:

“O captain, my captain!”

Bonus track: Whiplash (2014)

The students’ experiences with teachers can be remarkable through inspiration, but there’s another way to achieve this: trauma. In Whiplash, an ambitious drummer (Miles Teller) is starting a journey to be an unforgettable jazz instrumentalist. In the meantime, his path crosses with an abusive, yet genius instructor (JK Simmons), who proceeds to develop the student’s skills with scandalous, inhuman, and mean attitudes.


Personalization and understanding each students’ and classes’ needs are an important part of the track for teachers. If they succeed on this journey, they will most likely be remembered for a lifetime because of the great changes they’ve made possible to achieve.

In Ann Education we believe that the mission to reinvent learning goes through providing publishers, teachers, and students the best possible tools to achieve personalization, with data driven insights and exciting learning experiences.

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