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Movie Mom

Movie Mom

Great Movie Teachers, Part 3: Grade and Middle School

posted by Nell Minow

In honor of the first day of school, I am reposting my list of some of my favorite movie teachers in elementary and middle school. Note that not all movies about kids this age are intended to be viewed by kids this age. (And be sure to check out my lists of great movie high school teachers and great movie college professors.)

10. Kindergarten Cop (PG-13) Now-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is the tough cop who has to go undercover as a kindergarten teacher in this romance/comedy/action film. (High school and up for violence)

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9. “Bright Road” (Not Rated)

bright road.jpg

Dorothy Dandridge is perhaps best remembered now as the pioneering black actress brilliantly portrayed by Halle Berry in the made-for-cable biopic and her own sizzling performance in “Carmen Jones.” But in this neglected film she shows range, sensitivity, and charisma with a subtle and sincere performance as an idealistic teacher in the pre-Brown v. Board of Education days of “separate but equal,” when no one even considered integrated schools as possible.

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8. To Be and to Have (Not rated) This brilliant documentary about a compassionate teacher’s last year in a French one-room schoolhouse documents the persistence, generosity, and gentle wisdom of a man whose influence on a generation of students will last all their days.

7. Mad Hot Ballroom (PG for a few mild references to sex) This documentary about elementary school teachers coaching their students for a ballroom dance competition is touching, inspiring, funny, and fun. It may just have you trying out some steps yourself.

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6. The King and I (G but some tense and sad moments) The resolute but kind-hearted British teacher sings “Getting to Know You” to her pupils, the children of the multiply-married king of Siam in this classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical.

5. The Miracle Worker (Not Rated with some tense confrontations and violence) One of the most influential teachers in American history is vision-impaired Annie Sullivan, who taught blind and deaf Helen Keller the power of communication and with her changed notions of the abilities of the disabled forever.

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4. The Magic School Bus (Suitable for all ages) The redoubtable Mrs. Frizzle takes her students on adventures everywhere from under water to outer space, even inner space, taking them inside the human body.

3. Matilda (PG for mild language and some bullying and insults) Roald Dahl’s classic story reminds us of the difference a sympathetic and supportive teacher can make in the life of a child who does not get sympathy and support at home.

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2. School of Rock (PG for rude humor and drug references) Jack Black plays a reluctant teacher whose young students revitalize his passion for performing in a band in this delightful story. There’s a sequel in the works. And teens and adults will enjoy the documentary about a real-life Dewey: Rock School–but note that it has very strong language.

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1. Paper Clips (G but subject matter concerns the Holocaust) This documentary about small-town teachers who teach their students revelatory and meaningful lessons about the Holocaust and its relevance to their lives shows us how the teachers can learn as much from the lesson as the students. Must viewing for all families.

  • jestrfyl

    Somehow I think McGonnigle and Hagrid from Hogwarts need to figure in here. Technically, they are both Middle and High School teachers/professors, but I think their concern for the students mkes them worth including.
    As a Parrothead, I would be remiss in not mentioning, if not suggesting Jimmy Buffet’s midle school teacher character in the movie “Hoot” (filmed in part nearby here).

  • stephanie sexton

    what about Sidney Poitier in “To Sir, With Love”

  • Jill Rasmussen

    How abour Mr. Holland’s Opus? I loved that movie. I think the character is brilliantly played by a somewhat over looked (as of late) actor, Richard Dreyfus. He was incredible.
    I also think the character played by Hilary Swank in Freedom Writers was incredible. The story was awesome.
    Summer School with Kirstie Alley and Mark Harmon was good too. The dedication Mark Harmon showed his students was great.

  • Nell Minow

    Thanks, Stephanie! I love that movie and I included it in my high school teachers movie list. I’ve also read and enjoyed the book.

  • Nell Minow

    Good choices, Jill! “Mr. Holland’s Opus” always makes me cry. Do you know that a young Terrence Howard appears as the tone-deaf athlete? And I was glad to see you mention “Summer School,” an unpretentious and overlooked movie. I’m a big fan of Mark Harmon.

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