Test, test, test…In anticipation of the controversial movie-teacher flick Won’t Back Down, which premieres in U.S. theaters on Friday, we made a list of movie teachers whose roles were inspired by real-life educators.
Although it was difficult to whittle down our long list, we think we’ve got some cinematic nuggets that you’d agree are worthy of an A+.
Won’t Back Down
Starring Viola Davis as a disillusioned teacher and Maggie Gyllenhaal as a disgruntled parent, Won’t Back Down is loosely based on the story of parents in Adelanto, California, who decided to form parent unions to take over their kids’ struggling elementary school and advocate change in the public school system.
In addition to utilizing state-adopted Parent Trigger laws, the parents and education advocates in Adelanto created Parent Revolution, a non-profit that encourages parents to organize and promote students’ education first.
Although the film has received flack for being considered an anti teachers’ union movie, what is clear is the potential for Won’t Back Down‘s message to ignite a parental revolution in education reform.
You’ve got to “rage against the dying of the light”!
This quote by Dylan Thomas, along with Bob Dylan, candy bars in the classroom, and of course, Coolio’s track “Gangsta’s Paradise” are some of the unforgettable takeaways in Dangerous Minds, which turned out to be a hit in the summer of 1995.
But the flick wouldn’t have been the same without Michelle Pfeiffer’s portrayal of real-life high school teacher LouAnne Johnson. Dangerous Minds was based on the former U.S. marine’s experiences teaching troubled, inner city kids from Belmont, California, which she documented in her autobiography My Posse Don’t Do Homework. In it Johnson writes candidly about her triumphs and struggles in trying to inspire and motivate her students.
Author of multiple educational books, Johnson is currently a professor of teacher education and tutors children on the side.
The Miracle Worker
Anne Bancroft’s remarkable demonstration of physicality and tenacity as Anne Sullivan—Helen Keller’s teacher in the film The Miracle Worker—won her an Oscar in 1962.
The film took its cues from Keller’s autobiography The Story of My Life and revealed the pains both she and Sullivan had undergone to turn Keller from an essentially feral child to a civilized intellectual who’d eventually become an accomplished writer, lecturer, and staunch political activist.
Understanding her student’s state on a personal level, Sullivan had been severely visually impaired almost all her life when she decided, at the age of 20, to become Keller’s teacher. Before anything else, she taught the stubborn Keller, who was 6 years old at the time, that she must first learn how to behave before she could learn. For the next 49 years, the two would be inseparable.
A few years before her death, Sullivan had become completely blind and later died in 1936 at the age of 70 with her student and friend by her side. When Keller passed 32 years later, her ashes were buried next to Sullivan’s at the Washington National Cathedral.
Dead Poet’s Society
Carpe Diem! Robin Williams’ Academy-Award winning portrayal as professor John Keating in Dead Poet’s Society was inspired by English professor Sam Pickering’s unconventional teaching style.
When the film came out in 1989, Pickering found the media’s fascination with him embarrassing, readily confessing that his unorthodox ways of keeping his students’ attention had no meaning behind them at all.
“I did such things not so much to awaken students as entertain myself,” he stated in an interview.
Currently, Pickering is teaching at the University of Connecticut in Storrs.
Lean on Me
Morgan Freeman scared the bejesus out of every inner-city high school hooligan in the late 80s when he portrayed a rough-and-tumble principal in Lean on Me.
Freeman’s character took after the extreme measures of principal Joe Clark (a.k.a. Crazy Joe) who led Eastside High School in Paterson, New Jersey, in the 80s. Known for carrying a baseball bat and a bullhorn, Clark was controversial in his autocratic approach to cleaning up his school because he simply expelled delinquent, underachieving students. His main focus was on those students who played by the rules, and he placed school pride and discipline above everything else.
Today, Clark is a motivational speaker and the director of the Essex Country Juvenile Detention Center in Newark, New Jersey.
Who are some of your favorite movie teachers?