Every teacher needs some inspiration from time to time and who better to provide some than the Hollywood movie industry. Ajarn.com presents the ten greatest ‘teacher movies' of all time and what you as a teacher in Thailand can actually learn from them. Anyone for a bucket of popcorn and the jumbo-sized Coke?
To Sir with Love (1967) Sidney Poitier
This is rated by many as possibly the greatest teacher movie of them all. While waiting for a decent engineering job to come along, Mark Thackeray (Sidney Poitier) chooses to teach a bunch of useless no-hopers at a school slap bang in the middle of an East London slum. Everything about Mark is wrong - his posh accent, his skin color and certainly his dress sense but slowly he wins the students round, teaching them how to treat each other with respect. In one memorable scene, the teacher takes the students out into the local community to help old ladies across the road and prove the point that not all teenagers are car-jacking murderers. It might be worth you trying this with your Thai class. Start by telling the students that you are going to take them outside to integrate with older members of the community. If too many students immediately start groaning and complaining that ‘outside is too hot', ditch the plan and tell them to get their homework books out instead.
Dangerous Minds (1995) Michelle Pfieffer
Gorgeous teacher takes on a tough teaching assignment in an inner city school and finds out that the students would rather dance to rap music, buy and sell crack and throw each other out of the window than listen to some silly cow try to conjugate verbs. Late one evening our Mish comes up with a devious plan and arrives at school next door in skin-tight jeans and a biker's leather. Suddenly every student in the class is up for it. She even gets away with disguising a Dylan Thomas poetry lesson as something to do with dealing drugs (now that's just sneaky). Are you looking to change the attitude of your students? Then reach for those skinny jeans, blend in more with the hip crowd, and you could be on to a winner. If you've got Michelle Pfeiffer's looks and flawless bone structure as well, you're laughing.
The Substitute (1996) Tom Berenger
If scrambling around in video shop bargain bins was never your bag then you would have missed this teacher classic starring b-movie king Tom Berenger. He goes undercover as a substitute teacher in order to bust a dangerous street gang. On the first day of term, one of the more aggressive members of the class decides to throw a screwed up ball of paper at the teacher while he is writing on the blackboard. With an enviable sixth sense, our Tom spins around, catches the ball and throws it back in the student's face - only 200 times harder. Cut to student being carried to the first aid room with blood everywhere. Hold on. Something has just struck me. There's only one reason you would watch this - to see how many students Tom Berenger can kick the ever living shit out of. Perhaps including the movie in this list wasn't one of my better decisions.
The Miracle Worker (1962) Anne Bancroft
This was probably made before you were even born but it is one of the greatest teacher movies of all time. It's the story of Anne Sullivan's dedication to teach deaf and blind student Helen Keller to communicate. It took years and years but the teacher eventually achieves her goal. Now take a look at the slowest student in your own class - the one who sits in a corner all day long licking Lego. Have you got that same dedication to focus on their needs and turn them into stars? What's that? Not when you've got a few things to pick up at the supermarket and you want to be on tomorrow's early bus to Koh Samet. Fair enough.
Dead Poet's Society (1989) Robin Williams
This is the story of English professor John Keating who inspires his students to love poetry and to seize the day. With barely a semester under his belt, the professor's charges are sneaking off games to read poetry under the shade of an oak tree. By semester two the students are standing on desks and cheering loudly as the professor jokingly disses some of the poetry greats. Just remember one thing before you try this at home and before your students start jeering as you dismiss William Wordsworth's work as an endless stream of bawdy innuendo. In the movie, the professor's students were quite clever to begin with.
The Karate Kid (1984) Ralph Macchio
You all know the story by now - a skinny kid is getting his arse kicked by the local hoodlums and an ordinary-looking, mild-mannered janitor draws on his past as a karate expert to turn the kid into a champion street-fighter. Somewhere along the way the janitor looks the kid in the eye and says "I'm going to take you to a level you never thought possible"
Why not give that a try the next time you rack up to a job interview with a shaven head, body piercings and your prize dragon tattoo peeking out from under a shirt sleeve. "I may look unconventional but I'm here to take these kids to a level they never thought possible"
On second thoughts, perhaps you'd be better off dressing up as the janitor.
Notes on a Scandal (2006) Judi Dench, Cate Blanchett
No film will prepare you for life in a teachers room better than ‘Notes on a Scandal' - the story of a beautiful, young art teacher who brings her modern teaching methods to a British comprehensive school, only to find the long-serving, bitter, twisted lesbian standing in the way of her progress.
In any teachers' room, there will always be those who are to get you, to report you to the authorities the moment you step out of line. This movie shows you how to deal with those whose only aim is to make your life a misery - namely getting them arrested and when that fails, trying to force their head inside the gas oven.
Music of the Heart (1999) Meryl Streep
In this mostly forgotten film from the late 90's, Meryl Streep plays a music teacher who moves to a deprived suburb of New York. She sees the poverty and misery all around her and decides the only way she knows to give something back to the underprivileged kids is to teach them to play the violin. Meryl ends up getting spectacular results - and so could you. Look at the underprivileged people in your neighborhood - what about that woman who sells the plastic mobile phone covers? What joy you could bring into their lives with some free English lessons. I would do it myself but the wife and I always go shopping on Saturdays.
Mr Holland's Opus (1995) Richard Dreyfuss
Mr Holland is the high school teacher everyone loves. He's dedicated his whole teaching career to the school and the school orchestra. He has shaped his students lives beyond words. But time is marching on and all good things come to an end. Cometh the last day of school, when Mr Holland is about to retire, there's not a dry eye in the house as the film reaches its climax. Thinking that he's only turning up to collect his final month's pay, the school has thrown a surprise party with the whole school alumni in attendance. And Mr Holland gets up on the stage to conduct the orchestra for one last time. However, when it's time for you yourself to quit a school and either move on or retire, don't expect the sounds of an orchestra to accompany you on your way. Just concentrate on getting your final month's pay - anything else will be a bonus.
The Freedom Writers (2006) Hilary Swank
The film is about a young teacher who inspires her class of at-risk students to learn tolerance, apply themselves, and pursue education beyond high school. The main sub-plot is when the teacher gets the students to develop an interest in the holocaust and to read the diary of Anne Frank. The students are so moved by it, that the teacher dips into the school funds and arranges for one of the women who helped shelter the Frank family to fly over from Holland and meet the students. Now I'm not saying that you shouldn't develop your students' interest in various topics but be careful about promising them guest visits and raiding the petty cash in order to pay for it. Especially if you work at one of those schools that even makes you pay for your own work permit.