In honor of the new school year I'm going to write about my favorite teachers from the movies. There are many movies whose central character is a teacher, but as I was compiling this list I found that most of my favorite movie teachers are not main characters. They are supporting characters who mentor and teach the main characters. I find that I adore these teachers because of how they affect and change the lead characters. If the teacher is important to the hero, then they are important to me, the viewer.
Now, before I go on, I would like to admit that I have a gaping hole in my cinematic knowledge. Almost every list of Best Movie Teachers you can find has Mr. Chips from Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939). I know and love the book, so I know and love Mr. Chips, but sadly I have not yet seen the film. I know, I know. Shame on me. So, that's why Mr. Chips is not on this list. Moving on...
This list includes a wide array of teachers. Of course there are school teachers, but I've also included some coaches and a few wise old sages. As was the case with my Fathers Day list, this not a list of the "best" teachers, just my favorite teachers. I tried REALLY hard to choose 10 teachers, but I couldn't let one of them go, so here are my top 11 teachers:
#11 Economics Teacher
FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF (1986)
Played by Ben Stein
"Bueller... Bueller..." It's probably the most famous monotone line ever. Even if you haven't seen Ferris Bueller you've at least heard that line. I have had more than one teacher who quotes that line when they ask a question and no one raises their hand to answer it.
#10 Dewey Finn
THE SCHOOL OF ROCK (2003)
Played by Jack Black
Usually I can't stand Jack Black, but he is perfectly cast in The School of Rock. He plays a washed-up rocker who impersonates a substitute teacher at a fancy prep school to make some money. Instead of teaching the curriculum, Dewey turns his class of 10-year-olds into a rock band. At first he seems completely incompetent, but it turns out that Dewey is great teacher. Of course he's not teaching what he's supposed to be teaching, but he relates to the kids in way their parents and other teachers just don't and the class grows to love him. Dewey also manages to loosen up the strict principal of the prep school, played by Joan Cusack. Black and Cusack are a fantastic comedy duo.
#9 Erin Gruwell
FREEDOM WRITERS (2007)
Played by Hilary Swank
Freedom Writers is based on the inspiring true story of Erin Gruwell. In the film Gruwell is an idealistic young teacher whose first teaching job is at Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach, California. Most of the students in the school live in serious poverty and will be lucky if they graduate. Almost every student is part of a gang. The Latinos hate the Cambodians who hate the blacks and so on. The film follows one of Gruwell's classes through their freshman and sophomore years. Slowly, but surely, she is able to get through to her students. She teaches them to love reading and writing, but she also breaks down the barriers between the many gangs in her class. She teaches them tolerance and the importance of applying themselves. Hilary Swank seems to be Hollywood's go-to actress for gritty, real-life stories (Boys Don't Cry, Conviction) and, as always, she is amazing.
#8 Professor Remus Lupin
HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN (2004)
Played by David Thewlis
There are many teachers in the Harry Potter series. I considered putting Severus Snape on this list, but, though I love him dearly, I don't love him because he's a teacher. In the films Professor Lupin is probably the most well drawn-out teacher. Some would argue that Dumbledore is a better teacher than Lupin and, though that is true in the books, we don't see Dumbledore do much teaching in the movies. Keep in mind this list is based on the films, not the books. Lupin is the first professor that Harry sees as more than teacher. Lupin teaches him how to defend himself against dementors, but he is also a window to the past. Before Harry meets Lupin he knows almost nothing about his parents. Lupin is the first person who can talk to him intimately about Lily and James and their relationship quickly moves from teacher/student to father/son. A lot of Potter fans don't like David Thewlis, but I think he is perfect casting. He was first considered for Professor Quirrell in Sorcerer's Stone but the part went to Ian Hart, leaving Thewlis available to play Lupin. He captures Lupin's strong, gentle qualities, but he is also able to portray his defeated, broken side.
#7 Sam Mussabini
CHARIOTS OF FIRE (1981)
Played by Ian Holm
Sam Mussabini is Harold Abrahams' running coach. Abrahams is determined to become the fastest man in the world, so he seeks out Sam to help him achieve perfection. Harold is stubborn, but eager to learn and Sam is best coach in the business. Sam is blunt and straight-forward with Harold, but he is also great comic relief in the film. Abrahams is a Jew and Mussabini is half-Arab and together they are victims of racism and doubt. Though much of England looks down upon them, they never waiver from their ultimate goal: to win a gold medal at the Olympic Games. Ian Holm nabbed an Oscar Nomination for this role. (P.S. You may have noticed that Chariots of Fire shows up on a lot of my lists. I promise I'm not trying to shoe-horn it in everywhere. I just believe it is one of the greatest films ever made, so I find it fits into a lot of my 'favorites' lists.)
#6 Ms. Norbury
MEAN GIRLS (2004)
Played by Tina Fey
In the crazy, dramatic, frenzied girl-world of Mean Girls Ms. Norbury is the voice of reason. She is the smart, down-to-earth high school calculus teacher that everyone wishes they had. Mean Girls is meant to be satirical, so a lot of the characters are over-the-top, but Ms. Norbury stays very real. Her personal life stinks, but she is still a great teacher and she turns out to be a great role-model for her students. When the Burn Book written by the Plastics causes mayhem and destruction in the school, the other teachers turn to Ms. Norbury to sort things out. As a confident(ish) woman she is able to talk to the high school girls in way that makes them understand how horribly they treat each other and how it can be fixed. Tina Fey also wrote the screenplay. I basically worship her. She is the smartest woman in comedy these days.
#5 Charles Xavier
Played by Patrick Stewart
Professor Xavier runs a private school for young mutants. He provides a safe place for them to learn to control and use their superpowers. These mutants who grow to be X-Men and -Women have been ostracized by society and Professor X's school gives them a place to belong. For most comic book heroes being super means a lonely existence, but I like how Professor X brings all the X-Men together at his school. In most other superhero movies the hero learns to use his powers by himself, but in X-Men the students are taught by more experienced supers. I think Professor X's school gives the X-Men franchise a unique place in the superhero genre.
#4 Miss Dodger
PHOEBE IN WONDERLAND (2008)
Played by Patricia Clarkson
Phoebe in Wonderland is a wonderful little indie film that tells the story of a young girl Phoebe, played by Elle Fanning (Dakota's younger sister), who has Tourette's Syndrome and OCD. When she is cast as Alice in her school's production of "Alice in Wonderland" she finds that her ticks and distressing mannerisms go away when she is performing. She is encouraged to immerse herself in the world of theater by her drama teacher Miss Dodger. Miss Dodger teaches her students the power of imagination and teamwork. She takes particular interest in Phoebe and helps her tackle her real-world problems as well. I really like this movie because I can relate to the notion that while you perform on stage, the real world takes a backseat for a while. I would say Phoebe in Wonderland is not a fantastic movie, but it sure is great. It has a bit of a weird, fantasy edge and I would have preferred that it stayed more real and grounded, however, Elle Fanning's acting is incredible. She was only nine when it was filmed and it's a pretty heroic performance.
#3 Obi-Wan Kenobi
STAR WARS EPISODE IV: A NEW HOPE (1977)
Played by Alec Guinness
Obi-Wan Kenobi a classic example of a wise old sage. He is the first person to teach Luke about the ways of the Jedi and he sets Luke on the path that leads him to countless acts of heroism and bravery. I love it when a character like Obi-Wan has a great back story. It makes the character more real if we know the life he lived before he met our hero. Too often audiences are asked to just believe that a character is worldly and wise or battle-worn without being told how he became that way. Obi-Wan has studied the ways of the Jedi for decades, he fought in the Clone Wars and he saw how the Empire came into power. With his experience and knowledge he guides Luke toward his destiny. Even in death Obi-Wan influences Luke.
#2 Miss Stubbs
AN EDUCATION (2009)
Played by Olivia Williams
In An Education 16-year-old Jenny is swept away by a much older man who introduces her to art and music and culture that she's only ever read about in school. In the beginning scenes we see Jenny being very active in class. She is the smartest student in the school and her English teacher, Miss Stubbs, knows she has a great future ahead of her. Miss Stubbs sadly watches as Jenny is carried away by a dangerous relationship. She does her best to steer Jenny in the right direction, but as Jenny's beau introduces her to more and more, she begins to feel wise beyond her years. She is more blunt with Miss Stubbs and even talks down to her. Jenny leaves school when she gets engaged to David, leaving behind the opportunity to go to college. When the relationship falls apart Jenny has nothing. She is not allowed back in school, so she goes to Miss Stubbs to ask for help. Despite the way Jenny has treated her, Miss Stubbs is forgiving and helps Jenny get her life back on track. I really like Miss Stubbs because I think she is the kind of woman Jenny will someday grow up to be: strong and intelligent, but also kind and patient.
#1 Ms. Edmunds
BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA (2007)
Played by Zooey Deschanel
Out of all my favorite teachers Ms. Edmunds is the one I would most like to have as a real-life teacher. Ms. Edmunds is the young music teacher at Jess and Leslie's school. Jess is a quiet, lonely kid who loves to draw and use his imagination. Jess has four sisters, so he gets very little attention at home. His father is disappointed that Jess would rather draw than work at the family hardware store and his mother is always too busy to spend any time with him. Though the film is mainly about the friendship between Jess and Leslie, Ms. Edmunds is very important to Jess as well. She encourages Jess to explore his creative side. In one of my favorite scenes she takes Jess into the city to an art museum. In that scene she seems like more of a big sister than a teacher. I am so happy that Zooey Deschanel is acting now. She started out as a singer in her band called She and Him. Her first big movie was Elf. She's a great actor and she has such beautiful, expressive eyes. She lights up the screen in this movie. The scenes where she is singing in class are just luminous.
And there you have it. My favorite movie teachers.
Who are some of your favorites?