The teacher from the movies

When you think of teacher movies, what comes to mind? Do you think of someone like Mr. Rooney in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off or Mr. Strickland in Back to the Future? Or do you go the way of someone more like Miss Riley in October Sky or Mr. Holland in Mr. Holland’s Opus? I’m sure that for all of you, there is a connection (and maybe even a feeling) that goes with each of those characters. You might even be able to think back on one of your own teachers who is a little like one of them.

I’m guessing that we would all agree that some of these teachers are a little stronger than others. But what is it that makes the “good” movie teachers? There are a few things that these great teachers have in common – they build connections with their students, the students and teachers have respect for each other, and the students are empowered. The “mean” teachers were focused on control and compliance, while the “good” teachers were focused on community and empowerment.

In creating the environments of the teachers that they make movies about, you build a relationship with your students where there is an understanding between the teacher and the students that we’re two people here. What those movie teachers understand is that classroom management has much more to do with the environment, and much less to do with the rules that are put in place.

One of my all-time favorite teacher movies is Dead Poets Society. Mr. Keating does some amazing things with his group of students. Many people think of the Oh Captain, My Captain! scene when they think of that movie, and trust me, it’s a great scene.  But one of the more overlooked scenes is the soccer scene.  Take just a moment to watch the scene:

The reason I love this scene so much is that it reminds me of the value of movement in learning – especially for students that are in the age group I work most directly with. Most of us know intrinsically that a fifth or sixth grader cannot sit still for much more than 10 minutes, and yet we consistently have classroom situations where students have to sit for double that – sometimes even more! One of the things that will make you a movie star teacher to your students is to allow them opportunities for movement consistently.

I always like to provide some kind of new idea, and here’s one that you could try tomorrow to add some movement in your class. Many people use the turn and talk consistently to get students to share their thinking. What if you take that a little bit further and do something new called musical chairs. Explain to students that you are going to play about 10 seconds of music, during that time they should move around the room and find a partner. When the music stops, they start talking about your question. After enough time for both students to respond, start the music again and let them find a new partner. It’s kind of like musical chairs for a turn and talk. Students get to share their thinking, and get their movement and wiggles out! The best of both worlds! After a couple of rounds, have them move back to their seats and continue.

Or you might try a walk and talk – take your class for a walk on our campus. Talk about your points while you walk. Occasionally stop and allow students to partner up for a pair share, then continue the walk.

With each of these strategies, you have to build to structure in advance. That’s what the movie star teacher would do. Set your expectations high, and then hold your students to them. Don’t let those 2 knuckleheads pull your expectations down to the mean. Let them know that you trust them to do the right thing, and then lay out what needs to happen. Most kids will not want to ruin something fun, even if they are a knucklehead!

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Just a few of the things that happen in the classrooms of the movie teacher!

So what movie teacher do you think of? What made that teacher great? Of not so great? What elements of the movie teacher do you try to bring to your classroom? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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One thought on “The teacher from the movies

  1. My favorite inspirational teacher movie is Freedom Writers! She goes into a classroom that so many others teachers had given up on. Even her colleagues didn’t believe anyone could ever reach the students. She was amazing at building connections and relationships, setting high standards, helping students believe in themselves, putting in extra time, not giving up when things seemed impossible, forming relationships with students’ families, making learning applicable and interesting. Her classroom had a lot of racial tension and she found a meaningful way to address this problem. She taught her students about the Holocaust and since they were so into it, she found amazing additional experiences to enhance their learning on the topic. I believe the power of relationships and connection is everything in the classroom so I try to bring that aspect of her into the classroom. (And of course as a music teacher, I also have to love Mr. Holland’s Opus for his advocacy for the power of music education. :))

    Liked by 1 person

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