How To Be An Inspirational Teacher, The Movie Way

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This week sees the release World’s Greatest Dad, a dark, twisted comedy from Bobcat Goldthwait. It stars Robin Williams as schoolteacher Lance Clayton, which inevitably made us think of Williams’ other great teaching role in Dead Poets’ Society, where he’s far from your average Mr. Jenkins of 4B. So to celebrate unconventional yet inspiring teachers, here are 12 of our favourite classroom-based madcap professors, hell-bent on getting some knowledge into that stubborn noggin of yours…

Teacher: Mr. Chipping, a.k.a. Mr Chips (Robert Donat)

Teaching special power: One hell of a ‘tache, Latin puns, the charm of the world’s most wonderful wife.

Teacher’s pet: Peter Colley III (Terry Kilburn), who delivers the immortal line, “Goodbye, Mr. Chips”. The little suck-up.

How it’s done: The great-grandaddy of all uber-tached cane wagglers, Mr.Chips has no doubt inspired thousands of would-be teachers to sport a patch of extra face-fuzz above the upper lip to seem just that little bit more commanding and Chips-like. After all, Chips inspired his students through a dry sense of humour and being, well, really rather kind and generous. Sure, he starts off as something of a dragon, but after meeting and marrying the lovely Kathy, he becomes a veritable treasure – albeit one who, over the years, has to watch generations of students march off to war and be chewed up in the process. Still, the compassion and all-round good-eggness he displays explains the hard-earned and endlessly touching tribute he receives from generations of grateful learners when he finally quits his mortarboard. It’s a classic for a reason, people.

Teacher:** John Keating (Robin Williams)
Teaching special power: **Poetry, especially the kind what was written by dead poets an’ that.

  • Teacher’s pet:* **Almost too many to mention, but still: Neil Perry (Robert Sean Leonard), Todd Anderson (Ethan Hawke), Knox Overstreet (Josh Charles) are the biggest sycophants. Sorry, most inspired pupils.
  • How it’s done: *With typical zippy, excitable, the genie-from-Aladdin shazam, making preppiness meet peppiness with such irrefutable vigor that you’d have to be a stone-hearted student indeed not to be swayed by his calls to shout "I sound my barbarian yawp" and jump around a bit. Encouraging his pupils to leave the classroom, chat up girls and sneak away in a hidey hole to read poetry and look at porn, Mr. Keating gets the students to seize the day in such an emphatically upbeat way, it almost makes you want to read some of that poetry stuff, clamber on top of your desk and join a rousing chorus of “O Captain, My Captain.” Instead, you turn your TV and DVD player off and go to bed. Nice try all the same, though.

Teacher: LouAnne Johnson (Michelle Preiffer)

Teaching special power:* Bribery, formerly being in the US Marines, and being generally ‘hip to the scene’. We’d say ‘down with the kids’, but that would be ludicrous.

Teacher’s pet: Callie Roberts (Bruklin Harris), who gets the keenest swot prize despite being withdrawn from the school by her mother halfway through the film.

How it’s done: As the saying goes, “If you can’t beat them, join them.” Except that when it comes to the teaching profession, beating is a no-no, and joining really doesn’t make much sense at all. Still, that’s what LouAnne Johnson does, desperately trying to be everyone’s friend by bribing her pupils with sweets, flirting with them patronisingly, taking them on trips to theme parks, and indulging in a few karate lessons. She even wears her leather jacket to look cool. Yeesh. Somehow, though, it works. A few games of pool and a couple of packs of Jelly Bellies later and they’re eating out of her hand (almost literally), besides performing acts of gangland violence anyway. But, and this is important, fewer acts of such violence than they would have committed without her. Probably. We’d need to see statistical analyses to be sure.

Teacher:** **John Kimble (Arnold Schwarzenegger)

  • Teaching special power:* **‘Police school’, positive reinforcement, his pet ferret. Oh, and shouting.
  • Teacher’s pet:* Zach Sullivan (Justin Page), who Kimble would defend to the very ends of the earth.

    How it’s done: *When it comes to Arnie films, it’s a tough call to pick which one has the most ludicrous storyline, but this one certainly earns a spot in the Absurd Plot Hall of Fame. Our man Schwarzenegger is a tough cop forced to teach a bunch of kiddly winks what’s what while he tries to find a drug dealer’s wife and persuade her to testify against her ex-husband. Of course he eventually learns to love the children placed under his exceptionally muscular wings, but not before indulging in the age-old teaching technique of SCREAMING YOUR HEAD OFF. Cue innumerable shouty requests for his kids to “BRING THE TOYS BACK TO THE CAHRPET” and the occasional dash out to the school’s front drive for a good stress-relieving yell. He’s a hard taskmaster, but could you do anything other than nod silently when a 6 ft 2 ex-Mr. Universe bellows “SHUUUUUUUUUUT UUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUP! Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!” at you? Yep, that’s what we thought.

Teacher:** Pierre Dulaine (Antonio Banderas)
*Teaching special power:* Being incredibly cool (in a way only Antonio can pull off), and dancing, dancing, dancing. Beware the power of the tango, people.
Teacher’s pet: **Rock (Rob Brown), who is the ultimate in downtrodden underdogs. Who can dance.

How it’s done: There’s one scene in this movie that’s so sensual, so sexy, so damn Antonio Banderas that it provokes one of his students to say “Mr. Dulaine is getting his flirt on!” It’s an elaborate tango he pulls off with one of his dancers to wow his no-hoper troops into action, and by gum does it work, getting them up off their feet and into their dancing shoes as the sheer power of dance takes uninspired detention drones and inspires the crap out of them. Maybe it’s the music, maybe it’s the moves, maybe it’s that it’s finally a teacher who really cares about them (and is willing to teach them something more fun than algebra), but whatever it is exactly that Mr. Dulaine has got going on, he’s really got it going on. Seriously, just thinking about this movie will make you want to start dancing with the nearest coat rack. Or person, ideally. Dulaine’s based on a real teacher who started a ballroom dance programme in New York public schools to teach kids to respect each other (and the rhythm, we suppose), but we’ve seen pictures... and he doesn’t look like this in real life. Just so you know.

Teacher:** **Dr. Henry Walton "Indiana" Jones, Jr. (Harrison Ford)

Teaching special power: Awesome hat, bullwhip, fear of snakes. When he’s in the classroom, flirtatious eyebrow-cocking, a natty bow tie.

Teacher’s pet:** **Short Round (Jonathan Ke Quan)? Let’s say Short Round.

  • How it’s done: *There’s that age-old teaching joke that goes: “Those that can, do. Those that can’t, teach.” Indiana Jones is irrefutable proof that this is a load of bunkum, as despite his proclamations to his class that “In archeology, 70% of the time is spent in the library” and “X never, ever marks the spot” he’s regularly putting on his satchel and dashing off on some adventure. Leading by example, he inspires his students with his daring deeds of derring-do, invariably wrecking many ancient monuments in the process – except, of course, his students don’t know about his other life, so it’s all a bit redundant, teaching-wise. Still, we’re sure that the students were riveted anyway, judging by the fact that they seemingly can’t take their eyes off him when he’s teaching, mob him after class and occasionally write “I Love You” across their eyelids for extra credit.

Teacher: Jaime Escalante (Edward James Olmos)

Teaching special power:
Combover, big glasses, a passion for calculus that genuinely makes you wonder what ‘differentiate’ actually means.

Teacher's pet: Angel Gomez (Lou Diamond Phillips), who's not quite tough enough to resist Mr Escalante's innovative methods.

How it’s done: *If this movie weren’t actually based on a true story, there’s no way you’d believe it. There’s no way it would have been made, even. Based on a real teacher in California by the name of Jaime Escalante, it tells the tale of a group of kids who have barely any maths skills at all but who are drummed into shape and eventually pass their calculus exam in their senior year. Mr. Escalante uses props, chants, and a great sense of pride to turn his pupils’ lives around. It’s not a funny film, and it’s almost impossible to be glib about, but it’s passionate, enthralling, and the most exciting movie about calculus ever made. We really mean that. Just goes to show that Admiral Adama isn’t just useful to have around when you’ve got a world that needs saving.

Teacher: Richard Mason (Ted Danson)

Teaching special power:* In-depth knowledge of chess moves, having just been laid off from a good job at a big bank.

Teacher's pet: Jimmy Washington (Malcolm David Kelley), a pupil who's clearly headed for delinquency before learning to castle changes his path.

How it’s done: Very loosely based on the true story of David MacEnulty, this sees businessman Richard Mason rekindle a long-dormant desire to teach after losing his high-profile job. But in the underfunded public elementary school where he pitches up, he initially despairs of teaching the kids – until he hits upon using chess to get them thinking, counting, analyzing and all the rest. Of course, he encounters resistance from those who don’t accept this ker-azy approach; of course, the results speak for themselves as the kids start paying more attention in class, coming in early and staying late, and generally improving across the board. It’s another triumph for unconventional thinking and another loss for those stuffy characters on the school board. Will they ever learn to trust the underqualified do-gooder with the bizarre schemes for success?

Teacher: Ms. Sharon Norbury (Tina Fey)

Teaching special power:** **Pushing, being a pusher (not like being a drug pusher), being able to handle three jobs, taking a her top off in class, Mathleticism, and… does just generally being awesome count?

Teacher’s pet: Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan) - to begin with.

How it’s done: *As Principal Ron Duvall puts it himself, Ms Norbury is a successful, intelligent, caring, graceful woman, and the only person we could imagine being able to get 100 bitchy schoolgirls to stop bitching about each other – and through anger-releasing exercises, no less. And no, despite what Cady might have written in the Burn Book, she does not sell drugs, nor has she ever sold drugs. That would really be the worst way to inspire kids in the world. Just think of Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn) in Fast Times At Ridgemount High. Instead, Ms Norbury uses positivity, some well-earned hard talking and the occasional bit of insightful ice-breaking group exercises to get the student body working together and not (literally) tearing each other’s hair out for a minute. We also reckon she’s got something going on with the Principal, which could come in handy when her contract’s up for renewal.

Teacher: Mr. Holland (Richard Dreyfuss)

Teaching special power:
Richard Berry’s Louie Louie, classical music.

Teacher’s pet: Gertrude Lang (Joanna Gleason), who eventually goes onto become State Governor. He’s that good a teacher.

How it’s done: With a careful mixture of quality Dreyfuss grumpiness, wild enthusiasm for his subject, and one wicked moustache. Essentially movie-proof that life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans, Mr Holland turns to teaching as a means to an end while he composes the piece that will make him famous, rich, and take him away from John F. Kennedy High School. When life interferes with his plans, however, he unwittingly makes his students his life’s work, turning challenging pupils around through the power of music, or, more specifically, Richard Berry’s Louie Louie, as well as learning to bond with a deaf son who can’t share his first love with him. And if seeing a fantastically bespectacled, wonderfully mustachioed Richard Dreyfuss boogieing on down isn’t enough to make you hammer out a tune on the piano, we don’t know what will.

Teacher: Dewey Finn / Ned Schneebly / 'Mr. S' (Jack Black)

Teaching special power: Rock AND Roll.

Teacher’s pet: Zack Mooneyham (Joey Gaydos Jr.), shy, retiring, absurdly talented guitarist and song-writer who's bound to be 'the next Hendrix’.

How it’s done:*

Dewey, or ‘Mr. S’ as he’s known, is not your average prep-school teacher. He’s got absolutely no qualifications, he’s committing very serious fraud for most of the film in order to enter the school at all, and he doesn’t teach his pupils anything… aside from HOW TO ROCK OUT! (Air guitar) Mad, bad and dangerous to know, Mr. S is the coolest teacher you’ve never had, bringing the noize to the classroom like it’s the final night of Woodstock every schoolday. He's a confidence-boosting, headmistress-seducing, rock-and-roll-producing musical machine that may not teach you much about algebra, but will make you headbang with alarming vigor. And in the end, isn't that what really matters?

Teacher: Yoda (Frank Oz / Warwick Davis)

Teaching special power:* The Force, unconventional syntax, many words of wisdom.

Teacher’s pet:* Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) – for the original trilogy, at any rate.

How it’s done:

In the prequel trilogy, Yoda is a very busy, er, space alien. Not only is he sitting on the Jedi Council, ruminating his little green head off, but he’s also teaching young Jedi padawans (we refuse to use the word "Younglings". Oh, darn it!), instructing them in the ways of the Force by getting them to lift objects, or on other occasions, hit objects with other objects. Though his teaching skills might be best displayed on the swamp planet of Dagobah, there’s no doubt of his classroom-management skills, given that his young disciples barely utter a peep in his powerful, intimidating presence and pipe up with answers to Obi-Wan's questions with alacrity. Plus, you can’t argue with his words of wisdom: “Do or do not... there is no try.” Gets us every time.