28 great movies about school

Posted by Laurel Shockley - 04 April, 2017

By Laurel Shockley '89, Assistant Head of Lower School, and Rebecca Moore, Director of Communications

This post started as a conversation at one of our Wednesday morning faculty meetings. A group of us were brainstorming story ideas for this blog and people started talking about their favorite movies about school. Movies about school would be a fun post, we thought. Then we started to wonder: what if we could show these movies in the Thurber Arts Center and invite you to join us? Would you come? What if they were tied into other issues of interest? One movie, the documentary If You Build It, which all Lower School teachers have watched, could be shown in conjunction with a maker fair. We put the favorite movie question out to our faculty and staff as a whole and here are the responses. We like the idea of watching some of these movies together. Let us know what you think! Post a comment or email us. We've also created a board on Pinterest and added a few more selections there!

If You Build It

"This documentary follows two designers who use design thinking to transform the lives of 10 students in rural North Carolina. The passion of the designers to overcome the roadblocks that are constantly put in the way of their mission is inspiring to say the least. The relationships the designers form with the students and how the students are changed through the process will move the viewer to think about education differently." - Laurel Shockley

Être et Avoir

The movies that first leapt to mind that Wednesday morning were To Be and to Have, Music of the Heart (on our group notes, someone wrote "Strings of the Heart," which is actually, given the plot, a better title, in my opinion), If You Build It, and School of Rock

School of Rock

"Possibly the best 'school' movie, in my opinion.  The stuffy, mahogany-walled, private school atmosphere is unknowingly invaded by the hard-rock-loving, slacker guitar player, Dewey Finn (Jack Black). Finn is able to take a group of children and bring out each of their particular talents to achieve greatness as a group."  - Laurel Shockley

School of Rock is based on the Langley Schools Music Project and described in this radio documentary.

13 Reasons School of Rock's Dewey Finn Was the Best Teacher.

Music of the Heart

"Music of the Heart is 'the story of a schoolteacher's struggle to teach violin to inner-city Harlem kids.' I know the following sounds sentimental and not very fresh, but for me, it still resonates. It is based on reality.  It doesn’t get much more frustrating or inspiring than this story. The truth it shares: Work very hard, and continue to do so, despite setbacks. Reach out to others for help with humility and hope; people will respond. Have faith in one another, and beautiful growth, achievements, and connections can occur." - Elizabeth Abrams, Upper School English

Mr. Holland's Opus

"Just watched it again today...and cried again!  So good!" - Laurel Shockley

Laurel also adds two more of her favorites: Freedom Writers and Precious.

The Edge of Seventeen

"Because of the relationship between the teacher and the student," - Ashley Scoggins, Middle School Administrative Assistant

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

"Because of the ridiculous antics and the silly principal," says Ashley Scoggins, Middle School Administrative Assistant

"I’m not sure what it tells us about school except that we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously, and that kids are smart, but also still need lots of guidance. I love it because it’s so funny." - Nancy Beason, Middle School Art

The Breakfast Club

"Because the students — all very different — find their commonality while in detention," says Mrs. Scoggins. "I also love Sixteen Candles (perfectly captures the awkwardness of middle/high school) and Napoleon Dynamite (funny)."

Jay Rainey, Head of School, cast his vote for Napoleon Dynamite.


"This Mike Leigh film about a primary school teacher in London captures the dedication, humor, and intensity of being a teacher." - Rebecca Moore


"The cast is a Hollywood A list: Nick Nolte, JoBeth Williams, Morgan Freeman, Judd Hirsch;   Risque, but awesome." - Mike Bonaker, 6th Grade Science and Boys Varsity Tennis Assistant Coach


"Coaching is teaching." - Mike Bonaker

Race to Nowhere

A documentary about our culture of achievement and our anxiety about preparing our children for their future. More here.

Two teachers who know a lot about film gave us their own lists.

From Upper School English teacher Patrick Green:

Wonder Boys

Curtis Hanson’s follow-up to his masterful L.A. Confidential tells the story of a burnt-out, blocked English professor and writer (Michael Douglas) in Pittsburgh who finds himself at a crossroads. It’s absurdly funny, emotionally resonant, but satisfyingly high-minded. It’s also chock-full of stand-out performances. For me, as a teacher, it speaks to the struggles I face (especially as a teacher of the humanities) with balancing my work and personal life, the close relationships we build with our students, and the inspirations that lead us to finishing (or simply continuing) our own stories.


Goodbye, Mr. Chips

Blackboard Jungle;

The Emperor's Club

The Paper Chase

The History Boys

From Peter Townsend, Upper School Art (also Film):

The 400 Blows

Back to School

Rock n’ Roll High School (Roger Corman Classic)

Dead Poets Society

The Sword in the Stone

Never Been Kissed


Three O’Clock High

And here is another list, from Edutopia, with some overlap.

Want to see how Randolph (and Mr. Green) show up in this genre? Check out “Alma Mater,” the horror film Katie Kessler '17 made for her film class with Mr. Townsend on the School’s YouTube channel, the in the Student Work playlist.

Topics: movies, People

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