Teachers aren’t just limited to those teaching us in a classroom. This Teacher’s Day, we look back at 10 inspirational teachers from the movies who’ve inspired us in life.
Teachers, alongside our parents, are often the ones who give us a sense of direction in life. Outside of the home, they teach us not only academically, but also about what life has to offer. Be it discipline, perseverance, or moral values, they play a big part in our formative years.
However, teachers aren’t just those who’ve taught us in the classroom. Throughout our lives, we meet teachers in many forms: our peers, mentors, or even a stranger who gave us good advice. This Teacher’s Day, we’re reminiscing about 10 (mostly) fictional and truly inspirational teachers who’ve touched our hearts, motivated our minds and changed our lives.
Singapore Special: Shen Rong, Good Morning Sir (2002)
Ai yo yo!
Shen Rong is one of the most unforgettable characters from local television in the early 2000s. Known better as Ai Yo Yo 老师 (teacher in Chinese) due to her catchphrase, she’s still mentioned to this day. An enthusiastic new teacher in 1950s Singapore, Shen Rong’s posted to a new school in a fishing village. We see her bubbly personality and interactive teaching methods help her students’ grades improve quickly.
Each episode, her kind and attentive personality shines through, capturing our hearts along with her students’. She often goes out of her way to nurture her pupils. Through this series, not only does she gain the admiration and respect of her students, but the audience’s too. Ai Yo Yo 老师 taught us that a teacher can truly make a difference in her students’ lives. Through her kindness, she showed us that we too can succeed by doing our best.
1. John Keating, Dead Poets Society (1989)
Just when you think you know something, you have to look at in another way. Even though it may seem silly or wrong, you must try.
John Keating, better known as “O Captain, My Captain”, from Dead Poets Society, is undeniably one of the most inspirational teachers of movie history. He challenged the status quo and sought to inspire students in both poetry and life as a whole. Much to the disapproval of fellow colleagues, he used unconventional methods to teach his students to look at things from different perspectives.
Despite not being keen at first, his students slowly warm up to Keating’s teaching methods and poetry as a subject. They even form their own Dead Poets Society to delve more into poetry. Throughout the movie, we also see them overcoming their own problems with his help. Not only did Keating manage to influence a generation of boys to discover their own meaning of life, he − as did Robin Williams who played the role − inspired all of us in front of the screen, too. Carpe diem!
2. Dewey Finn, School of Rock (2003)
I’m a teacher. All I need are minds for moulding.
Dewey Finn first comes off as a bit of a loser – kicked out of his band, can’t make the rent, and impersonates his friend to get the job as a substitute teacher. Later on, however, we see that he helps the students in his rock band overcome their problems and embrace their talents. From a girl that’s afraid to sing due to her weight, to other kids who are outcasts, Finn helps them discover their confidence.
Despite their personal struggles, he encourages his students to “stick it to the Man” and stand up for themselves. It’s easy to give up on our dreams when we face setbacks. Finn taught us that in order to achieve our heart’s desires, we first have to overcome our fears. This tale of empowerment showed us that not only the “cool” kids can chase their dreams, and that anyone has a chance at success.
3. Glenn Holland, Mr Holland’s Opus (1995)
Playing music is supposed to be fun. It’s about heart, it’s about feelings, moving people, and something beautiful, and it’s not about notes on a page.
Glenn Holland was an inspiration to music lovers all over the world. Upon accepting the job as a high school music teacher, he quickly learnt that music was looked down upon in the school system. However, his passion for music and teaching never wavered. Instead of submitting to the vice-principal and budget cuts, he continued to teach his students about music through rock and roll.
He emphasised that music wasn’t just about reading notes off a page. Rather, it was about feelings, moving others through sound, and the meaning behind each piece. In a society that’s fixated on academic excellence, Glenn Holland inspired us to pursue our talents that weren’t the “norm”. Be it music or art, our passions still have meaning even if they aren’t what society focuses on.
4. Ken Carter, Coach Carter (2005)
l came to coach basketball players, and you became students. l came to teach boys, and you became men.
Based on a true story, Ken Carter is head coach of the basketball team at Richmond High School. From making his students sit in the front row at class to maintaining their grades, he begins to teach them not only about basketball but also about responsibility. The students begin to show respect and discipline, and even their grades show signs of improvement. However, at the height of the team’s success, Coach Carter shocks everyone by suspending them due to reckless behaviour.
Despite protests, Coach Carter believes it’s more important to have good values than to win games. In the end, he inspires his students to aim for higher education instead of turning to a life of violence and crime. He didn’t want to see his students suffer in the future just to achieve short-term success. Coach Carter taught us that our morals and ethics are most important. Even though it’s nice to succeed, it’s more vital to be people we can be proud of first.
5. Herman Boone, Remember the Titans (2000)
If we don’t come together right now on this hallowed ground, we too will be destroyed, just like they were. I don’t care if you like each other or not, but you will respect each other.
Herman Boone, an African-American, is tasked to be Head Coach of the school’s football team. However, due to racial tensions in the area, players of different races aren’t getting along. Boone steps up and uses tough love on his students, including rigorous training and pep talks. Against all odds, he manages to achieve harmony between the two sets of players.
The Titans then go on to win the season undefeated, slowly gaining support of their community along the way. Coach Boone’s intense attitude inspired not only his athletes, but also the audience watching him on-screen. He taught us that in order to succeed, we have to work together and set our differences aside. There’s no way to reach the finish line without harmony.
6. Mr Miyagi, The Karate Kid (1984)
First learn stand, then learn fly. Nature rule, Daniel-san, not mine.
Mr Miyagi is one of the most beloved fictional teachers to date. After saving Daniel from the vicious Cobra Kai gang, Mr Miyagi takes Daniel on as his student. At first, Mr Miyagi seems to be using Daniel to complete menial tasks. However, we soon see that this is also part of his training. As their bond develops, Mr Miyagi teaches him not only about karate, but also about life. Daniel learns important lessons such as personal balance, and how to train the spirit and mind as well as the body.
Despite being injured by his opponent, Daniel continues to fight his way through the competition. He eventually shows us the skills and determination he learnt from his sensei. We learnt the importance of perseverance from Mr Miyagi, too. Though certain tasks may seem unimportant, they’re actually building blocks to learning more important skills in life. Mr Miyagi also teaches us about the importance of discipline and personal balance – two skills that are often forgotten in today’s busy world.
(See also: 23 Nostalgic Movies to Watch with Your Kids)
7. Miss Riley, October Sky (1999)
How ’bout I believe in the unlucky ones? Hmm? I have to, Mister Turner, I’d go out of my mind.
In the small town of Coalwood, a boy named Homer is inspired by the launch of Sputnik 1. With the help of his Science teacher Miss Riley, Homer and his friends work hard to experiment and create their very own spacecraft. However, along the way, they run into hardships with their families, and abandon their project. Later on, Homer is inspired yet again by a book that Miss Riley gave him. Using this, the boys present their findings to their Principal and Miss Riley, and eventually find success.
Sadly, Miss Riley is diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease. In her honour, the boys name their largest rocket yet after her – with it reaching over 30,000 feet. Even though Miss Riley isn’t the main character of this film, her impact can’t be understated. If she hadn’t taken a chance on these boys, they wouldn’t have pursued their dream or succeeded. She taught us that even though our dreams may seem far-fetched, they’re not impossible.
9. Joe Clark, Lean on Me (1989)
You are here for one reason. One reason only: To learn. To work for what you believe in.
Joe Clark is hired as the principal of Eastside High School as it’s deteriorating due to drugs and crime. Most students can’t pass their basic skills test, and teachers face gang violence. Clark introduces radical changes that shock both the administration and parents alike. From dismissing 300 students to painting over graffiti walls and expelling students for violence, his measures aren’t well received.
Slowly, improvements are seen throughout the school. A new tutorial program even leads to 75 per cent of the students passing their basic skills test. Joe Clark, through his unconventional methods, taught us the importance of discipline in our lives. When we’re running rampant, we often don’t see the downward spiral we’re in. However, with just a little effort, we’ll be able to achieve greater things, just like his students.
10. Jaime Escalante, Stand and Deliver (1988)
You’re going to work harder here than you’ve ever worked anywhere else. And the only thing I ask from you is desire.
Jaime Escalante becomes a Maths teacher to Hispanic students from working-class families. Seeing that they’re struggling with both academic and personal problems, he seeks to change the school culture to help his students succeed. He helps to unleash their untapped potential and intelligence, with his students passing the AP Calculus exams. However, despite their hard work, the Educational Testing Service questions his students’ integrity. Doubting their ability, they’re accused of cheating in order to achieve such good grades.
Escalante defends his students against these baseless accusations, realising that it’s due to their race and economic status. He pays for all his students to retake the test – which they end up passing again – ending all doubts once and for all. Jaime Escalante is one of the fictional teachers that resonate with those who don’t match the status quo. Often, because of race or economic status, our potential may be ignored. Escalante taught us that despite the hand we’ve been dealt, there’s always a way to unleash our potential and succeed too.
This Teacher’s Day, why not do something different and share with your kids what we’ve learnt from these fictional teachers? Even though we aren’t physically in their classrooms, they’ve impacted our lives in so many ways. From learning about discipline from Joe Clark and Mr Miyagi to being motivated by Miss Riley and John Keating, these inspirational teachers are our teachers, too. Ai yo yo!