7 Teachers From Movies Who We've Come to Know and Love

"No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world."

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World Teachers’ Day is here on October 5, 2015 - a day to honor teachers and their unwavering commitment to students. World Teachers’ Day celebrates teachers who empower their students, and, inversely, students who inspire their teachers. To join the conversation on education, here are seven spirited teachers from movies. From the tough-loving, to the eccentric, to the slightly kooky, these teachers shape their students for the better, and, in the process, change themselves.

1. JOHN KEATING

HOW WE KNOW HIM: Dead Poets Society
CLASS IS IN SESSION: Professor Keaton, played by Robin Williams, is the new English professor at an all-boys preparatory school founded on the pillars of tradition, honor, discipline and excellence. But Professor Keaton has his own ideals about how to teach English.
WHY WE LOVE HIM: With his unorthodox methods, vibrant spirit, and unyielding passion, Keaton infuses the boys with a love for poetry, urges them to strive for non-conformity, and, most importantly, encourages them to seize the day.

2. DEWEY FINN

HOW WE KNOW HIM: School of Rock
CLASS IS IN SESSION: Wannabe rockstar, Dewey Finn (Jack Black) pretends to be a substitute teacher at a prestigious private school to make ends meet and avoid eviction. Though at first Finn carelessly waits for the hours to pass to collect his paycheck, after seeing the raw musical talent of his students, he decides to sign them up for the local Battle of the Bands.
WHY WE LOVE HIM: Throughout the film, Finn teaches his fifth-graders about the legends of rock n’ roll and the value of art education, and more importantly, he teaches them how to believe in themselves.

3. JAIME ESCALANTE

HOW WE KNOW HIM: Stand and Deliver 
CLASS IS IN SESSION: Based on a true story, a rebellious math teacher, played by Edward James Olmos, is determined to have his students pass the Advanced Placement Calculus exam. With Escalante’s guidance and determination, 18 of his students pass the exam. However, their achievement is so remarkable that the school board is in disbelief and accuses the Latino students of cheating.
WHY WE LOVE HIM: Despite the odds – which include scarce teaching resources, apathetic parents, and the students’ preconceived label as “unteachable,” Escalante never ceases to believe in his students - even when everyone else does not.

4. ERIN GRUWELL  

HOW WE KNOW HER: Freedom Writers 
CLASS IS IN SESSION: Hilary Swank plays real-life teacher, Erin Gruwell, who teaches English at a racially divided Los Angeles school. Though at first Gruwell struggles to relate with her troubled students, she assigns reading material that relates to their lives and encourages them to write daily in a journal. While struggling with both personal and external barriers, Gruwell manages to connect with her students in a way she didn’t think possible.
WHY WE LOVE HER: Gruwell uses her creativity and passion to find a way to break through to her students, helping them overcome the prejudice and violence that pervade their lives.

5. MELVIN B. TOLSON

HOW WE KNOW HIM: The Great Debaters   
CLASS IS IN SESSION: Set in1930’s Texas, this film focuses on Melvin B. Tolson, played by Denzel Washington, who forms Wiley College’s first debate team. Tolson uses his tough, yet passionate character to challenge prejudices against his all-black team and faces off with Harvard’s debate champions for the first time ever.
WHY WE LOVE HIM: Tolson’s courage, resolve and unshakable hope for justice drive his students to face the odds in order to achieve their dreams. Tolson said it best In his memorable statement, “we do what we got to do, so we can do what we want to do.”

6. LOUANNE JOHNSON   

HOW WE KNOW HER: Dangerous Minds
CLASS IS IN SESSION: Michelle Pfeiffer plays Louanne Johnson – newly divorced, marine-turned-teacher. After a terrible first day at her inner-city school of bright, yet underachieving, students, Johnson returns ready for battle. Using unconventional teaching methods (including Karate and Bob Dylan lyrics), a no-nonsense attitude, and fearless determination, Pfeiffer slowly gains the trust of her students.
WHY WE LOVE HER: Generosity with her time, praise and money, courage to stand up for what’s right, and innovation in educational techniques are just some of the qualities of Johnson that make her a truly remarkable teacher.

7. WILLIAM FORRESTER  

HOW WE KNOW HIM: Finding Forrester
CLASS IS IN SESSION: An unlikely friendship develops when a young, gifted scholar-athlete meets an eccentric, recluse novelist. Jamal Wallace is sent to a prestigious prep school in Manhattan after scoring highly on his standardized test. His aptness for basketball and his gift for writing, catch the attention of William Forrester, played by Sean Connery. Forrester inspires Wallace to pursue his dreams on and off the court, while Wallace finds that he is changing the writer as well.
WHY WE LOVE HIM: Of the many lessons Forrester shares with Wallace, first and foremost, he implores his student not let fear hold him back from trying things, saying “we walk away from our dreams afraid that we may fail or worse yet, afraid we may succeed.”