I hate to admit it (OK, I don’t hate it that much), but it doesn’t take much more than freshly popped popcorn to get me to the movies. Something about that snack—even when it’s doused with what you know deep down is not butter—always calls my name.
With or without the popcorn, here are a few movie and documentary recommendations for educators and anyone else who enjoys movies that touch the heart and explore what it means to nurture and support students. These may not be in theaters any longer, but they are available on various streaming services.
America to Me—This 10-part documentary takes us on Oak Park and River Forest High School’s journey to wrestle with race and what it means for educational opportunities. Filmmaker Steve James, who created the 1994 documentary “Hoop Dreams,” spent a year with students, educators, and parents at this integrated, Chicago-area high school. He found vastly different student (and educator) experiences and perspectives.
Eighth Grade—Ah! 8th grade. I remember it well. Who doesn’t? “Eighth Grade” focuses on Kayla Day’s final days of middle school. Kayla (portrayed by 13-year-old Elsie Fisher, who recently earned a Golden Globe nomination for her performance) has a rich interior life, but she is an introvert who flies under the radar. So we cringe along with her when she gets the “Most Quiet” award during a school assembly. (Why would any school give that award out?)
The movie’s director, comedian Bo Burnham, said in an interview that “with the internet, it’s like everyone acts like an eighth grader…so why not talk about it through the only people acting their age?”
Science Fair—Variety Fair has described this National Geographic documentary as “an ode to the teenage science geeks on whom our future depends.” I’d say it is also an ode to the educators who support, inspire, and nurture their dreams.
The cameras follow 1,700 students from 80 countries as they get ready for and attend the 2017 International Science and Engineering Fair—what one student dubs the “Olympics of science fair.” These students are funny, exuberant, and passionate about what they love—and we want that for all young people.
Pick of the Litter—I’m recommending this one just because of its stars: five Labrador siblings named Patriot, Potomac, Phil, Poppet, and Primrose. (Everybody needs a little canine cuteness, right?) Guide Dogs for the Blind is grooming these puppies from the time they’re born to be service animals.
The film looks at everyone involved in the 20-month process, including the volunteers who train these loving animals and prepare them for graduation dog. One puppy raiser is a high school student—a phenomenal way students are giving back to communities and enriching their academic lives.
Guide Dogs for the Blind also partners with the 4-H Youth Program, a volunteer enrichment program operated by county extension offices and public universities across the nation.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?—A documentary about Fred Rogers and how his simple yet profound show—“Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”—helped children navigate everyday life.
And here are a few oldies but goodies that I think all educators will appreciate.
The Great Debaters—A drama based on the true story of Professor Melvin Tolson, who in 1935 created the first debate team at historically black Wiley College. The team went on to challenge Harvard in the national championship.
Mr. Holland’s Opus—A frustrated composer finds fulfillment as a high school music teacher.
Stand and Deliver—The story of Jaime Escalante, a high school teacher who inspired his at-risk students to learn calculus.
Dead Poets Society—English teacher John Keating compels his students to see the beauty of poetry and seize the day.
To Sir, with Love—Sidney Poitier stars in this classic about an immigrant to Britain from British Guiana, who applies for an engineering job but accepts an interim teaching post. He ends up changing the lives of a group of tough students from London’s East End—and decides to keep on teaching.
Have you seen any good movies this year? Do you have any holiday recommendations? Please share!