By Andrea Karen Hammer
With parents often doubling as teachers during the last year, a greater understanding and appreciation of trained instructors making a difference in children’s lives has deepened. The following films also illuminate some of the challenges that teachers face and their determination to help students flourish:
- Stand and Deliver: The extraordinary Edward James Olmos, nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award, awakens ganas (desire) in 18 inner-city students to become math wizzes. Based on a true story, Stand and Deliver shows how Jaime Escalante (Edward James Olmos) managed to make calculus highly entertaining. The film also reveals the ways that he encourages students to rise above the limitations imposed on their lives–especially when they are accused of cheating on the National Advanced Placement Calculus Exam.
- Music From the Heart: In this under-the-radar film, Meryl Streep plays a newly separated wife struggling with personal upheaval while landing a job as a music teacher in Harlem. Introducing her students to the power of playing violins, she teaches them how to plant their feet firmly–allowing them to play their instruments properly–while empowering their lives in Music From the Heart.
- The Class: Teacher and novelist Francois Begaudeau encourages students in a tough Parisian neighborhood to “stay calm” while discussing volatile issues. When his own buttons are pushed and he uses pejorative language to describe one of the students, The Class reveals the ensuing ramifications.
- Like Stars on Earth: This sparkling film heralds the gifts of a new art teacher Nikumbh. Taking the time to understand 8-year-old Ishaan’s difficulties in school, this teacher in Like Stars on Earth “saves” a child sent for discipline at boarding school because no one has previously understood his sense of wonder.
- Freedom Writers: Based on the bestseller The Freedom Writers Diary, this film tells the inspiring story of Erin Gruwell, a young teacher (Hilary Swank) who gives inner-city students their own voice. Through the power of personal storytelling, she helps them learn about tolerance at a school riddled with violence and racial tension.