Wednesday, March 31, 2010


While listening to WTOP this morning as I was doing my morning get-ready-for-work routine, I was saddened to hear that Jaime Escalante, the Los Angeles math teacher who inspired the film Stand and Deliver, died at the age of 79 from bladder cancer. Being a sucker for inspirational teacher stories, Stand and Deliver is definitely one of my favorites. In honor of Mr. Escalante and of all teachers, I'd like to tell you about my favorite inspirational teacher books and movies.

Children's/YA Books:

Anne of Avonlea

Oh, those Pyes! Anne deals with her first school at the tender age of "half-past sixteen."

The Cat Ate My Gymsuit

One of the late Paula Danziger's best and well-known novels about an unconventional teacher and the student who tries to get him rehired.

Dangerous Minds/My Posse Don't Do Homework

LouAnne Johnson was incensed when the movie version of her memoir, My Posse Don't Do Homework, was titled Dangerous Minds (she thought it cast a very negative view of the students). Despite that, it's still an excellent movie (I love the part when Michelle Pfeiffer tells them that she can kill a man with her bare hands) and book (we have the retitled book).

The Forbidden Schoolhouse

The amazing story of Prudence Crandall, who in 1830 opened a school for African-American children in Connecticut and was thrown into jail for her efforts, is an unforgettable read.


My favorite story from the king of school stories. Funny and also teaches a lesson about the power of words.

Helen's Eyes

This list wouldn't be complete without a mention of Anne Sullivan Macy. National Geographic's biography for young readers will give children a great appreciation of the giant behind Helen Keller's success.

Miss Spitfire

A memorable and engrossing fictionalized look at Anne Sullivan Macy and Helen Keller. One of my favorites from 2007.

My Heart Glow

A lovely picture book biography of Thomas Gallaudet, developer of American Sign Language, and the young girl who inspired him.


Karlene's language may put off some readers, but this YA novel of a young spelling champ and her supportive Latin teacher is a winner.

The Wednesday Wars

Mrs. Baker is a trip! One of my all-time favorites.

The Year of Miss Agnes

A lovely story of a teacher and her Alaskan Native class; another favorite.

Adult biographies/memoirs/fiction:


Yes, it's not the world's greatest literature, but this story of a teacher and the Appalachian community in which she teaches never fails to warm my heart (it's one of my few rereads). The first several episodes in the miniseries are the best; once it became successful, they strayed further from the actual story.

The Freedom Writers Diary

What a tearjerker! Erin Gruwell's story of her English class is inspirational, heartwrenching at times, and a joy to read. Sensitive readers should be aware that the grim situations of some students lives are not glossed over. This was made into a movie, but I haven't seen it.

Helen and Teacher

This is the gold star, Cadillac, A++ biography of Helen Keller, unique in that Anne Sullivan Macy's life is as equally detailed as is Helen Keller's life. Macy is occasionally (frequently?) canonized; readers will be surprised to learn of her sometimes shocking punishment of the young Helen Keller (one punishment was to tie Helen's hands so that she was unable to communicate) and her resistance to speech therapy for Helen, as well as Keller's radical politics as an adult. It's a huge undertaking to read (over 800 pages), but well worth it.

Teacher Man

The late Frank McCourt's account of his teaching days in New York City public schools is a phenomenal read.

The Water is Wide

"Didn't Pat Conroy write a book about a teacher working in a Gullah-like community?" This ran through my head while composing this list. I read this years ago. I can't honestly tell you much about the book, but the fact that I remembered it existed (and I have only read a handful of Conroy's books) meant that it left an impression on me. It's Pat Conroy, so you know it's a great story.


Dead Poets' Society

"Oh Captain, My Captain!" One of my all-time FAVORITE movies. I adore this movie. Makes me cry everytime when Robin Williams returns to the classroom one last time and the mean dean orders him to leave and Ethan Hawke is so shy and unconfident but he stands up on his desk and one by one all the other students except for that red-headed jerk stands up and WAAAAAH I'm gonna cry just thinking about it. In fact, I just requested one of our copies so that I can watch it again. I'm not a huge Robin Williams fan, but I think he is awesome in this movie. Everyone is awesome in this movie. If you haven't seen it, check it out.

The Miracle Worker

Oh, that scene by the water pump. This is the version to see (Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke). Don't bother with the others.

To Sir With Love

Another can't miss movie! This is a classic story about a young teacher (Sidney Poitier) at a tough inner-city London school.

Stand and Deliver

This is the one! I just requested a copy in honor of Mr. Escalante. I'm looking forward to seeing it again.

For even more inspiration, see A Year of Reading's 100 Cool Teachers in Children's Literature list.

If you're in a movies mood, check out the Top Inspirational Movies for Educators list from I love every movie on here (some embarrasingly more than I should, like The Karate Kid) except for Renaissance Man; I haven't seen it (it sounds good; I'll have to look out for it).


Playing by the book said...

A lovely idea for a post and full of goodies! A (fictional) inspirational teacher we've enjoyed recently is Mr McGee in Once upon an ordinary school day (which we reviewed here )

Jennifer Schultz said...

Thank you!

Ms. Yingling said...

Whew. This made me think that I should recommend Catwings to students who love Hunter's Warriors series, and As Easy As Falling Off the Earth looks great for my son. Crunch was really awesome-- Mockingbird, not so much.

Jennifer Schultz said...

Ms Yingling, thanks for commenting! Catwings is a lovely series; the books are very short
(no more than 50 pages), but they are "dreamy" and beautiful stories.