Pop Culture

Great teachers inspire great stories, both in real life and in fiction.


What better way to celebrate the impact teachers can have than to look at 5 of the most brilliant and inspirational teachers from pop culture.

1. Erin Gruwell of Freedom Writers


Based on a true story, this film is all about the power of education. Set in the mid-‘90s, Freedom Writers shares the story of recent teaching graduate Erin Gruwell, who is assigned to a class of struggling students in Los Angeles.


The politics of the time makes the classroom a hostile place for her students and Erin has to find new ways to reach the kids and encourage them to have faith in themselves.


The film tracks Erin’s path to establishing the Freedom Writers Foundation, which “helps inspire young, underprivileged students to pick up pens”.

Best quote: “I am not letting you fail. Even if that means coming to your house every night until you finish the work. I see who you are. Do you understand me? I can see you. And you are not failing,” – Erin Gruwell, Freedom Writers




2. Katherine Watson of Mona Lisa Smile


The very best teachers invite us to step out of our comfort zone. Encouraging a group of young women to engage with art history is the challenge for Julia Roberts in Mona Lisa Smile.


Set in the 1950s, the film follows a passionate art history lecturer as she opens up her students’ worlds and allows them to explore their own love of art.


Katherine clearly lives for her subject matter – she knows it inside out and loves pushing her students to question their understanding of art. But Katherine’s dedication to her students goes beyond the classroom and that’s without a doubt her most inspiring quality as a teacher.

Best quote: “Look beyond the paint. Let us try to open our minds to a new idea,” – Katherine Watson, Mona Lisa Smile.




3. Eustacia Grandin of Temple Grandin


Temple Grandin is an incredible person. The HBO film inspired by her life is a must see, as it tells the story of her rise to prominence as an expert in animal science and autism spokesperson.


This biopic shows that Temple had a number of teachers throughout her life, but perhaps the most powerful, other than her science teacher, Dr Carlock, was her mother, Eustacia.

This film explores the significant impact that learning at home can have on children.

Best quote: “Eustacia: I have done everything that I can for Temple, and if it isn't good enough, then it just isn't good enough. But you cannot even begin to imagine the chaos, the upheavals, the tantrums and the pain. Her pain.”

“Dr Carlock: You seem to be acting as if you have done something wrong, when it's obvious you've done everything right. I think she's terrific.”




4. Coach Herman Boone of Remember The Titans


Sometimes, the most powerful lessons can be learnt outside the classroom. Remember The Titans is a story that proves this.


Following the season of a high school gridiron team in 1970s America, the film explores the racial tensions that faced the players and the community as a whole. It takes one inspirational coach, played by Denzel Washington, to teach powerful lessons of acceptance and ultimately unite the team and the people around them.


Even if football doesn’t interest you, the message of Remember The Titans is truly uplifting as it’s based on true events.

Best quote: “I hope you boys have learned as much from me this year as I've learned from you. You've taught this city how to trust the soul of a man rather than the look of him. And I guess it's about time I joined the club.” – Coach Yoast, Remember The Titans.




5. Charles Xavier of X-Men


An underlying theme of the X-Men movies is one of inclusion and diversity. And, in this sense, you can’t deny Charles Xavier – also known as Professor X – is a brilliant teacher.


Charles is a patient and kind educator, one who rarely gives up on his students, even if this ends in a near world-ending cataclysm. X-Men fans will know that he’s dedicated to inclusive education. In fact, he opened his own private school to help educate marginalised learners and keep them safe from persecution.


While he also has some pretty amazing mind-control skills, his key focus is unlocking the potential of his students.

Best quote: “Just because someone stumbles, loses their way, it doesn’t mean they’re lost forever. Sometimes, we all need a little help,” – Charles Xavier, X-Men: Days Of Future Past.




Notable mention:


You can’t have a list like this and leave off Dead Poets Society!


How could we ignore Robin Williams as John Keating?


Carpe diem!



Related Articles

  • 5 thought-leading educators to follow on Twitter

    5 thought-leading educators to follow on Twitter

    We’ve pulled together five “movers and shakers”.

    Read More
  • From class leader to world leader

    From class leader to world leader

    Celebrating the teachers who inspire our future.

    Read More
  • Entrepreneurship and Innovation

    Entrepreneurship and Innovation

    The EduTech panel discuss the current state of Australian education.

    Read More
  • Politics of Distraction, Part 1

    Politics of Distraction, Part 1

    John Hattie explores the importance of collaboration, impact and expertise.

    Read More
  • Politics of Distraction, Part 2

    Politics of Distraction, Part 2

    John Hattie explores the importance of testing in schools.

    Read More