Teachers' Day: 10 lessons we learnt from iconic films about teachers and students

FP Staff

Sep,05 2017 10:30 54 IST

The teacher-student relationship is one that has made for scintillating big screen viewing over the years — be it in Hollywood, Bollywood, regional or world cinema.

From the mentor-protege(e) relationship (where a teacher helps a student find his/her dreams/aspirations/ambitions) to a larger context, where just one professor can be a messiah to a classroom-ful of disaffected youth, several films have shown teaching as the noble profession it's meant to be.

This Teachers' Day, Firstpost does a quick revision of some of the best lessons iconic onscreen teachers have taught generations of moviegoers.

Our list is by no means comprehensive — we don't claim to be star students who never miss important things! So tell us what was the best lesson you learn from your favourite teacher-student movie. Better still, tell us what you learnt from your real-life teachers, and how it inspired you.

In the meantime, here's our list of top-10 lessons iconic onscreen teachers taught us (in no particular order):

1. Make your lives extraordinary — John Keating

DEAD POETS SOCIETY, Robin Williams, 1989

An English teacher who shakes up a conservative (read: stuffy) prep school with his unconventional teaching methods, John Keating — played by Robin Williams in Dead Poet's Society — has go to be on top of most people's inspiring onscreen teachers' lists. Even as Keating guided his bunch of students to explore the wonders of English literature and poetry, he imparted them lessons that would hold them in good stead for the rest of their lives: "Carpe diem," he tells them. "Seize the day...make your lives extraordinary". In one scene, he has all the students clamber onto their desks to see the classroom from a height — and enjoy the new perspective they have of it. And didn't you always want a teacher who encouraged you to address them as "O Captain, My Captain"?

2. Har bachche ki apni khoobi hoti ha, apni kaabiliyat hoti ha, apni chahat hoti hai — Ram Shankar Nikumbh


As the art teacher who is out to make a difference in the lives of his students, Aamir Khan aka Ram Shankar Nikumbh in Taare Zameen Par had several quotable quotes. There was the one about how parents burdening the shoulders of their children with their own unfulfilled ambitions is as bad as child labour. But the quote we've picked above, was at the heart of this poignant film. It is Nikumbh who finds out that 8-year-old Ishaan (Darsheel Safary) whom everyone else considers a problem child unwilling to learn, is actually dyslexic, and has a wonderful artistic talent. We need more Ram Shankar Nikumbhs in the education system for sure.

3. There are no victims in this classroom — Louanna Johnson


Michelle Pfeiffer played a tough-as-nails former Marine-turned-teacher who gets her most challenging assignment yet when she is deputed to an inner city high school, in Dangerous Minds. When her students are grappling with gang violence, disadvantaged backgrounds and broken homes, lessons in poetry don't seem quite that important or life-saving to them — until their new teacher Louanne Johnson (Pfeiffer) teaches them otherwise. By comparing the lyrics of Bob Dylan with the poetry of Dylan Thomas, Johnson gets the kids interested in academics, and helps them realise that their futures can be about more than the sum of their circumstances.
(Films with similar themes: Freedom Writers, Stand And Deliver, Music of the Heart, The Class, Precious)

4. I believe one should fight for what one believes. Provided one is absolutely sure one is absolutely right. — Mark Thackeray


A tag line like "A story as fresh as the girls in their minis...and as tough as the kids in his East London school!" doesn't inspire much confidence, but Sidney Poitier's To Sir With Love became a modern day classic, and with good reason. Poitier's portrayal of Mark Thackeray, an out-of-work engineer who takes up a teaching job as a temporary measure, is considered among his career bests. Thackeray has a tough class to teach — and his most important lessons are in discipline and ethics for his young wards. While some believed it inspired the Naseeruddin Shah film Sir, due to the similarity in names, it was actually remade as Imtihaan, in which Vinod Khanna took on Poitier's role from the original.

5. Violence doesn't pay — Aman Verma


Okay, so we've paraphrased the above 'lesson'. But that was pretty much the gist of what Naseeruddin Shah's character in the film Sir tried to teach — to his students' parents. As Aman Verma, Shah played a father who loses his son to gang violence. Some years later, he begins to take a special interest in mentoring one of his students (Pooja Bhatt) who has a stammering problem. Even as he helps her regain her confidence and overcome her speech issues, Verma realises that her father is a don, responsible for the violence that killed his son. The film gave one of those songs that became a Teacher's Day staple across Indian schools: "Sir, sir, o sir...we love you!"

6. Iss mitti se tilak karo, ye dharti hai balidan ki — Shekhar


Abhi Bhattacharya was perhaps among the early iconic onscreen teachers of Hindi filmdom, in Jagriti. Shekhar (Bhattacharya) has two tasks at the boarding school he teaches: Getting the education board to approve of his unorthodox teaching methods, and making recalcitrant student Ajay (Rajkumar Gupta) mend his ways. Along the way, Shekhar offers a lyrical lesson into the wonders of India, with the evergreen "Aao bachchon tumhe dikayein jhnkee Hindustan ki..."

7. It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities — Albus Dumbledore

Albus Dumbledore

So maybe Prof McGonagall was our favourite Hogwarts teacher, but Dumbledore just seemed to have the best quotes. And this one, that he imparts to our boy Harry in Chamber of Secrets is among the life lessons we'd do well to remember — wizards and muggles alike.

8. Look beyond the paint. Let us try to open our minds to a new idea. — Katherine Ann Watson


That's Julia Roberts from Mona Lisa Smile for you. At the elite but conservative Wellesley College, Roberts (playing a History of Art teacher, Katherine Ann Watson) finds her liberal attitudes being questioned by her own students. Over the course of a semester, however, she teaches them not only to think deeply about art, but also about what they want from their own lives, and if there is a goal for them beyond matrimony.

9. Izzat darr se nahi ... mohabbat se jeeti jaati hai — Raj Aryan


Okay, so Shah Rukh Khan had a far more memorable role as the mentor/coach in Chak De! India, but since we're sticking to classroom tales, we're going to bring out Mohabbatein. Yes, he seemed to teach the students more about breaking rules and nurturing romance than he did about music, but we won't quibble over that (Those sweaters draped over the shoulder though.. ugh!). But as much as this Aditya Chopra film was about Raj Aryan (Shah Rukh) teaching the students, it was also about him giving the Gurukul's principal Narayan Shankar (Amitabh Bachchan) some lessons on life and relationships.

10. If you wanna rock, you gotta break the rules. — Dewey Finn


This one takes the teacher trope and turns it on its head, all to the accompaniment of some great guitar riffs. Jack Black is a frustrated rocker and teacher-by-accident in School of Rock, and when he discovers that his class is full of little musical geniuses, he decides to make them all members of his new and improved rock band. And if he teaches the kids how to rock, they teach him a few important lessons too — about watching out for someone other than himself. May not be a parent/teacher favourie, but students love this one for sure! Remember, it's a long way to the top, if you wanna rock and roll.

Published Date: Sep 05, 2017 10:30 AM | Updated Date: Sep 05, 2017 10:53 AM