Top 10 Movies About Teachers

Everyone agrees education is important. Most people agree teachers are valuable. Few people know the difference between learning and teaching. Learning happens naturally when children are fully engaged. Teaching happens when teachers love what they do and share that enthusiasm with the children they teach.

After spending years lecturing at private schools across South Africa, including elite schools like Michaelhouse, I gained a new appreciation for education. As a product of the public school system in the Eastern Cape, the poorest province in South Africa, I overcame substantial obstacles to become a regular guest speaker at elite private boarding schools.

Award winning teacher, John Taylor Gatto reminds us it’s just impossible for education and schooling ever to be the same thing.

The Ultimate History Lesson - John Taylor Gatto

To celebrate 10 years since I started my company, NETucation, here’s my top 10 movies about teachers – some great and others not so great.

  1. Stand and Deliver (1988): Together, one teacher and one class proved to America they could…Stand and Deliver. The story of Jaime Escalante, a high school teacher who successfully inspired his dropout-prone students to learn calculus. John Taylor Gatto talked about this story many times in his lectures and interviews, so I had to watch it.
  2. Mr Holland’s Opus (1995): We are your symphony Mr. Holland. We are the melodies and the notes of your opus. We are the music of your life. A frustrated composer finds fulfilment as a high school music teacher. One of the most beautiful movies about how teachers can change lives.
  3. Dead Poets Society (1989): He was their inspiration. He made their lives extraordinary. English teacher John Keating inspires his students to a love of poetry and to seize the day. Carpe diem!
  4. Detachment (2011): A substitute teacher who drifts from classroom to classroom finds a connection to the students and teachers during his latest assignment. A powerful performance by Adrian Brody as a teacher who is broken inside.
  5. Dangerous Minds (1995): Louanne Johnson is an ex-marine, hired as a teacher in a high school in a poor area of the city. She has recently separated from her husband. Her friend, also a teacher in the school, got the temporary job for her. After a terrible reception from the students, she tries unconventional methods of teaching (using karate, Bob Dylan lyrics, etc) to gain the trust of the students.
  6. The Great Debaters (2007): A drama based on the true story of Melvin B. Tolson, a professor at Wiley College, Texas. In 1935, he inspired students to form the school’s first debating team, which went on to challenge Harvard in the national championships. Even though this is not about school, the teaching influence is primarily in inspiring the students.
  7. Half Nelson (2006): An inner-city junior high school teacher with a drug habit forms an unlikely friendship with one of his students after she discovers his secret. Ryan Gosling shows glimpses of what makes him a great actor.
  8. One Eight Seven (1997): After surviving a brutal attack (the weapon used was a board with nails in it) by a student, teacher Trevor Garfield moves from New York to Los Angeles. Samuel L. Jackson is always convincing as an authority figure.
  9. Freedom Writers (2007): A young teacher inspires her class of at-risk students to learn tolerance, apply themselves, and pursue education beyond high school. Some parts of this movie appeal to the sentimental part of me.
  10. To Sir, With Love (1967): About an idealistic engineer-trainee and his experiences in teaching a group of rambunctious white high school students from the slums of London’s East End.

Honourable mentionRushmore (1998): The film is a personal favourite because the main character reminds me of myself. Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman), a precocious and eccentric 15-year-old, who is both Rushmore’s most extracurricular and least scholarly student, and his businessman friend Herman Blume (Bill Murray) both fall in love with the same female teacher.

More than any other, I recommend you watch The Ultimate History Lesson: A Weekend with John Taylor Gatto, free on Youtube. And if you enjoy it support the Tragedy and Hope community who produced it and receive a discount using the coupon code “RAMONTHOMAS” below.



#edchat Join Weekly Twitter Chat on Education

Twitter workshops Ramon Thomas South AfricaA twitter chat for the South African education community takes place from 20h30 to 21h30 each Monday evening GMT+2. Private school teachers and public schools teachers have an open conversation about children, teaching, learning and technology.

To vote for your choice of topic for the coming week, please head over to #edchatsa website and add your voice!

General Information

  • Who? Any person with an interest in education in South Africa.
  • When can you participate? The community will gather for specific chats on a Monday evening from 20h30 until 21h30. However, the conversation can continue at any time by simply adding the #edchatsa hashtag to a tweet.
  • What should you contribute? Anything of value to the conversation – ideas, thoughts, arguments, links, resources.
  • What should you avoid? Please do not spam the stream! Do not add your own website unless it is related to the conversation and would be of value to the participants.

How do I keep up with the chat?

There are several ways to do this, but it is important to note that as the chat becomes more popular it will become almost impossible to see all the tweets and be involved in every conversation thread. This must not put you off being involved! With a bit of practice it becomes easier to filter out the ‘noise’ and focus on a few threads which interest you.

Contact our office to get assistance with Twitter. We conduct Twitter workshops for Teachers or Parents at schools across South Africa.


Do smart phones make smarter students?

Young girls and their smartphones
If you can’t beat ’em, join em, some educators say of the fact young people cant be separated from their smart phones.

Can an app today keep bad grades away?

Long the bane of teachers, smartphones are being re-imagined by educators as a positive presence in the classroom. What’s more, a survey released Thursday shows more than half of Canadians – 56 per cent – agree that the mobile devices are an “invaluable tool” for students, while fully two-thirds see smartphones as a way for students to conduct online research any time, anywhere.

Media professor Sidneyeve Matrix, whose Queen’s University class has its own app, says smartphones have become so ubiquitous that it makes less sense for teachers to fight them than to dial up their potential as a modern-day school supply.

“What drives most teachers mad is that they’re competing with these phones for attention,” says Matrix. “But with 1,400 students in the class, what am I supposed to do? Say, ‘Now, put away your phones, kids?’ It’s a losing battle. So I decided to work with it.”

Matrix’s Class Caddy app gives her students instant access to lecture notes, classroom slides, videos used in presentations, textbook reading guides, class schedules and webinars. The Kingston, Ont.-based professor says the benefits have been enormous.

“Having mobile-optimized educational resources might seem far-fetched or a luxury, but it actually makes a lot of sense when you look at what they’re bringing in their knapsacks,” says Matrix. “In higher ed, you see more phones than laptops in the average classroom.”

In a new survey of 1,001 Canadian adults, conducted by Angus Reid for mobile carrier Mobilicity, 41 per cent of people recognized smartphones’ value for recording lectures and tutorial sessions; 46 per cent saw mobile apps as a way of keeping students organized; and 42 per cent identified the devices’ capacity as a co-ordination tool for school activities.

A spokeswoman for Mobilicity credits the democratization of carrier options in Canada, which has made smartphones more economically feasible for cash-strapped students. The company’s “back to school” plan, for instance, offers unlimited data, talk and text for just $25.

In fact, Best Buy is forecasting a 50 per cent increase in wireless purchases during the back to school season, and a 15 per cent increase overall within the wireless market (based on year over year data as compared to last year’s sale).

Mark Federman, former chief strategist of the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology at the University of Toronto, refers to the resulting phenomenon as “the hyperlinked classroom,” with students using mobile devices to become more immersed in the learning process – even if that means fact-checking their instructors on the spot.

“In the old model, the professor was the sage on the stage. And in those classrooms, we saw students distracted, doodling, and – outside of a few keeners in the front, taking copious notes – dozing off,” says Federman.

“But when the learning environment becomes more active and engaging – and that takes a lot of work on the professor’s part – we find students transform from passive learners into active learners.”

Along with college settings, Federman would like to see mobile technologies introduced to Grade 11 and 12 classrooms, where students are already using smartphones on their own.

But the trend isn’t without its doubters. Jonathan Zimmerman, a professor of education and history at New York University, notes that “every single new technology has been greeted as the answer to our educational woes,” from radio to motion pictures, educational TV to the introduction of the PC.

“Given the evidence that we don’t read as well on screens, and that screens promote multi-tasking – and when we multi-task, we don’t do as well on any single task – I have to say I’m pretty skeptical,” says Zimmerman. “But skeptical doesn’t mean opposed; the jury is out on all this stuff.”

The Mobilicity survey was conducted online July 9 and 10 and is weighted to be nationally representative. It’s considered accurate within 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.



Jonathan Jansen: Dear President Zuma. I am writing to you out of desperation.

This open letter is reprinted without permission from the Times website. I feel very strong about education, and Prof Jansen is one of the few voices that speak with authority about education in South Africa. For real practical solutions I highly recommend the work of John Taylor Gatto.

Jonathan Jansen education expert university of free state vice-chancellorDesperation is an emotion I seldom feel, except in relation to education, for I believe very deeply that for most of our children, a solid school education represents the only means available for ending the cycle of family poverty. Skills come later. Economic growth even later. Social cohesion lies far in the distance. What matters is that children complete 12 years of schooling with the ability to read, write, reason, calculate and express confidence for purposes of further studies, skills training and higher education.

At various moments during your leadership, I have been encouraged, sir, by your standpoint on education. You are absolutely correct to insist on teachers being in school, teaching, every day. You are right, of course, to insist on materials being available for learning. You cannot be faulted for requiring performance contracts from the ministers who report to you on progress in education. Your own biography as a man who has sacrificed his own schooling in that broader quest for liberation, is something I admire.

The problem, Mr President, is the distance between what you stand for and the day-to-day operations of schools in our country.

Unlike most of your MECs for education, I do not for one moment believe the crisis in schooling lies inside the schools themselves. Having visited thousands of schools over the past decades, and having spoken to (and taught) thousands of pupils across the nine provinces, I can assure you that the children are the least of your problems.

With the right leadership and authority in place, with enthusiastic teachers ready to teach, and with organisational routines (starting on time, homework every day, solid teaching, and so on) running like clockwork, children anywhere in the world respond positively to the efforts of adults to educate them. So, I am not speaking about the children.

It is clear to me that at the moment the control of schools does not rest with government. It rests with the teacher unions. Until this simple fact is acknowledged, it is impossible to create the kinds of conditions in and around schooling that provide for predictable teaching timetables and powerful learning environments.

This is, I know, difficult terrain for public discussion. After all, the largest teachers’ union is part of the massive labour federation, which has a critical role in who stays in or comes to power in the next rounds of election.

But, Mr President, I believe you can and should look beyond the politics of succession that comes in five-year cycles, and look to the long-term development of the country and the prospects of tens of thousands of youth who routinely fail examinations every year and who fuel the numbers of frustrated youth who turn on society and themselves. This is the single most important challenge you face, and it cannot be resolved by pedagogical means, only through political intervention.

To signal your seriousness about this crisis, Sir, I propose you appoint an “Education Crisis Panel of Experts” to guide you and our government on how to resolve the education standoff as a matter of urgency. Please do not appoint activists to this panel, unless they are also experts; and do not see these appointments as ways of rewarding loyalty in the past or present; there are other commissions that can and have achieved such objectives.

Ensure, Mr President, that these are people who actually know how to turn around schools, and who are unlikely to tell you what you want to hear. You made an excellent start by hiring Dr Cassius Lubisi as your director general; I have worked with him for many years. You will not find a person of greater integrity, passion and insight. Perhaps he could chair the panel.

I propose, if I may, the following names: Linda Vilikazi-Tselane, Muavia Gallie, Anita Maritz, James Letuka, Brian Isaacs, Sibusiso Maseko, Nontsha Liwane-Mazengwe, Stephen Lowry, Sharon Lewin, Itumeleng Molale and Margerida Lopez. These are some of the most hardworking principals and education thinkers I have ever known.

They boast track records of success in changing schools. These are among finest South African educators when it comes to love of school and country.

They are fiercely independent in thinking, and unsentimental in their ideas about the bottom line: the learning achievements of our children.

Mr President, I wait to hear from you.


Striking teachers are full of shit, allowing children to suffer

When I was in high school there was a massive teachers’ strike during 1990. This was my Standard 8 or Grade 10 year and we did not have a permanent principal at Uitenhage High School. This was also a time for massive changes in the South African political landscape with Nelson Mandela being released and the ANC with other political parties being unbanned.

It is a complete disgrace: new figures show how teachers failed. Strikes hit school children hard. How can we improve the situation of South Africa and the rest of the dark continent with adults who are not good role models to learners. It’s okay to voice your grievances, however, it’s not okay to drag innocent people down with you. And as for an education department who allows this nonsense to continue, your leadership is demonstrated to be poor.

We live in a world that demands a new approach to teaching children and a new way of thinking about the shifts that happen faster and faster. So when I read this utter bullshit about teachers still striking in 20 years since I was the victim of a teachers’s “chalk down” strike, it become extremely frustrating and angers me to say the least. This behaviour is totally unacceptable and it high time teachers decide if they want to teach or be leaches of the government for the rest of their lives earning a big pay cheque every month and still get loads of holidays unlike other business people who have to work 8-12 hours a day or more 5-6 days a week with maybe 2 weeks holiday in December. Most teachers in government schools are the worst examples today of how to do the absolute minimum, still get paid and fake it till you make it.

Did You Know / Shift Happens 4.0


Gauteng Online is a failure doomed from the beginning

What where they thinking when the Gauteng department of Education promised to connect all the schools in Gauteng to the Internet within 5 years? This is a rhetorical questions about the stupidity of infrastructure projects of this nature. The government themselves are the most inefficient users of technology and with this project they were meant to install computers and Internet access for all the schools in the richest province in the country. It remind me of my time in the United Arab Emirates. These Arab people had money coming out of their ears but did not know how to use it and relied on foreign workers from South Africa, India, Pakistan, Europe, UK and America to do their thinking for them.

Anyway back to South Africa. If you think about the lack of mathematics and science teachers we have in the country, it’s certainly no surprise that Gauteng Online has been such a dismal failure. While doing research for this article most media mentions and even blog postings date back from 2005. So that means people either forgot about it in the last 2 years or have blatantly ignored this project.

The original amount set aside for this project was R500 million! Now tell wouldn’t that money could not have been better used at the schools. For example to put in telephone lines to the thousands of schools with no telephones, or better yet fix the sanitation and make sure they all have running water.

A few years ago I came across Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. He basically says that our physiological needs must be met, before we move onto safety, love, self-esteem and eventually self-actualisation. Now for kids to have Internet access is a need that most likely falls between love and self-esteem because it allows them to communicate with others, as well as express themselves by publishing websites. All I would like to say is that we should put pressure on the national Government to get its priorities in order.

It’s probably safe to say that this project is costing the Gauteng Provincial Government more than R500 million with all the disappointments from the previous companies involved. It’s no surprise they have re-issued the tender once again.