3 Overlooked Education Documentaries

We shared some of our favorite fictional depictions of teachers on film, but what about real life? Every teacher’s – and every student’s – experience is different. Recent documentaries like Waiting for Superman and American Teacher might have attracted a lot of buzz, but I wanted to share a few of my favorites you might overlooked.  Sure, a single documentary isn’t going to encapsulate everything about teaching. But these movies capture niches in the education system, from the adorable to the heartbreaking to the encouraging. Mad Hot Ballroom Mad Hot Ballroom I had to learn square dancing in fifth grade and I remember hating it. I hated the music, I hated having to dance with some boy in my class, I hated it because I was 11 and I thought I was too cool for square dancing. So a movie about fifth graders learning ballroom dance and enjoying it? Could there really be such a thing? Yes, and it’s called Mad Hot Ballroom. Beyond the sheer adorableness of watching school kids learn to ballroom dance, it’s heartening to see these fifth graders get excited about something they could easily write off as stodgy and boring (though, if you know anything about the rumba or merengue, you know ballroom dancing can be anything but). Seeing kids get so excited and dedicated to an art form really spoke to the arts lover in me. The Boys of Baraka The Boys of Baraka Within the first three minutes of The Boys of Baraka, middle school Baltimore boys crowded inside an auditorium are told what they already know: not all of them will graduate from high school and some of them will end up in prison or dead by the time they’re 18. But, each year, 20 of these boys are given the chance at a two-year stint at Baraka school in Kenya. It’s an opportunity to learn in an environment so far removed from the pressures of drugs, gangs and family drama that the boys can just concentrate on being boys in school. The young men have trouble adjusting to the new location, the new authority figures and each other, but after a while, most, if not all of them, make positive changes. Some of the biggest troublemakers turn into role models. “They said when I first got here, I was real smart. I am real smart, that’s what they said,” one student says in a video letter home, a smile on his face. “I didn’t even used to think that, but that’s what they said, I was smart.” It’s not all coming-of-age affirmations, there are a few crushing twists here. But all in all, it’s a great documentary about very young men who really want to do something with their lives. To Be and To Have To Be and To Have After teaching for twenty years, Georges Lopez is ready to retire. To Be and To Have chronicles his final year at a one-room schoolhouse in rural France, teaching students aged 4-12. Following this unique educator so closely gives the audience a nuanced look at how one person can shape students’ lives, and it’s never more apparent when the students tear up when saying goodbye at the end of the school year. Lopez speaks to his students using the Socratic Method to lead them to their own conclusions in lieu of a specific correct answer in a text book, and gives his students’ emotions the same validation he would for any adult. His teaching situation might resemble some American teachers’ daily work – it certainly doesn’t represent most – but the way educator Lopez shapes his students’ lives is inspirational, his desire to teach, universal.