Good Teacher, Bad School

An entire genre of film has been slowly dying, and it’s a shame since it’s one of my favorites. What genre is that? The “good teacher in a bad school.” What follows is a list of my favorite films that embody this forgotten genre. If you’re expecting to find Freedom Writers on here, don’t waste your time, yo — this ain’t for you!

Class of 1984

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My earliest exposure to this style of film is also the most grindhouse-y on this list; I can best describe this one as a poor man’s The Warriors. When Andrew Norris gets hired at an inner city school, his eyes are opened to the realities of early 80s teens. Featuring the lamest gang in history (they make One Direction look like Nuestra Familia), this one has to be seen just to see how far bad kids have come. Still not sold? Did I mention it features a pre-Back to the Future Michael J. Fox?

The Principal

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Seems like this one was on my local late night basic cable channel (KTLA 5) every Saturday when they weren’t showing Chuck Norris’ Missing in Action. Jim Belushi is a good principal sent to the awful Randall High School, known throughout the school district as a “war zone.” He and Louis Gossett, Jr. are a two-man army fighting possibly the oldest-looking student gang leader ever, Victor Duncan.

Stand and Deliver

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Described by critics as “the Rocky of the classroom,” this one is legitimately good, and based on a true story. It stars a young but permanently old-looking Edward James Olmos as mathematics teacher Jaime Escalante, who dared to teach calculus in one of the worst high schools in East LA. Co-starring Lou Diamond Phillips and Estelle Harris (Toy Story’s Mrs Potato Head), if you can only watch one of my recommendations, make it this one, homes.

Dangerous Minds

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I’m not 100% sure, but I think this soundtrack, featuring Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise,” might be the first CD I ever purchased. Former-Marine-turned-teacher Michelle Pfeiffer — yes, you read that right — is given a temp teaching job at an urban high school, and her first day doesn’t go over too well. But through the power of Bob Dylan songs and karate, she figures out the keys to reaching her misunderstood students. I really think not casting Steven Seagal in the role was a huge mistake, and with the recent announcement of Kindergarten Cop 2, I think now’s the perfect time for “Dangerous-er Minds.”

The Substitute

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The most unlikely film on this list. A former mercenary takes over substitute teacher duties for his girlfriend after she is attacked by her students who happen to be involved in the drug trade. Okay…? The most action-oriented film on the list, it also features the most recognizable cast: Tom Berenger, Luis Guzmán, Latino Frankenstein Marc Anthony, Ernie Hudson, William Forsythe, and the “shit pushed in” guy from Training Day. Not sure how well this one holds up today, but as a teenager, it was one of my standby rentals from the local video store.


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One of my personal favorite Sam Jackson performances of all time, this one is about as legit as the genre gets! After teacher Trevor Garfield (Jackson) is stabbed by a student, he moves from his New York City school to an LA one because he’s less likely to be stabbed there (and more likely to be shot…?). This is the film that introduced me to the extremely underrated Clifton Collins, Jr., and his portrayal of gang member Cesar Sanchez is by far the baddest cholo ever captured on film. Plus, it has one of the craziest endings in the history of film. #CesarNo

Well, you all have your homework assignment now, so get to it. If you have a favorite film that wasn’t mentioned, please leave me a comment below!

Moan4Stallone is the bro-iest thing we have here at Laser Time. Follow him on Twitter for all the dude-ness.

15 thoughts on “Good Teacher, Bad School

  1. How dare you forget the Denzel Washington made for tv movie Hard Lessons:The George McKenna Story

    1. Holly shit I’ve never heard of this! Just want to confirm we are talking about the famous Denzel and not a Trauma films Denzel Washingyourcar? Jk, thanks for checking this out and I will seek out this diamond in the rough.

  2. Oh god, you should have a honorable mention of High School High, it was before Jon Lovitz got a little bad at comedy. I mean, as far as spoofs go. It’s no Airplane. But it spoofs this exact genre.

    1. Classic, classic film and a great soundtrack too! The OJ chase scene on a students head is somewhat relevant again, now with FX OJ Simpson drama.

  3. I personally don’t think those movies helped much with the image of Blacks and Latinos in this country.

    1. Without a doubt they set em back 20 years, but white people as well when you see how outrageous they are portrayed in Class of 1984 . So only asians made it through this article unscathed. Lol; thanks for checking this one out and your feedback.

  4. Class of 84 is worthy of its own feature article. So many amazing scenes! I seem to recall the teacher buzz-sawing a student’s arm off while he screams for mercy; and the finale where throws a student through the skylight of the gymnasium…. Real heartwarming shit

    1. You forgot the hanging of a teachers cat and an out of nowhere piano solo followed by a random car fire….yea this is a pretty heart warming film lol! Thanks for checking it out.

  5. You should check out the goofy martial arts flick “Only the Strong”. it stars a very Brandon Lee looking Mark Dacoscos teaching no-good punks lessons about discipline and friendship through the power of capoeira!

    1. Sounds like its made for this list; I will definitely check it out! Thanks and he totaly does, man how good was he in Brotherhood of the wolf!

  6. -Hey, maybe this is a bit of a stretch because it’s about a high school coach and not about a teacher. But Samuel Jackson plays “Coach Carter” and its based on a true story. Its the only movie I know of based in my childhood city of Richmond, CA that I know of. Its a pretty good movie, too. Maybe there’s a follow up article about Good Coaches with unlikely athletes. If so might I also suggest “McFarland, USA” it stars Kevin Costner as a cross country team. And yet another stretch for the category “The Rookie” is about a guy making it to the Big Leagues but the high school team he coaches has to win enough games to make him go to the baseball open try-out to start the whole journey; also based on a true story.

  7. Hi! I remember a certain Steven Seagal movie I saw back when I was in high school where in he also portrayed a role as a teacher. I remembered a certain scene where in he teaches his students about yoyo being originated in the Philippines as a weapon for hunting. I really want to watch that movie again but sadly I can’t seem to remember the title. Maybe someone/somebody here could help me please? I would really appreciate your help. Thanks in advance! Have a nice day!

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