Roll Film. Raise Spirits.

A scene from Mad Hot Ballroom

Where do you teach?

I’m not a teacher, I mumble. I'm more of an encourager. 

I don’t have a teaching background. Until I stepped into an old schoolroom in Waldport, Oregon, I never even liked children. I wasn’t looking to teach or to share hard-won personal experience. I was just showing up as a volunteer, meeting with a group of teenagers who were writing poems and stories and hanging out.

That was six years ago. I now lead four writing groups, and have grown to love the kids at Seashore Family Literacy.

Maybe we’re all teachers. Some of us step up, some hang back, and some know their role from the get-go.  I've realized there is no one way to teach or reach, and I'm inspired by those who connect with the lost and forgotten.

And I’m inspired by films that make me want to be more, do more.

Need a bit of inspiration, or just uplifting entertainment? Try a few of my favorite reach-n-teach films:

The Hobart Shakespeareans
This documentary follows Rafe Esquith, a passionate teacher who inspires his Central Los Angeles students to love and embrace Shakespeare, Mark Twain, math, history and more. (Esquith's  book, Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire, is also excellent).

Mad Hot Ballroom
Ballroom dancing goes from lame to cool for a group of New York City students in this insightful documentary, which follows a group of 11-year-olds as they learn to dance old-school styles including the merengue, rumba, tango, foxtrot and swing. (I love this film. It's the only movie in which I openly cheered in a crowded theatre).

Paper Clips
Rural Tennessee is the setting for this documentary about an extraordinary experiment in Holocaust education. Struggling to grasp the concept of six million Holocaust victims, students collect six million paper clips to better understand the enormity of the calamity.

Freedom Writers
Hilary Swank stars in this drama based on real-life California teacher Erin Gruwell's unorthodox methods. To break the cycle of violence and despair that threatens their futures, she has students keep journals, and apply history's lessons, to their troubled lives. While the story gets the Hollywood treatment, the overall message is worth the sometimes sappy vibe.

I'm always looking for great films. What have I missed? Please share your favorites.