Making the grade

Which onscreen teachers merit the honor roll?

By Mark Feeney
Globe Staff / June 19, 2011

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Those who can do, the saying goes, and those who can’t teach.

How about a filmic footnote: Those who teach often end up onscreen.

The latest example is “Bad Teacher,’’ starring Cameron Diaz in the title role. It opens Friday. Diaz joins a long line of actors who’ve put chalk to blackboard in front of a camera.

Hollywood has always favored certain jobs: cowboy, gangster, soldier, superhero. Teacher may not rank as high, but it’s definitely up there. And what the profession may lack in popularity onscreen it more than makes up in prestige. Teaching roles attract Oscar nominations the way red carpets attract revealing dresses.

Not that Diaz is likely to get nominated. It’s the good teachers who are the Academy’s pets. But that begs the question, what exactly makes for a good teacher onscreen? Just because you wouldn’t want your kid to be taught by Jack Black, in “School of Rock,’’ doesn’t mean you don’t enjoy watching him. And while it’s hard to be more beloved than Robin Williams is in “Dead Poets Society,’’ it’s also hard to be more insufferable.

So in offering letter grades, our list of famous movie teachers takes into account two major factors: how they perform for the movie audience as much as how they perform for the one in the classroom.

Also, effort counts, but not neatness.

Mark Feeney can be reached at

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