The art of teaching keeps changing. At Hopkins, as at many other schools, our students work in labs, have flipped classrooms, use clickers and other “active learning” methods, attend lectures, and have a wide variety of assignments and projects that help them learn about a subject.

8700093610_0c8cbddf19_zHow do all of those who design lessons, who grade papers, who judge design teams — all of those who teach — know when the lesson has really “clicked” with the students?

Some of my favorite books and movies are those which describe these “magic moments” in teaching.


  • Teacher ManAngela’s Ashes author Frank McCourt taught English at a vocational high school in Brooklyn. He constantly struggled to get his students interested in writing, but all they did was forge imaginative excuse notes to get out of having to turn in homework. One day, it hit him: have the students use their writing talents to create excuse notes for historical figures, like Al Capone or Eve (of “Adam and…”)! The students loved this!
  • To Sir, with Love — Maybe you’re familiar with the wonderful movie starring Sidney Poitier or the hit song of the same name. The magic came gradually, as Poitier’s character realized that the curriculum for these high school seniors in London is a complete waste of their time; instead, he uses their remaining school days to lead discussions about about real life.
  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance — During a motorcycle trip across America, a former writing instructor reflects on his complicated life. One of his “magic” teaching moments was born from frustration: an assignment was to choose a building in town and write a one-page paper about it. When one student insisted that she couldn’t think of anything to write, he finally said, “write about the opera house across the street! Start with the upper left brick!” She turned in a 5,000-word paper, saying that his advice to focus was the key.


  • The Blind Side — This story about Michael Oher, who was homeless as a boy and his struggles to get through high school, was nominated for an Academy Award in 2009. To get a GPA high enough to graduate, Michael must write about a story or poem on a list from his teacher. None of the choices inspired him until his adoptive father began reciting The Charge of the Light Brigade; that poem spoke to Michael and he wrote a thoughtful essay that persuaded his teacher that he deserved to pass.
  • Dead Poets Society — It’s impossible to describe Robin Williams’ magnificent performance as a teacher at a boys’ school who opens his students’ eyes to the living presence that great literature can have in their lives. Unforgettable film.
  • Mr. Holland’s Opus — The students in class were bored and Mr. Holland was frustrated; how could he reach them? One day he started pounding out their music on the old piano in the classroom, demonstrating that the chords that Bach used were the same ones in the crazy modern music the students were listening to now!
  • Sister Act 2 (request this from Friedheim through the catalog) — During their boring music class, these high school students ignore the teacher and just talk to each other and sing songs. How can the teacher (played by the hilarious Whoopi Goldberg) get all of them through this class? “I just figured it out — I’m going to make you into a choir!”

Enjoy these books and films, and thank everyone you learn from!






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