What Teachers Can Learn from “Mr. Holland’s Opus”

Author: Rich Atkinson

“Mr. Holland’s Opus” is a great movie to help educators learn how to teach.

The movie’s premise, based on a true story, is how a musician, Glenn Holland, takes a job as a music teacher at a high school to earn a steady paycheck and have more free time to work on writing music. [Teachers, I know you found that funny. Free time and teaching are antonyms].

The movie shows how a teacher can make an impact and leave a legacy. When Mr. Holland started the school year, he knew little about teaching, nor could he keep his teenage students interested. To make matters worse, the students failed his tests.

Four Things that Helped Mr. Holland Develop Into a Teacher of Impact

  1. Mr. Holland had mentors and role models.
    His Principal pushed him to excel. She told him: “A teacher has two jobs: To fill students’ minds with information and give them a compass.” His colleague said, “Teaching takes time and effort.” In one scene, the coach said, “If you can’t teach a willing kid, you’re a lousy teacher.”
  2. When his teaching methods failed, he changed how he taught.
    Mr. Holland began the school year by using a dry lecture style. When he learned about his students and their interests, he bridged the gap between things they knew to what he was teaching. During one scene, he uses a song popular to them and bridges to one from classical music. He taught music by playing music. He became student-centered in his teaching and familiar with his teenage pupils.
  3. Mr. Holland changed his philosophy of teaching.
    Mr. Holland was dragged into the education profession kicking and screaming. He didn’t care for his students or teaching. He had a passion for music, which developed into a passion for teaching. Initially, his class was boring, but he believed his students could learn and understand. By getting to know his students’ interests, he could help transform them.
  4. Mr. Holland cared for his students.
    In the beginning, Mr. Holland was frustrated and angry with his students. But his teaching improved when he affirmed his students instead of lashing out in anger at them. One of his students struggled to master the oboe, so he spent extra time helping her.

How can you get to know your students better so that you can teach them and connect with their interests? What is their learning style? Our professor gave us a teaching template.

Recommended resources:
The book “Teaching That Sticks” by Dan and Chip Heath comes from the same authors who brought you “Made to Stick.” Both books emphasize six concepts for helping make things memorable (“sticky”). The six concepts are simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, and (use) story. Another good resource is “Teaching to Change Lives” by Dr. Howard Hendricks (1987).

About the Author

Rich Atkinson began his writing career with a community paper in Ohio. He has worked for a magazine. Travel assignments have taken him outside the country to Haiti and Guatemala. In the U.S., he has journeyed to Atlanta, Boston, Milwaukee, and many other places for feature stories. When not writing, Rich finds time to read and enjoys listening to authors discuss writing on podcasts and in YouTube videos.
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