This is one of my favorite scenes from Mr. Holland’s Opus, which came out in 1995. The best part runs from approximately 1:58 to 3:53.
There’s something so satisfying about a teacher convincing a student that she can learn, that the power has been within her all along. Much about this scene may be pure Hollywood, from the corny recommendation to “play the sunset” to an unfortunate abdication of teaching responsibility (“I can’t teach you that other stuff!”). But at the core of Mr. Holland’s message is something that’s easy to forget as we help our students slog through massive amounts of reading, lab reports, presentations, and exams. Whether it’s music, math, or medicine, learning is supposed to be fun.
Now, I’m not advocating for an approach to teaching where “fun” is the number one priority. I’m opposed to the “teacher as entertainer” model, and I don’t think that’s what Mr. Holland represents here. Rather, he finds a way to inspire the student to “own” her learning, to do it for herself and no one else, to find satisfaction in applying knowledge and skills to the practice of a field. Sure, Mr. Holland has the benefit of a little Hollywood magic – how I wish I could montage through parts of my semester! But it isn’t just hocus-pocus. It’s also good teaching.