Just in time for the new school year, the memoir “Strings Attached,” published last year, is now available in paperback. Co-authored by Joanne Lipman, an award-winning journalist and commentator, and Melanie Kupchynsky, a violinist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the book etches an indelible portrait of Jerry Kupchynsky, known to his students as “Mr. K” (as well as “the toughest teacher in the world”).
Kupchynsky was Melanie’s father, a Ukranian immigrant, who, as an East Brunswick, NJ high school teacher, was demanding, punishing and unrelenting in his quest to instill discipline, self-confidence and resilience in his students.
The methods—physically punishing and verbally abusive--would no doubt get him fired today. But in 2010, just months after he died at the age of 81 of Parkinson’s disease, his students spanning four decades attended and performed a memorial concert.
“Mr. K” would be a natural for the big screen, a towering presence in his students’ lives, the mentor whose life lessons set them on the hard-fought track to success.
Movie heroes of late have been of the super kind, but with classes now in session, let’s cheer for the movies' real heroes, the tireless, selfless teachers whose ability to inspire is the best kind of superpower.
Class is forever in session on video, Netflix or video on demand:
- Miss Crabtree (June Marlow):One of the most beloved characters in the “Our Gang” comedies, Miss Crabtree went the extra mile to keep the mischievous tykes on the straight and narrow. In the short “Shiver My Timbers,” she teamed up with a sea captain to scare the kids out of wanting to become pirates. Who would ever play hooky from her classroom?
- Charles “Mr. Chips" Chipping (Robert Donat in “Goodbye Mr. Chips”): The head of the class, this classic British film tracks the life and career of a retiring school teacher and his impact on generations of students.
- Jaime Escalante (Edward James Olmos in “Stand and Deliver”): Olmos was nominated for an Academy Award for his class act as the James A. Garfield High School math teacher who taps the potential of his slacker students by teaching them AP Calculus.
- Mr. McGree (Paul Bartel in “Rock and Roll High School”): In this rollicking cult classic, music teacher McGree goes from Beethoven to the Ramones as he joins the student rebellion against the tyrannical rock-hating principal, Miss Togar.
- John Keating (Robin Williams in “Dead Poets Society”): Perhaps Williams’ finest hour. “Carpe Diem.”
- Mark Thackeray (Sidney Poitier in “to Sir With Love”): Another Grade-A performance for Poitier in one of his signature roles as “Sir,” a novice teacher in a tough school in London’s East End.
- Georges Lopez ("To Be and To Have"): It’s thrilling because it’s true. This French documentary observes the dedicated teacher working his magic in a one-room rural classroom.
- Anne Sullivan (Anne Bancroft in “The Miracle Worker”): For the teacher of Helen Keller, giving up” was considered to be “the original sin.”
- Roberta Guaspari (“Small Wonders”): This documentary, later adapted for a feature film starring Meryl Streep, chronicles East Harlem music teacher Guaspari’s efforts to teach underprivileged children to play the violin. How do you get to Carnegie Hall; Practice(and Guaspari).
Your turn: Who are your favorite movie teachers?