Oscar likes its pedagogues…somewhat. Ever since Robert Donat won the best actor statue for 1939′s Goodbye, Mr. Chips, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has shown a preference for nominating actors who play teachers then not rewarding them. It seems the Academy appreciates unselfish souls only to a point.
In Mr. Holland’s Opus, Richard Dreyfuss plays a workaday music teacher who gives up his dream of becoming a renowned composer, and devotes himself to inspiring his students. Robin Williams took a less conventional approach in Dead Poets Society by famously instructing his Welton Academy prep school charges to rip pages out of books and address him as “O Captain, my Captain.”
And then there’s Stand and Deliver‘s selfless math teacher Jaime Escalante (Edward James Olmos) who dramatically improves the test scores of his primarily Hispanic pupils in east Los Angeles; and the violin teacher Roberta Guaspari (Meryl Streep) in Music of the Heart, who overcomes budget cuts in Harlem and triumphs with a performance of her students at Carnegie Hall.
The credo for these roles can be summed up in the words of one of Mr. Holland’s former students, “There is not a life in this room that you have not touched, and each of us is a better person because of you.” In the end, Dreyfus, Williams, Olmos, and Streep were called upon to be just as selfless as the characters they played. Come Oscar time, none went home with an award.