Teachers (1984): Arthur Hiller’s Inept Satire of Education, Starring Nick Nolte and JoBeth Williams

Ineptly directed by Arthur Hiller (Love Story), and written by W. R. McKinney, Teachers is seriocomedy starring Nick Nolte and JoBeth Williams.

On a Monday morning at John F. Kennedy High School (film was shot at the former Central High School), in Columbus, Ohio inner city, there is conflict between teachers, a student with a stab wound, and a threatening upcoming lawsuit–a graduate is suing the school for granting him a diploma despite his illiteracy.

Vice Principal Roger Rubell, Principal Eugene Horn, and lawyer Lisa Hammond, who’s in charge of taking depositions for the Calvin case, are all nervous and easily agitated.

Nolte plays Alex Jurel, a vet Social Studies teacher, is one of the school’s most popular teachers due to his ability to connect with students.  But he’s worn down by years of being a mediator between the rowdy students and the administration.

Assigned to take over the duties of the school psychologist, Eddie Pilikian (Ralph Maccio), and becomes a mentor. Meanwhile, he’s involved in a romance with Hammond (Williams), a former student.

Then there’s Herbert Gower, a mental institution outpatient, mistaken for a substitute US History teacher, and gym teacher Mr. Troy’s sexual relationship with a student who gets pregnant and needs abortion.

Complicating matters is the death of Eddie’s best friend Danny (Cristin Glover), a schizophrenic and kleptomaniac student, shot and killed by the police during a drug search.

Superintendent Donna Burke and school lawyer Al Lewis are attempting to avoid bad publicity, by trying to figure out which teachers are the most damaging to the school’s reputation.

Jurel, perceived as a threat, is forced him to resign before his deposition, ostensibly for helping the student obtain an abortion. But he finally stands up to Burke and Rubell, reminding them that the school exists for the students, not for the administration. He also threatens to sue and petition if he’s fired.

In the happy (but not convincing or coherent) ending, Jurel proudly walks into the school, greeted with the students’ loud cheers.

What slightly elevates the film is the strong supporting cast, which includes Judd Hirsch, Lee Grant, Allen Garfield, Laura Dern, and Morgan Freeman.

he film opened on October 4, 1984 to mixed or negative reviews (62 percent positive on RottenTomatoes scale).