John F. Kennedy High School is an overcrowded and underfunded urban institution which has just been hit by a lawsuit because a diploma was awarded to an illiterate student. Lisa (JoBeth Williams), an alumni who is now a lawyer, turns to Alex Jurel (Nick Nolte), her favorite teacher, for help. He is under pressure from Vice Principal Roger Reubel (Judd Hirsch), a longtime friend, to cover up this institutional flaw. He tells Alex: "We're not the bad guys, we do good with what we've got."
In the black comic spirit of Hospital and Network, this muckraking movie directed by Arthur Hiller zaps the errors, inadequacies and structural deficiencies of one troubled high school. A student at John F. Kennedy bites his teacher's hand; a gym coach has sex with three students; a boy is shot to death near his locker in a drug incident; and an escapee from a mental institution is a substitute teacher.
Alex, who won a Best Teacher award years ago, recaptures his zeal by working with Eddie (Ralph Macchio), a "difficult teenager" who cannot read or write. When a hard nosed school superintendent (Lee Grant) tries to force him and another teacher out for not cooperating in a coverup, Alex refuses to tender his resignation.
Teachers is a spunky, outrageous comedy which aims to entertain and at the same time to shed some light on what really matters in education. Nolte's dynamic screen presence anchors the film and provides its emotional clout. The original rock music soundtrack of selections by Bob Seger, Joe Cocker, ZZ Top, the Motels, and others serves as a vital counterpoint to the story.