Glenn Holland(Richard Dreyfuss) is a professional musician who would like to spend more time composing so in 1965 he takes up teaching at a local high school. Little does he realize how little free time there will be as a teacher. Initially, he is frustrated at his inability to get through to his students but over time, he becomes quite competent at his profession and in fact has a number of successes. At home, he is devastated to learn that his infant son is deaf and struggles over the years to develop a relationship with him. When, after 30 years of teaching, the music program at his school is canceled he wonders what, if anything, he has really accomplished in his life. Friends and students, past and present, show him just what he has meant to them.