Let’s face it, anyone who works in a school (or goes to one) meets a cast of interesting characters. That said, teachers from books, television shows, and movies hold a special place in our hearts. Let’s examine some of our most influential:
The 5 Worst Fictional Teachers (in no particular order):
1. Professor Dolores Umbridge, The Harry Potter Series
This power monger exudes a frighteningly coy and cuddly persona. However, it’s nothing more than a mask, and the power behind her cutesy voice almost becomes nails on the chalkboard. Her belief in theory over practicality is at best annoying and at worst entirely fruitless. Besides that, she seems to have no conscience or connection with the students. Punishment and retaliation is the name of her game, evident in how she treats Harry Potter for his mentioning of Lord Voldemort. Her response? Etching Potter’s words into his own hand.
2. The Economics Teacher, Ferris Bueller
Bueller… Bueller… There’s not a role call that can’t be made without recollection of the monotonous Ben Stein’s unnamed character in the Ferris Bueller movie. The droning just keeps on going, and any teacher who’s ever had a lecture go south can compare themselves to this guy as a baseline of mediocrity. Who would agree that scaffolding, differentiated instruction, or even social interaction isn’t present in that class? Anyone? Anyone?
3. Ms. Othmar, Peanuts
Her lessons plans and pedagogy lack impact to the extent that she essentially doesn’t even speak a language. Enter the trombone: Mopp mopp wopp mopp mopp.
4. Mr. Herbert Garrison, South Park
Deep down, Mr. Garrison has a heart for the students, but it’s no joke to say that not only is South Park Elementary’s teacher toxic, the creators of the show have called him a “walking soap opera.” He’s racist, he’s had several psychological problems, and any one of his stand-alone comments would get him fired. Or elected President of the United States.
5. Ms. Agatha Trunchbull, Matilda
They say teachers have seven seconds to make a first impression. Ms. Trunchbull doesn’t hedge at that opportunity to make an overwhelming impression of dominance. She summons all the students to the middle while smashing all the desks against the walls to begin her introduction. Later, the crass head of the class hammer-throws Amanda Thripp by the pigtails. And she looks like a prison guard.
Honorable Mention: Ms. Viola Swamp, Miss Nelson Is Missing!
The 5 Best Fictional Teachers (in no particular order):
1. Mr. Gabe Kotter, Welcome Back, Kotter
It’s not too often the class clown returns to his dingy high school to teach the worst of the worst. It’s even less often that he goes back and makes an impact. Kotter is able to make social studies fun and relevant, taking his subject and his relationships seriously without doing the same about himself. This type of story would be replicated by many other movies and television series, which is what lands Kotter on the list before them.
2. Ms. Valerie Frizzle, The Magic School Bus
Kids who grew up in the late 90s have an emotional attachment to the PBS animated series, but the books captivated their audience with tales of this traveling classroom for nearly 25 years. “The Friz” is stern and yet eccentric. She seems to know what every student is doing at all times (“eyes in the back of the head” while driving a bus? Impressive!). This elementary teacher is also well-versed in a variety of content and curriculum. Best of all—each lesson is a literal journey.
3. Mr. John Keating, Dead Poets Society
Any teacher who’s looked at their textbook with disdain has wished they had the fortitude to tell students to just rip out the parts that have no relativity to the joy of learning. In a school of stuffy academics, Keating moves through the hall with grace and questioning authority, encouraging his students to find passion in poetry and theater. When we know it’s time to close down the classroom, we all want our kids to stand on the desks and yell, “O Captain, My Captain!”
Professor Minerva McGonagall, The Harry Potter Series
If McGonagall taught you in class, you might not love her then, but you’d love her in all the years thereafter. She is, like many others on this list, fully invested in her students and school. She’s powerful and yet poised. She’s intensely knowledgeable in her field (transfiguration), but she’s gifted enough to apply her lessons for students to learn at their level, no matter where they are. McGonagall doesn’t hedge from playing office politics, standing up against challengers to the things she loves.
Mr. George Feeny, Boy Meets World
Mr. Feeny is something each one of us wishes we had while growing up. A neighbor first, a stalwart teacher second, and an apt administrator third, Feeny is a foundation of learning. He’s able to handle problems with humor, humility, and shame—dependent on the problem. He’s “old school,” but he gets results. When this television series closed, he was given the last monologue, and said, very simply, to his students: “believe in yourselves, dream, try, do good.” It obviously had impact enough on the main character, who’s now a teacher himself in the spin-off Girl Meets World.
Honorable Mention: Ms. Sharon Norbury, Mean Girls
Who do you rank as your top 5 best and worst fictional teachers? Let us know by commenting below.