Thursday, January 21, 2016

Teachers in Stories - The Best and Worst

As teachers prepare to return to another school year, here is a tribute to them. I believe they make an enormous impact on what may happen down the track in the life of any individual. A simple word from a teacher in our early years has the potential to influence how we perceive ourselves, and what we become. I always remember when my English teacher took me aside to recommend that I aspire for her job, as English teacher. Although that never happened, her words helped me stick to writing.

I've chosen 15 teachers from stories, and the fact that there's so many to choose from also indicates the significance of their role. 


1) Mr Francis Carpenter, from 'Emily of New Moon'
He might be one of the least well known on my list, but this man had a true calling for teaching, rather than just filling in time earning money. He used games and role-play to help his students learn history and geography. And he quickly intuited the strengths and weaknesses of each of his pupils, and tailor-made lessons for them accordingly. 

2) Miss Honey from 'Matilda' 
A very sweet lady who appreciated the many talents of the down-trodden little heroine. She invested energy into improving Matilda's life, when other teachers might have just shrugged and said, 'Sad background, but what can I do about it?' 

3) Professor Minerva McGonagall from 'Harry Potter'
She's strict but has piercing insight into the characters of her students, and is very fair. Even though she's the head of Gryffindor House, she never hesitates to take points off them if she feels they deserve it. And she's brimming with common sense and compassion too.

4) Laura Ingalls from 'Little House on the Prairie' series
Even though she's younger and smaller than some of the country bumpkins she's sent to teach, she manages to win them over by being herself and proving that she's interested in each of them as people. She's canny enough to recognise sneaky shenanigans and prove that she can play their own game, especially with the cheeky Clarence Brewster.

5) Anne Shirley from 'Anne of Green Gables'
I guess a girl with such a fertile imagination and thirst for knowledge can't help inspiring students with her own enthusiasm. Even when she loses her temper and whips Anthony Pye, things end up turning out well. She wouldn't get away with that in the 21st century though!

6) Mr Nigel Ratburn from the 'Arthur' TV series
I used to watch this each night when my kids were small, and loved him. His class would complain that his standards were too high, and that he wasn't as much fun as the lady across the hall, but they knew he had their backs and was capable of getting good work out of them.

7) Mr Mark Thackeray  from 'To Sir with Love'
Not only did he manage to win the friendship of his class of racially prejudiced teens from the wrong side of the tracks, but he helped each of them understand that they were capable of far better work than they ever would have imagined. He's a teacher who succeeds in helping students with inferiority complexes raise their own opinions of themselves. You can't ask for more than that. 

8) Mr John Keating from 'Dead Poet's Society'
This man inspired his class of troubled and repressed private school boys to think like the great philosophers throughout history and 'Seize the Day!' Through unorthodox lessons, he encourages them to become originals rather than followers of the crowd. Things didn't end well for him, but what a champion.

9) Mr Chipping from 'Goodbye Mr Chips'
 His school boys were his life, plain and simple. He gave a lifetime of blood, sweat and tears to his place of employment, Brookfield Grammar School. It got to the point where he was able to understand deeper aspects about new pupils from the outset because he'd also taught their fathers. What a guy.

10) Master Yoda from 'Star Wars'
Despite his dodgy syntax, this teacher has successfully trained generations of Jedi Knights. He knows how to fill their head spaces with necessary skills and challenges them to get the best out of themselves. And he has enough quotes to fill a philosophy book. A better teacher to find is hard. 


1) Miss Eliza Jane Wilder from 'Little Town on the Prairie' 
She forms cliques with nasty girls, holds grudges against other students such as Laura, and gives unfair punishments which far exceed transgressions. What's more, Miss Wilder lacks the skill sets a teacher needs. When most of the class decide on mutiny, her feeble disciplinary attempts get her nowhere. I can't help wondering what happened when Laura Ingalls Wilder decided to write these candid details for the whole world to read about the lady who later became her sister-in-law. Surely it would have caused an irreparable family rift. Or maybe there was always friction between Laura and Eliza Jane, and the stories were just another shot in Laura's arsenal.     

2) Miss Caroline Fisher from 'To Kill a Mockingbird'
She breezes into a teacher's appointment without a clue as to the character of the town and its folk. All she wants is to stamp the cookie cutter methodology she's been taught at teacher's college onto every young individual in her class. She's too shallow to recognise compassion and help when it comes in an unlikely package. Instead of thanking Scout Finch who offers to explain the idiosyncrasies of different families, she smacks her instead! 

3) Professor Dolores Umbridge from 'Harry Potter'
A bad egg indeed. At first she just seems like a condescending control-freak without a clue, but her nastiness turns out to run deeper than that. And her own personal ambition and grasping for power knows no bounds. The students decide to take matters in their own hands the year she became Defense against the Dark Arts teacher, because she's simply not teaching them anything of practical value. That's bad enough, without all the other on top.

4) Mr William Hundert from 'The Emperor's Club'
I watched this movie with the kids some time ago. This man's intentions to be a great teacher are genuine, but he succumbs to cheating, and it's a downward slide from there. When you surreptitiously boost your favourite student's test results to get him into an elite competition, it's not going to end well. Especially when the boy who rightfully made the grade has no chance now.       

5) Professor Severus Snape from 'Harry Potter' 
OK, he's complex enough to be in a class of his own and I'll leave it to the individual to judge him as a person, but surely anyone would admit that as a teacher, he's trash. He uses sarcasm and shame liberally, and favours the Slytherin students, to boost the school house of which he's head. Yet you have to admit that he does elicit good results from his Potions students, and knows what he's teaching.

So there's enough of a list to prompt a reading or movie marathon. If you can think of any other examples of great or deplorable teachers, either real or literary, please let us know in the comments. 
And I wish all teachers and students a good start to the academic year, which commences soon.


  1. that was a really interesting list - and from such varied sources. Thanks!

    1. Thanks, Rhonda. I've taken quite a bit of it from childhood memories, so there's probably a few decades worth in there :)

  2. Great list Paula - I can think of some real life teachers that have had a huge impact on my life. In the fictional world - maybe Professor Kirk in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe - wise but willing his charges to discover things for themselves, also Professor Bhaer and Jo (in Good Wives, Little Men, Jo's Boys) and - if we are going to include Yoda, maybe Gandalf in Lord of the Rings. And one teacher who is a bit more ambiguous is English teacher, Mr Hatchet in Lynne Stringer's The Heir - stern, scary and a stickler for rules, he is really to watch out for Sarah's safety.

    1. Hi Jenny,
      Yeah, great choices. I've read all of those books you've mentioned, and those teachers would indeed round out the list.
      It brings back memories of that boys' boarding school in 'Little Men'. Professor Kirk and Mr Hatchet were really both the types of teachers who were deeper than they appeared on the surface, indeed.

  3. Ok, this is my last input, have to get to that dinner party menu! "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" by Muriel Spark. No sure in what group I would put her. Thanks for the wonderful distraction!

    1. The title rings a bell, but I've never read it. Historical fiction, isn't it? Hey, I'm glad you came and wiled away a few empty moments on these lists. Thank you in return, for the extra suggestions. Have a great dinner party 😀

    2. I think my age is showing here! It is considered I believe a classic and they made a movie with Maggie Smith as the title character in 1969.

  4. I've definitely heard of it, and might have even read something else by Muriel Spark long ago. I love Maggie Smith, but wow, she would have looked a lot younger in 1969. I was born that year, at Christmas.