Great fictional teachers

One of the classroom exercises I from my first week of classes was to identify a teacher from my real life who left an impression on me. Maybe it’s just me (oh man I really hope it’s not just me), but some of what inspired me to become a teacher comes straight from fiction. So here are a few of my favourite screen teachers:

John Keating, The Dead Poets Society

“O Captain, my Captain.'”

You can’t talk about great fictional teachers without mentioning John Keating from the Dead Poets society. The minute Robin Williams enters the classroom casually whistling Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture you know that he is no ordinary teacher. Keating has a passion for poetry and for life. He encourages students to rip pages out of textbooks that analyze poetry as a mathematical formula and has them jumping on desks to see the world from a different point of view. Despite his almost flamboyant teaching style, Keating still has limits. He disproves of Charlie’s cheap prank in assembly, telling him that a wise man knows when to be daring and when to be cautious. However it is Keating’s encouragement of his students to embrace their emerging individualism which leads to dramatic consequences for one student in particular and Keating’s downfall as a teacher. Who doesn’t tear up at the end of the film when the students jump on their desks in tribute to their former teacher?

Minerva McGonagallHarry Potter 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.1 (and 7.2, SQUEAL! JULY! /endharrypotterfreakout)

“We teachers are rather good at magic, you know.”

Everyone always picks Dumbledore as the best teacher at Hogwarts but I have a soft spot for no-nonsense Professor McGonagall. The transmogrification teacher is strict and has a death stare that could stop a misbehaving student at 50 paces. However underneath the tough exterior she is kind and compassionate which is why her students like her even though she is tough. Ever the professional, McGonagall is outward respectful to the Ministry of Magic appointee Dolores Umbridge even though she vehemently disagrees with the bureaucrat’s management of Hogwarts. Cool under pressure, McGonagall kept the school running during the second Wizarding War and duelled Voldemort during the battle for Hogwarts. McGonagall is the teacher whose class you want to be in when it comes time to sit your O.W.L.s.

Yoda, Star Wars

“No. Try not. Do.. or do not. There is no try.”

Yoda’s authority as a teacher comes from his deep knowledge of the force and some nifty skills with the lightsabre. A wise judge of character, Yoda plays a key role in the Jedi Council’s initial decision to deny Qui-Gonn Jin’s request to train Anakin skywalker. Yoda believed that Anakin was affected by his years as a slave and still clings too tightly to the memory of his mother to be trained safely. Yoda’s assessment of Anakin’s character turns out to be accurate. Yet Yoda still comes out of retirement to train Luke in the art of being a Jedi. Due to Yoda’s instruction, Luke is able to defeat the Emperor and the empire crumbles.

Miss Honey, Matilda

“I can’t abandon my children. And if I couldn’t teach, I’d have nothing at all.”

If you were going to imagine the perfect Year 1 teacher, it would probably be Miss Honey. Enthusiastic, kind and motivated by a deep love for her students, Miss Honey serves as a mentor that Matilda has never had before in life. Miss Honey is able to stay true to her teaching style despite the overwhelming presence of her evil aunt and the headmistress of Crunchem Hall Elementary School, the child-hating Miss Trunchbull. Bonding over their tragic childhood, Miss Honey eventually adopts Matilda to prevent her from moving to Guam a move that goes far beyond the scope of a teacher’s role. Miss Honey reminds us that you can’t be a teacher if you don’t like children.

Johnny Castle, Dirty Dancing

“Nobody puts baby in the corner!”

Not all teachers are found in schools. Johnny Castle is a boy from the wrong side of the tracks who earns money teaching wealthy women ballroom dancing and also performing on stage at holiday resorts. When his dance partner needs and abortion, Johnny teaches an inexperienced Baby how to dance like a pro in just a few weeks. Johnny starts off  as a crappy teacher often yelling at baby when she makes mistakes. However when Baby tells him that his teaching technique is ineffective, he quickly changes his methods taking Baby into the woods to learn balance on a tree stump and then practicing lifts in the lake. Johnny also shows respect for his student by being the first one to call her Francis rather than her nickname Baby. Who wouldn’t want to learn ballroom dancing from the beautiful young Patrick Swayze?

So tell me, who are your big (and small) screen favorite teachers?

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4 thoughts on “Great fictional teachers

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  1. Ms Bitters, from the cartoon series Invader Zim, Dr Cox from Scrubs (especially in the last season where he is actually teaching med school) and R Lee Ermy.

    Hell, a week of playing DVDs of that lot to prospective teachers and they’d have all the training they needed.

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