“One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.”
– Carl Jung
Growing up, we’ve all encountered a disparate bunch of teachers. Some were powerhouses of inspiration, some just came to the classroom to while away time, some made their way straight into our hearts and our crush lists, and some made our school lives absolute living hell. But they all had valuable lessons and memories to offer, even the bad ones, that shall more or less stay with us until the day we die.
Growing up, we’ve also discovered characters in literature, cinema, and television that most of us have come to love. These characters redefined the essence of education and strongly believed in the power of knowledge, the power of love, and went on to successfully inculcate those values in their students.
This list contains of such electrifying, beautifully crafted fictional teachers who did much more than delivering lectures and providing homework; they possessed the ability to change the atmosphere of the classroom the moment they entered it, the enthusiasm to make learning more interactive and enjoyable, the courage to break the rules once in a while, and the patience to have persistent faith in their students.
These 15 fictional teachers changed the way we looked at school, learning, and knowledge; and their defining acts of majesty have, over the years, left us weeping, wishing they were real.
15 Dewey Finn
Where you’ve seen him: School of Rock (2003)
Played by: Jack Black
Remarkable quote: “If you wanna rock, you gotta break the rules.”
When an overly enthusiastic rock star is kicked out of his band, and is threatened to be kicked out of the apartment he shares with his best friend, he desperately takes up the job of a substitute teacher at the Horace Green Prep School, a job offered to his best friend Ned. After impersonating Ned and getting hired, he behaves in an eccentric manner which most of the kids seem to enjoy. But what gives birth to his teaching instinct is the musical talent he discovers in his class. He then encourages the students to form their own band and compete in the Battle of Bands.
The kids and Finn get notorious and keep the practices hidden from everybody else by sound-proofing the classroom and applying black film on the windows.
What makes him truly stand out is the fact that he assigns listening to Music CDs as homework. Now that’s the kind of homework we wouldn’t mind doing, would we?
14 Charles Xavier
Where you’ve seen him: X-Men (Comic books/Movies)
Remarkable quote: “Just because someone stumbles and loses their way, it doesn’t mean they’re lost forever.”
One of the most powerful mutants in the entire X-Men universe, Charles Francis Xavier is also behind the making of many others. He runs his own institute, Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, and helps many mutants discover and control their true powers. Unlike his on again off again best friend and arch enemy (anything is possible with the X-Men), Erik Lehnsherr AKA Magneto, he believes that human beings and mutants do not necessarily have to be enemies, and that a healthy relationship between the two communities is very much possible.
In the initial movies, Professor X is portrayed as a wise old man but as the prequels started pouring in, we realized that he, like any other person, has his flaws and quirks and that has made Professor X all the more likeable.
13 Remus Lupin
Where you’ve seen him: Harry Potter (Books/Movies)
Played by: David Thewlis
Remarkable quote: “It is the quality of one’s convictions that determines success, not the number of followers.”
To be honest, every list about the fictional world is incomplete without at least one Harry Potter entry. Undoubtedly the best Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher at Hogwarts under Dumbledore’s administration, Professor Lupin was like a dream come true for the students. His lessons were interactive and fun-filled. Even the shy somewhat incompetent students (like our hero Neville Longbottom) enjoyed and learned wholeheartedly in Professor Lupin’s class.
Former Hogwarts student and Marauder, Lupin is a patient mentor to a young Harry Potter, who also happens to be one of Harry’s father’s best friends from school. So obviously Lupin has a gooey corner for Harry in his heart. He teaches Harry how to conjure the Patronus charm, and all the other students how to fight their fear. In actuality a werewolf, he understands how crippling fear can be and goes on to polish his students to face it with courage.
12 Detective John Kimble
Where you’ve seen him: Kindergarten Cop (1990)
Played by: Arnold Schwarzenegger
Remarkable quote: “Oh, come on...Stop whining! You kids are soft. You lack discipline. Well, I've got news for you. You are mine now. You belong to me.”
Imagine a massive Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has earned his remarkable reputation as “The Terminator”, teaching a class of five year olds. Intimidating, right?
Detective John Kimble is a tough police officer who for an undercover mission, becomes a kindergarten teacher. He is initially extremely annoyed by the little kids but eventually uses his various skills and brief parenting experience to make the kids admire him. This one time, he punches a kid’s abusive father in the gut and says, “You hit a kid, I hit you.” That’s right! You don’t mess with the kindergarten cop’s kids, dude.
By the end of the movie, he decides to leave his cop days behind and become a full-time teacher; a sweet and wise decision indeed.
11 Jeff Rosso
Where you’ve seen him: Freaks and Geeks (1999-2000)
Played by: Dave Gruber Allen
Remarkable quote: “I got it on in a van at Woodstock, so I’m not judging anybody.”
While he’s not exactly a teacher, William McKinley High School’s guidance counselor is exactly the kind of man teenagers require during their school years. Sure, sometimes he gets a little personal and ends up embarrassing the kids, but his overall personality and good intentions make him an excellent counselor.
Prior to his guidance counselor days, he was a part of the hippie movement of the 60s and was also a part of the Vietnam War riots.
What truly makes Jeff Rosso stand out is his unconventional way of guiding the students. He shares with them the stories of his “hippie” days, tells them personal details like “I have herpes”, makes Alice Cooper references in his conversations, and even plays in a band at local bars. And let’s not forget the time he lends a copy of Grateful Dead’s album ‘American Beauty’ to Lindsay.
Seriously though, can this guy get cooler than this?
10 Roland Pryzbylewski
Where you’ve seen him: The Wire (2002-2008)
Played by: Jim True-Frost
Remarkable quote: “Trick 'em into thinking they aren't learning, and they do.”
Talking of former detectives, Roland ‘Prez” Pryzbylewski is another good example of a detective turned teacher, and in many ways, a better one. A math teacher at a public school in inner city Baltimore, he is committed to change the city for the better. After years of being an incompetent and cowardly police officer, he decides to get a certificate in teaching. His character transformation is considered to be one of the best in the show.
Having realized how closely crime and education are related, after failing on one side, he tries his hand at the other, and of course, succeeds.
Towards the end of the show, he gains the admiration of the kids, appreciation for what he does and two adorable nicknames – “Mr. Prezbo” and “Mr. P.”
9 Miss Jennifer Honey
Where you’ve seen her: Matilda (Book/Movie)
Played by: Embeth Davidtz
Remarkable Quote: “I’ve often thought about it, but... I can’t abandon my children. And if I couldn’t teach, I’d have nothing at all.”
Despite of having a troubled, abusive past, school teacher Miss Jennifer Honey is a patient and kind character. She is said to have the “rare gift” of making children admire her which obviously makes them enthusiastic about learning. And Miss Honey possesses the ability to perfectly put her gift to good use. On the first day of her class, only a few students could spell “cat” and within one week she is successfully able to teach her students to spell many difficult words with ease. Even though she has a special spot for Matilda, due to their many similarities and Matilda’s genius mind, in her heart, she never neglected the other students; she makes sure she focuses on and cares for each one of them. And those are the telling traits of a perfect teacher.
8 Sharon Norbury
Where you’ve seen her: Mean Girls (2004)
Played by: Tina Fey
Remarkable Quote: “I know having a boyfriend might seem like the only thing important to you right now, but you don't have to dumb yourself down in order for a guy to like you.”
North Shore High School’s 12th grade calculus teacher Ms. Norbury is a quirky, awkward, and hilarious character. Also the coach of the school’s ‘Mathletes’, she is an intelligent young woman. She is the one who pushes Cady Heron to reconstruct her life and leave the mean girls clique and join the mathletes. She teaches all the girls the valuable lesson of not calling each other sluts and whores, because it would then seem okay for the boys to call them so. She interacts with the girls and asks them if they were ever personally victimized by Regina George (the uber mean girl). This clearly proves she cares for her students and an awkward yet caring teacher is definitely one to cherish.
7 George Feeny (Boy Meets World)
Where you’ve seen him: Boy Meets World (1993-2000)
Played by: William Daniels
Remarkable quote: “If you let people’s perception of you dictate your behavior, you will never grow as a person.”
A sixth grade teacher at the John Adams High School and the neighbor of the Matthews family, Mr. Feeny is initially portrayed as a serious teacher who comes to school, does his job, and leave. But eventually, he develops an emotional attachment with some of his students, including Cory, and begins to share his wisdom with his students. During the course of the show, he teaches them the importance of doing the right thing, believing in oneself, and doing some good in the world. He also gives them occasional lessons on taking risks, the true utility of technology, friendship, and family. Mr. Feeny eventually becomes the principal of the school and is often seen giving out valuable advice to the Matthews family. He might appear to be more like a person of authority than a mentor, but is nevertheless one of the greatest teachers of all time.
6 Valerie Frizzle
Where you’ve seen her: The Magic School Bus (1994-1997)
Voiced by: Lily Tomlin
Remarkable quote: “Take chances. Make mistakes. Get messy.”
We all loved the magical and adventurous ‘90s cartoon The Magical School Bus, but not more than the eccentric teacher it featured. Ms. Frizzle teaches the third grade at the Walkerville Elementary School and is loved and respected by all of her students despite of her slightly odd personality. She uses various magical equipments to make learning a worthwhile experience for her students, one of which is the magic school bus, the shape-shifting bus that Ms. Frizzle uses to take her students on enjoyable, and sometimes dangerous, field trips.
Formerly a stage actress and part of a band known as ‘The Frizzlettes’, she gives all of it up for a career in teaching. Throughout the series, it is very clear that her passion for teaching is intense and that she is indeed, magical herself.
5 Yoda (Star Wars)
Where you’ve seen him: Star Wars (Episodes 1-7)
Voiced by: Frank Oz
Remarkable quote: “A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack.”
From one of the most loved fictional universes of all time, emerged one of the best mentors of all time. From the way he formed his sentences, to all the life lessons he has to offer, Yoda screams wisdom. He sees all his students as what they truly are, seeing both their potential and their shortcomings. For him, working on the character of a Jedi is the foundation of a successful education. He could have fought Vader himself, but instead he understood that it was Luke who needed to do it. Yoda is a compassionate, humble, perseverant and simple character. While he mentors Luke, he lets him grow naturally, and imparts in him utter wisdom.
We all wish we had a Yoda, don’t we? May the Force be with us!
4 Kesuke Miyagi
Where you’ve seen him: The Karate Kid (1984)
Played by: Pat Morita
Remarkable quote: “Better learn balance. Balance is key. Balance good, karate good. Everything good. Balance bad, better pack up, go home. Understand?”
Probably the most beloved karate teacher in the history of cinema, Mr. Miyagi never taught in a traditional classroom; but he taught nevertheless. He is an excellent mentor to young Daniel LaRusso and teaches him not only the tactics of karate, but also its value. He possesses intense philosophical knowledge about both life and karate, and decides to pass it on to Daniel. He encourages and prepares Daniel for the All Valley Karate Tournament which he, of course, wins. Mr. Miyagi personifies patience, and persistence. So where’s our Mr. Miyagi? Better check out the building’s maintenance man.
3 Minerva McGonagall
Where you’ve seen her: Harry Potter (Books/Movies)
Played by: Maggie Smith
Remarkable quote: “Potter, I will assist you to become an Auror if it is the last thing I do! If I have to coach you nightly, I will make sure you achieve the required results.”
Where do I even start? You would think someone who views rules with much high regard would be a deadbeat. But our beloved Professor McGonagall is the ultimate powerhouse of sass, both on the page and on the screen. The Transfiguration professor and the head of Gryffindor house, apart from being a stern and respected teacher, is a loyal friend to the headmaster and an excellent witch.
Throughout the series, she cares deeply about her students and is never afraid of putting herself between the students and any threat that pursues them. She takes care of Harry and always helps him and the other students whenever they sincerely need it. Overall, she is an honest, and a total badass character. You don’t agree? Well, have a biscuit then.
2 John Keating
Where you’ve seen him: Dead Poets Society (1989)
Played by: Robin Williams
Remarkable quote: “We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”
O Captain, my Captain! Robin Williams shall be remembered for generations to come for his role as the English teacher at the exclusive and conservative boarding school for boys, Welton Academy. He clearly isn’t one to fit into the norm of the school and has unconventional ways of making his students learn. Students, otherwise overburdened with humdrum homework, immensely enjoy their English classes with Keating. They are inspired by Keating to an extent where they start their own secret dead poets society. John Keating has over time become the epitome of an ideal teacher because of his inspirational teaching and his unconventional and beautiful outlook on life. There’s a lot we’ve learned from him, but the most important lesson of them all was to seize the day.
1 Albus Dumbledore
Where you’ve seen him: Harry Potter (Books/Movies)
Played by: Richard Harris and Michael Gambon
Remarkable quote: “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”
I bet Professor Dumbledore topping this list does not come as a surprise. The Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is in fact the headmaster of all the fictional teachers that have ever lived. Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore in addition to being the most powerful wizard in the Wizarding World, is the most humble, wise, and patient man the world has ever known. Throughout the series, he is known to be a profoundly caring headmaster and teacher to his students and the staff at Hogwarts. He protects them and puts them out of harm’s way even if he has to sacrifice himself in the process, without a second thought.
“Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and above all, those who live without love.” - The one trait that shines the brightest is Dumbledore’s faith in the power of love. He not only guides Harry through almost all hardships in life, but teaches him a great deal about the power of love by making him realize it in a very natural way. For the majority of the series, Dumbledore is the embodiment of a wise perfectionist. But as we progress and learn about his past, we realize that he’s just as much human as the rest of us, flawed and slightly troubled. But that only makes us love him more. 100 points to Dumbledore!