Random fact about me, I was an English teacher for exactly one year. I didn’t leave the profession because I hated it or anything like that, and I’ve wondered from time to time if I’d find my way back there. Especially this time of year, as my own educating friends gear up for the school year and I join my oldest daughter in the excitement of buying school supplies.
Like many English teachers, there’s a fictional teacher or two that I’d always hoped to fashion myself after. We all want to stand on a desk and rip up the textbook like Mr Keating, but we never do. Most of the time I felt more like Ms. Norbury from Mean Girls. I liked my students, wanted them to do well, but I was also kind of a mess.
But still, there’s nothing wrong with being inspired by some of the great fictional teachers. Whether you are an actual teacher, or just trying to teach your kid how to tie their shoes (like me...send help), these fictional teachers guided me in my season of teaching, and hopefully they can point us in the right direction.
First off, Mr Miyagi. I was briefly very obsessed with the Karate Kid as a kid and even watched that terrible sequel with young Hillary Swank. But “wax on, wax off”, while sort of campy in the best way possible isn’t a terrible way to teach the importance of patience, precision, practice, and resilience when trying to go after something. And maybe, very possibly, I’m looking at this character through the glasses of nostalgia, but at the very least I remember the lesson.
Next, Ms. Frizzle. I’ve mentioned my love of the Magic School Bus before in this column, but it truly it is an underrated kids show. And Ms Frizzle is the best example in probably all of fiction of letting your students learn by getting in there and figuring it out. “Take Chances, make mistakes, get messy” is probably not the best advice all the time for all your life, but it sure works when it comes to learning in a safe environment. If only all teachers had a bus that could shapeshift, fly, time travel, transmutate, and who knows what else.
Last but not least is every 90s kid’s favorite, the king of TGIF, Boy Meets World’s Mr. Feeny. Who of us in our 30s cannot instantly go into Eric Mathew’s classic “Feeheeheeny” on command? Mr Feeny was great for so many reasons. He didn’t give up on his students no matter how often they seemed to think he was smarter than them or how little they lived up to their potential in the moment. Even when they disrespected him, he still believed in them. He was loyal to a fault and yes, it's super weird that he literally went with them to every school they did, but we all would have been lucky to have such a teacher. One who cared more about who we were becoming than anything else.
There are of course many great, hilarious, or somewhere in between teachers that could be mentioned. Remus Lupin from Harry Potter was the first defense against the dark arts teacher to actually teach the students something and in the end he helped inspire Harry to teach others how to defend themselves. His lessons literally led to saved lives and helped win the war against Voldemort. Then there's Jessica Day from New Girl. She’s weird, but she will go to the ends of the earth for students. Also, how could I not mention every teacher in any young adult novel. Come on, you know there’s always that one. Also understanding, allows for creativity, and helps the main character emotional process whatever the conflict of the story is. They are usually an art or english teacher.
I’m sort of teasing now, but that archetype exists for a reason. At schools all over there really are teachers like that. Teachers who fight for their students to do well, who help them process things, who aren’t just teaching them the subject matter but attempting to show them the best ways forward. Teachers who are attempting to help students be the best versions of themselves. And this column is dedicated to all of those teachers, who do so much more than even these fictional characters mention. Thank you for all you do. Have a great school year.
Strange Perspective is a unique weekly look into today's pop culture by Progress columnist Rachel Strange.