My academic career lasted longer than most – I started nursery school at age 3 and I left my doctoral studies at age 31 – but I was fortunate along the way to have many wonderful teachers. These men and women took an interest in me, exposed me to new ideas and ways of thinking and were always supportive. In fact, many of teachers nurtured my love of writing which is why you are reading this blog right now. There were a couple of clunkers in the bunch, but I was generally blessed with people who loved teaching and loved their students. I have great parents, but spending eight hours a day at school with dedicated and compassionate educators certainly helped shaped me into the person that I am today. My experience with so many great teachers was a contributing factor in my original career path choice of being a college professor; I had so many great role models to draw on and I hope that I was able to give to my students at least some portion of what was given to me. My love of teaching is what kept me in grad school long after I realized that the world of academia wasn’t where I wanted to be. I found the research pressure overwhelming and the departmental politics unsavory, but I really did love my time in the classroom (even when my students were exasperating – college freshmen in particular are exhausting). The pay was terrible, the grading was mind numbing and sometimes you wondered if you were getting through to anyone, but it is still the most rewarding job I’ve ever had.
This week is teacher appreciation week (though EVERY week should be teacher appreciation week), so be sure to thank the educators in your lives. In honor of them, here’s a look at some of my favorite educators from the world of pop culture. Please note – these are my favorite teachers, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they were all good teachers:
John Keating (Robin Williams) – Dead Poet’s Society
Keating may have used some unorthodox methods and probably was a little too invested in the lives of his students, but I have always appreciated that he challenged his students to think critically about the world and to consider different perspectives. He had a passion for teaching and clearly cared about his students. He encouraged them to follow their dreams and develop their interests. The first time I saw this scene, I remember getting goose bumps:
This is a teacher that had an impact on his students. Every teacher deserves their “O Captain my captain” moment. I was lucky enough to have mine when my upperclassmen gave me a standing ovation during what they knew was my last class.
Edna Krabappel (voiced by Marcia Wallace) – The Simpsons
Ms. Krabappel represents all the burned out teachers that are just going through the motions. She probably once loved her job, but I imagine that having Bart Simpson as a student might be enough to drain the life force out of even the most dedicated educator (especially since the characters on The Simpsons don’t age – she’s been teaching Bart for over 20 years). I don’t know that I’d want her teaching my kids, but she’s sure a lot of fun to watch. I think every teacher has had a moment where they identify a little with Edna Krabappel; you may not agree with her actions, but you at least understand where she’s coming from.
Mr. Kotter (Gabe Kaplan) – Welcome Back, Kotter
Again, this is probably another teacher that knows his students a little too well. However, with students like the Sweat Hogs, they really need as much guidance and steadying influences as they can get. Over the years, Mr. Kotter tried to steer John Travolta and company to do the right thing, believe in their potential and maybe even learn a little something about social studies in the process. This is also an excuse for me to link to the show’s great theme song (and we all know how I love a good theme song).
Albus Dumbledore – the Harry Potter series
While most teachers have to worry about testing requirements and loss of state resources, Dumbledore had to worry about his students being attacked by “he who shall not be named.” That is a whole other level of stress. Dumbledore was essential in guiding Harry Potter through his quest and served as a surrogate parent to many of the students at Hogwarts, providing everyone with wisdom and support. Schools would be in better shape with more headmasters/administrators like Dumbledore.
Jaime Escalante (Edward James Olmos) – Stand and Deliver
Based on the real life teacher, Edward James Olmos does an excellent job portraying the math teacher that reaches out to some of the most troubled students in an East Los Angeles high school and pushes them to exceed society’s (and their own) expectations. He believes in them when so many others don’t and they rise to the occasion under his tutelage. Teaching is a hard job in most circumstances, but teaching in an underfunded school with students with a variety of problems due to their family life and socioeconomic status takes a special type of person. Stand and Deliver is a good example of the difference that a good teacher can make.
Ronald “Prez” Pryzbylewski (Jim True-Frost) – The Wire
Regular readers of the blog know that I think The Wire is probably the best show ever made. While I love all the story lines about wire taps, drug dealers and a man by the name of Omar Little, it was the fourth season of this show that really had the most impact on me. Focused on the troubled Baltimore school system, we saw former cop Pryzbylewski struggle to reach students and do his job with limited resources. This season was the most depressing to me, but stayed with me the longest. Even those these students were only in middle school, some of them were already lost to the world of drugs – either as pushers or users. The odds were so stacked against them that it was difficult to save one of them, let alone an entire class. It is an eye opening experience for Prez and he rises to the challenge, finding a more rewarding (if frustrating) career as a teacher than he did as a police officer. He discovers that the classroom isn’t that much safer than the street he used to patrol.
Now it’s your turn – who are some of your favorite teachers from the world of pop culture? Let us know in the comments below. And THANK YOU to all the wonderful teachers I know – you are appreciated and valued by this blogger.