I love that Electric Literature has a contest for stories about teachers! The brief I read spoke of how there are very few stories with a teacher as the protagonist, even though teachers often have the most interesting stories to tell.
This got me thinking. I thought, first, of all the teachers I’ve created in my stories. The Story-Catcher has very few; offhand, I can think of just the nameless coach in “The Nationals”.
Dragonflies, Jigsaws, and Seashells has three; perhaps because I started teaching a lot more …? Mr Kaushik Natraj from “Treasure-Hunt”, Miss Philips from “A Drawing Lesson” and Miss Kala Ramdev from “A Retired Teacher”: I like Mr Kaushik most!
Naturally, I then went on to think about all the fictional teachers I love. Here are the first seven I thought of.
Mr Carpenter from L.M. Montgomery’s Emily of New Moon was the first teacher to spring to mind. I reread the Emily series not so long ago, but even the first time I read Emily of New Moon, I loved the crusty teacher, whose praise is so hard to earn. He is the sharpest critic of Emily’s writing, and all the more valuable for that, because he recognises her merit and gives credit only where it is due. I love his honesty – he is the kind of teacher you want to impress!
L.M. Montgomery wrote wonderful teachers, including the unorthodox Miss Stacey. I was devastated, though, when I read the books that carry the story on after Anne gets married. Why, why, why does she not continue to teach? In Anne of Avonlea and even later, she shows so much promise! If I ever write fan fiction, I will make amends.
As a writer, how can I not love someone as wonderful as Mr Gaydon from Sarah Crossan’s Apple and Rain? A poetry teacher like Mr Gaydon is a treasure. What if we were taught poetry like that? If we thought of themes and wrote about them, how wonderful it would be!
Mr Gaydon gets Apple, the protagonist of the story, to start writing seriously. Most of her writing is intensely private, so she writes prosaic alternatives that she submits as her assignments. When she sends the wrong poem to Mr Gaydon by mistake, she is mortified at the thought that she may be asked to read her poem aloud to the class. But Mr Gaydon is not that sort of teacher, and that’s what I love. Just because a piece of writing is wonderful, it does not mean that the writer wants to share it. Sharing work is an act of bravery and sometimes, you just aren’t there yet. I love Mr Gaydon for seeing that.
Annie Miss from Mathangi Subramanian’s Dear Mrs. Naidu is another exceptional teacher. We meet her only through the protagonist Sarojini’s letters, but everything we learn about her makes her special. For one, she does not believe that school should be about memorising things and repeating them – memorising makes you a parrot, not a person.
I think what makes me love Annie Miss even more is that to me, she is not the kind of storybook teacher who always knows best. Though she ignites a spark in Sarojini, she is not the expert who guides the girl at each stage. Rather, Annie Miss herself is a learner, growing through the book. This makes her all the more believable and lovely.
Is a teacher with spectacles a stereotype? I loved that Miss Honey from Roald Dahl’s Matilda wears spectacles and is “still” so nice and so pretty. (I don’t even know if she was described as pretty; it’s been years since I read the book. I just remember what I imagined.) Yes, conditioning, I know. But I also know that when I watched the movie, I was aghast that her spectacles were gone.
Miss Honey, true to her name, is sweet and lovely. For Matilda, starved for affection, Miss Honey plays a crucial role, believing in the young girl and showing me that the most beautiful relationships are two-way. Matilda has agency and she can do something tangible for her teacher – and Miss Honey is vulnerable and human enough to need help.
Who can read Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers without falling in love with the French teacher Mam’zelle Dupont? When I started reading the books, I thought her name was Mamzelle and was shocked that everyone called her by her first name. Mam’zelle’s sense of humour and how well she can take a joke that’s on her make her one of the most endearing characters in children’s literature. Everything about her sparkles – her hot temper, her relationship with the “other” Mam’zelle, the way she speaks …
At Malory Towers, I also love and respect the no-nonsense Miss Potts. Stern but fair, for me, she was what every teacher should be, for she earned the students’ love and respect.
Everyone seems to love Dumbledore, but my favourite teacher in the Harry Potter universe is Professor McGonagall. I don’t even know what to say about her because she is such a solid presence at Hogwarts. Like Miss Potts, she is a no-nonsense character whom I admire. The fact that she can transform into a cat is particularly fitting, to my eyes; it goes with her dignity and persona!
I don’t like Snape – sorry, whatever his backstory may be, he is an awful, frightening teacher – but there are other teachers at Hogwarts whom I do like. Lupin is lovely, I like Professor Sprout, and I think Neville Longbottom would be an excellent teacher too!
The drama teacher from Emma Shevah’s Dara Palmer’s Major Drama, is another one who stands out. While I did not much care for the protagonist, Dara Palmer, I did like Miss Snelling very much.
Dara is convinced that her Cambodian origin is the reason she never gets a lead role in any play. After all, how can Maria from ‘The Sound of Music’ be Asian? She finally decides to ask Miss Snelling if this is true, and her teacher is astounded at the very idea rejecting Dara because she looks different.
Once more, what I like about the teacher here is her methodology and the way she works with her students. I like her attitude, her eye for detail and the way she goes about the business of teaching young actors.
These are just the first seven that popped into my head. Who would you add to the list?