We’re well into fall, and the school year is in full swing. Homework, term papers, and presentations are now a part of our regular vernacular. Teachers guide us educationally, and often, both ethically and morally, down the path toward adulthood. With that in mind, we took a look at some of literature’s best and worst educators. After a quick glance at Miss Trunchbull, Jim McAllister, and Mr. Squeers, be thankful all you have to deal with is an essay on antiestablishmentarialism.
Best: Miss Honey in “Matilda” by Roald Dahl
Matilda is a favorite among Roald Dahl fans and Miss Honey, the loveable foil to Miss Trunchbull — the cruel and sinister headmistress of Crunchem Hall — is the shining light of this wonderful tale. She sees the potential in Matilda in a sea of adults who refuse to recognize the intelligence in, and the worth of, children. Miss Honey even adopts Matlida by the end of the book, fulfilling a much-needed motherly role in the story. There could be no better teacher.
Best: Albus Dumbledore in “Harry Potter” by JK Rowling
…except for perhaps Dumbledore. Who better to act as mentor and adviser to the next generation of wizards than the most powerful and wisest wizard himself? He’s patient, all-knowing, and seems to approve of the necessary mayhem Harry, Hermione, and Ron must partake to solve various mysteries and combat evil. Dumbledore is the epitome of headmasters, providing guidance and compassion in all the right doses.
Worst: Mr. Squeers in “Nicholas Nickleby” by Charles Dickens
When you put a psychopath in charge of young minds, no good can come of it. Mr. Squeers runs Dotheboy Hall, a place where unwanted children are taken in…for a fee. The one-eyed Squeers starves, whips, and is all-around cruel to the boys under his care. He even conspires against Nicholas later in the book. As teachers go, he is undoubtedly one of the worst.
Best: Lucy Snowe in “Villette” by Charlotte Bronte
She may be plain and brainy, but the narrator and main character of Charlotte Bronte’s “Villette” is easily memorable as one of literature’s best teachers. Quiet, cool, and loyal to those she truly values, Snowe’s characterization is not only the hallmark of effective teaching, but also hailed as a strong portrait of the narrative style Bronte used to depict her. With themes surrounding gender roles, repression, and cross-culture, there is a great deal to applaud in this book aside from Snowe’s educating.
Worst: Jim McAllister in “Election” by Tom Perrotta
It stands to reason if Jim McAllister knew how his story would end he never would have crumpled up those votes for Tracy Flick and rigged the election. McAllister is a more normally flawed “worst” teacher, which makes him all the more human and all the more tragic. Still, anyone in an educational role who exhibits such skewed morals is doomed to learn an important lesson. Tracy Flick may be insufferable, but McAllister — who among other things, tries to seduce his best friend’s ex-wife — doesn’t get off the hook.