Truth, it is said, is often stranger than fiction. Presumably those who trot out that oft-used phrase have never experienced life in a fictional school.
While teachers may dream of sneaking kids off to a Battle of the Bands concert like Jack Black in School of Rock, getting them to stand on their desks and recite poetry a la Dead Poets Society or taking them on a magical journey through space and time on a magic school bus, the reality often doesn't live up to the imagined. Safeguarding, risk assessments and the laws of physics (which: buck your ideas up, physics) would have done for each of those ideas.
But still, school-based settings in popular culture are well-loved by teachers across the globe, as evidenced by the more than 1,200 teachers who took part in our poll to find education's favourite fifty fictional teachers.
What does it take to get to the top of the teacher pops? A bit of wisdom, a dash of maverick tendencies, a rather impressive beard and a sprinkling of magic, it would appear. Albus Dumbledore, headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the Harry Potter series, swept away with the title of teachers' favourite fictional teacher.
The secret to his appeal, according to Harry Potter expert Professor Philip Nel, lies in JK Rowling's understanding of what makes a great teacher. “In many ways, Rowling uses her books to highlight what does and doesn’t work in the classroom,” Nel says. “Each time you’re looking at a teacher in the Harry Potter books, you’re also looking at Rowling’s sense of what teaching is, and what good and bad teaching looks like."
The idea that other teachers in the list are able to circumvent the rules is something that Beth Marshall, associate professor of education at Simon Fraser University, thinks appeals to people: “Schooling is mostly learning about how to follow rules, and a lot of these teachers that we love break those rules: Mr Keating in Dead Poets Society, Whoopi Goldberg in Sister Act II. These teachers who break the rules, who ask us to do something extraordinary within a school setting, they stick with us.”
However, for any teacher hoping to follow their examples, TES behaviour expert Tom Bennett has some sage words of advice: “It’s nice when they stand on their desks and shout Walt Whitman poetry at you; I couldn’t vouch for their GCSE progress.”
Read the full feature in the 25 July edition of TES on your tablet or phone by downloading the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. Or pick it up in all good newsagents.