Editorial - Why teaching needs magic and mavericks

Ed Dorrell

I'm not a movie buff. I don't have the patience for long, serious films - nor the intellect, perhaps. I don't really understand why the Three Colours trilogy is so great or why Adam Sandler hasn't won a string of Oscars.

Frankly, you can give me Bruce Willis in his dirty white vest, seeing off Alan Rickman's cronies at the top of Nakatomi Plaza, every time.

Failing that, I'm very happy to settle down in front of School of Rock, The Inbetweeners or, for that matter, most of the Harry Potter franchise. Actually, I'm a sucker for just about anything based around school life - apart from Dead Poets Society, which brings on nausea.

So I was delighted to read the results of our latest survey, which asked you to vote for your favourite fictional teacher. The top 50 includes a string of unforgettable classroom characters from films, television and books.

But what is it that brings these imaginary educators together? What quality does Hector from The History Boys share with Roald Dahl's Miss Honey?

"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," argues Beth Marshall, associate professor of education at Simon Fraser University in Canada. "These teachers who break the rules, who ask us to do something extraordinary within a school setting, they stick with us."

This theme can also be seen in our timeless My Best Teacher series, which has for decades allowed the great, the good and the luvvies to thank their own maverick teachers for putting them on the path to fame, success and wealth.

Could there be a better antidote to England's forthcoming exam results season and its usual round of self-flagellation over rigour, grade inflation and teaching to the test? At this time of year, it's worth remembering that most people don't remember their favourite teacher as the one who nudged them over the grade boundary in GCSE geography.

More often it is the teacher who inspired love for a subject, who went the extra mile, who took them on an extraordinary field trip, who metaphorically tore up the curriculum.

J K Rowling's wonderful creation Albus Dumbledore - your favourite fictional teacher of all time - cares not one jot for the rules and regulations of the Ministry of Magic. He believes his school exists to create passionate, well-rounded, moral, resilient adults with a love of learning. And his way of achieving this? By cultivating independent thinking, creativity and spirit.

It is rather heartening that the profession should pick the head of Hogwarts as its favourite fictional educator. It tells us something about the teacher you would most like to be and the world you would most like to be in - one that is free of cliff-edge exams and Ofsted inspections.

Indeed, I suspect that old Albus might like to join me for yet another repeat viewing of Die Hard; John McClane is exactly the kind of committed, never-say-die maverick that Hogwarts excels in nurturing and that many teachers, secretly or otherwise, take great pride in producing.



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Ed Dorrell

Ed Dorrell

Ed Dorrell is deputy editor and head of content at the TES, former features and comment editor and former news editor. 

Find me on Twitter @Ed_Dorrell

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