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We Asked Teachers About Pop Culture’s Worst Teachers

‘Yoda. He was always so cryptic.’

by Noel Ransome
08 September 2017, 12:09am

Forget the mask wearing, Russian accented, monotoned sounding, melodramatic, rule-the-world villain you've become used to; the bad teacher was always the real nemesis to our happiness. The kind of teacher that made skipping school a lucrative tradition. If they had a backstory, it began as the happy-go-lucky adult, corrupted by uppity post-millennial angst, low wages, and a daily barrage of homework assignments. I've had them in math teachers, science teachers, and English teachers; the ones with robotic tones that look dead on sight.

Teachers deal with a lot of bullshit, and the ones that work hard at their craft try their best to remove themselves from this fate. Pop culture has long since given plenty of trash-as-folk examples of teachers, in some cases glorifying or vilifying the profession. Some accurate, others subjectively stupid. I'm a pop culture nerd, but I'm no teacher, so I contacted a few to ask them about the teachers in film and TV that they would give a shitty grade.

Vanessa, Math Teacher, Two Years
Choice: Economics Teacher, Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

Definitely had to be that economics teacher in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. The funny thing is, even though I'm a teacher, I've been taught by those professors. Most of us have. And they were always the perfect example of what not to do in a classroom: the boring voice, the inability to say anything beyond his curriculum. I once had a math teacher who would literally speak as students ignored him and had quiet conversations between lessons. He just didn't care. His look screamed: I hate my job. You never want a teacher that looks like he hates what he does, and that was Ben Stein.

Brent, Pop Culture, Three Years (Film, Television)
Choice: Louanne Johnson, Dangerous Minds.

I think Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds was every teacher I never liked. That whole white-teacher-comes-to-disenfranchised-neighbourhood-and-helps-kids-find-their-way-despite-not-knowing-a-thing-about-my-life rubbed me the wrong way. It's your typical white saviour trope, and frankly, it's not all that realistic. Sure, it could happen, but good luck finding the cases in which it does consistently. Even when I was a kid, all my teachers were white, and there was always a barrier between my experiences and theirs. It's hard to imagine a barely-hatched teacher showing me how to navigate my life as a non-white individual in the way that film showed it. "Gangster's Paradise" was a decent song tho.

Candice, English Teacher, 20 Years
Choice: Elizabeth Halsey, Bad Teacher.

Bad Teacher. I know, the title makes it obvious. But I think it bothered me because she wouldn't last as long as she did. It would take one student telling on that teacher to bring an entire school down. People don't understand that we're constantly being watched. That question your parents always asked you as a kid: "How was school?" That's our review board and it's every day. There's just no way she could get away with the sexual indecency, or unethical methods of teaching, because if I was able to act on my impulses whenever I didn't have my coffee in the morning, I'd be fired in minutes.

Francis, History Teacher, Ten Years
Choice: Yoda, Star Wars.

Yoda. He was always so cryptic. Imagine teaching a lesson while being 100 percent cryptic. I have a hard enough time teaching some students with basic language.

Mr. Aginsante, P.E. Teacher, 15 Years
Choice: Gerry Duncan, Mr. D

Gotta be the guy from Mr. D. It's funny, because many teachers that we know are basically Mr. D in a nutshell. He's hilarious to watch, but you cringe at his teaching methods. Especially because he's basically making it up as he goes along. There's no planning whatsoever. Planning a curriculum is the difference between caring and just getting by. You can't educate effectively that way. Students are smarter these days, and they have access to information at the palm of their hands. They'll check you.

Savia, Liberal Arts, 16 years.
Choice: Mr Garrison, South Park.

Mr. Garrison from South Park. I know it was all in good humour, but you asked and this is the name that came up. He's a lawsuit waiting to happen.

Karen, Sociology, Ten Years
Choice: Walter White, Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad's Walter White. Great character, terrible teacher. Putting aside that he used chemistry to start a drug empire, he was even a terrible teacher with Jesse, who was essentially his only student. Look how he turned out. Yeah, Jesse learned a little something about chemistry through practice and watching Walt, but he didn't come away with anything positive. A good teacher encourages and empowers, while a bad teacher can make you feel stupid and inadequate. That's exactly what Walt was to Jesse.

Melissa, Music Teacher, Nine Years
Choice: Dr. Terence Fletcher, Whiplash

Dr. Terence Fletcher (JK Simmons) was an abuser. You can pull the genius out of the student through hard work in cases, but abuse is abuse. I've known teachers who believed that embarrassing a student would push them to do better, but those methods have lasting effects that go beyond the classroom. A good grade doesn't make up for that kind of mental damage.

James, Special Education Teacher, 14 Years
Choice: Principal Vernon, The Breakfast Club

Principal Vernon I think, from The Breakfast Club. He stereotyped everyone in that movie, and that's the kind of teacher, or principal in his case, that damages the connection between the student and the faculty. There's some students that already don't trust us as authority figures, and it's characters like that who make it that much harder. He was also such an asshole. Locking Judd in that closet for hours just couldn't be pulled today. It wouldn't be acceptable.

Desmond, English Teacher, 20 years
Choice: Trevor Garfield, 187

I've had some students that have made me want to punch a wall. But that comes with the job. Trevor in 187 is what would happen if one of us had a mental breakdown and let loose. He went way too far. If you hated the job that much, to the point of playing Russian Roulette with another student, it isn't the job for you. Thankfully, things rarely get that bad in most situations. This was an extreme example of the "at risk" group of teenagers making a teacher's life a living hell. I hated the movie for that reason, but the character as a teacher went too far. You gotta have limits.

Follow Noel Ransome on Twitter.

walter white
Star Wars
South Park
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
popular culture
dangerous minds
Mr. D
bad teacher
mr garrison