Yesterday, while we were all watching some NFL action and/or mowing our lawns after a nice, wholesome morning at church, people all over the world were paying tribute to arguably the most important and influential leaders in our lives – teachers. Each October 5, educators across the globe are the subjects of World Teachers’ Day, as we’re supposed to stop what we’re doing, whether for a second or hours on end, to tip our caps to the people who taught us reading, writing and arithmetic, as well as how only one of those words actually starts with the letter R. Chances are that you forgot about this holiday, or never knew about it, but it’s never too late to properly honor these (mostly) hard-working heroes who would be making millions of dollars if the world was fair.
Unlike a lot of the punks, slackers and all-around rebels that I hung out with in my school years, I’ve always had crazy respect for the crap that teachers put up with, from the kindergarten Miss Lippy’s dealing with soggy shorts and loud crybabies to the high-stressed high school teachers who aren’t trying to sleep with teenagers and really, sincerely want to inspire a generation to work harder and solve the world’s problems. Today, I have plenty of friends who are teachers, and it’s inspiring to watch them do their best to make a difference in the lives of their students, even though they’re wildly underappreciated by both the students and their parents.
Maybe this lack of gratitude, appreciation and respect comes from the fact that TV has warped our expectations in terms of what we expect from our teachers these days. After all, it’s way easier to write a happy, inspiring tale of a teacher than it is to find one in real life, because we just can’t stop reading awful stories like the one about the two female teachers who had a threeway with a male student, because all the bros just want to say, “NIIIIIIIIIIIIIIICE.” However, I’d also argue that TV’s great, inspirational teachers are a dying breed, because people would rather laugh at a Bad Teacher (not that many people, fortunately) than they would celebrate the fictional people who continue to inspire us all outside of classrooms. So to properly celebrate World Teachers’ Day – not to be confused with all of the other minor teacher holidays that should all be celebrated on their corresponding days – let’s take a moment to remember our favorite TV teachers who inspired us in their own ways, while definitely not sleeping with their students.
Okay, for accuracy’s sake, approximately 95% of the teachers on this list didn’t sleep with their students. All things considered, that’s a pretty great number.
20) Will Schuester, Glee
I don’t know much about Glee other than what I’ve learned from the few episodes that I’ve watched in the past and Brandon Stroud’s ramblings of a man possessed by Gleekdom. On one hand, Will is the guy who helped revive the school’s glee club and encouraged his students to sing all the time, which is really annoying to me but loved by millions of people. On the other hand, EW once called him one of the “Most Annoying TV Characters Ever,” and I really, really dislike annoying kids singing peppy versions of hit songs. This show is like Kidz Bop for teens. If I didn’t want an even number, I would have left Schue out, but then I also didn’t want to deal with the “What about Glee?!?!” crowd. Realistically, I should have just given this spot to Holly Holiday, because I’m not afraid to share my fondness for Gywneth Paltrow.
19) Dr. Larry Meyers, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Thanks to Dr. Larry Meyers, played by the always wonderful Rene Auberjonois, Dee Reynolds has always held on to her passion for acting and the belief that she could have been better than Rachel McAdams in The Notebook. Unfortunately, just as Dee’s own career ambitions were derailed by her generally sociopathic behavior and shrieking, birdlike appearance, Dr. Meyers eventually lost the ability to inspire his students, thus allowing them to spend their time in his drama class texting their friends and remaining generally apathetic to the art of the stage.
18) Ms. Othmar, Peanuts
As much as we should respect those adults who give of themselves professionally to serve our children as leaders and educators, it would help if this lady could actually talk. I think she was probably addicted to some hardcore drugs, or she was at least heavily using nitrous oxide.
17) Roland Pryzbylewski, The Wire
I don’t remember what the moral of The Wire’s story was – perhaps it was that everyone is a bad guy in his own way, or visit Baltimore for the duckboat tour and leave before you get addicted to crack – but Prez (based on The Wire’s co-creator Ed Burns) was arguably the series’ most inspirational character as he evolved throughout the six seasons. Sure, he was a bumbling cop who buried his flashes of brilliance by his ineptitude with a firearm, but this isn’t World TV Show Police Officer Day, so we’ll just focus on the second half of Prez’s career as a TV teacher. Perhaps if he’d been able to save Dukie from drugs, Prez would be a little higher up on this list.
16) Vic Racine, My So-Called Life
If I wasn’t so dedicated to using science in these rankings and providing the world with honesty and accuracy in comparing TV and movie characters, this could probably be a list of teachers who inspired us by thinking outside the box and challenging rebellious students to be more daring and edgy. My So-Called Life was always one of my guilty pleasures – mainly because I still <3 you, AJ Langer – and Roger Rees as Vic Racine in “The Substitute” was some great television, because of the way he put his feet on the desk and threw all of the students’ work out the window because they weren’t trying hard enough. And that class had everyone, from the misunderstood loner Jordan to a kid tossing a basketball in the air. Vic Racine may have only stopped by Liberty High School one time, but he was more memorable than any of the other teachers I’ve forgotten about.
15) Jessica Day, New Girl
She’s so quirky and zany! Can Jessica find love in her life outside the classroom while inspiring her middle school students in her professional life? I don’t know, but she sure is a unique free spirit! Honestly, this is all about Zooey Deschanel and has very little to do with the actual show, because what kind of girl finds an ad on Craigslist for three dudes looking for a roommate and thinks, “This is a good idea that won’t end in murder”?
14) Coach Fredricks, Freaks and Geeks
Coach gets the nod here just because this was probably my favorite scene from this entire series, but you can bet that I struggled with even keeping him on this list for his nonsensical opinion of both Stripes and Bill Murray. That’s practically treason.
13) Rod Belding, Saved by the Bell
When it comes to Saved by the Bell, a lot of people would probably say that Miss Bliss was the best teacher, because she always kept her cool when she was dealing with the antics of Zack Morris and Screech Powers. But I’ve never bought into the myth of Miss Bliss, because if she was such a good teacher, why did not only three of her students (Zack, Screech and Lisa Turtle) move to the other side of the country, but also their principal, Mr. Belding? Instead, the best and most inspirational teacher the gang ever had was Rod Belding, who taught them to not only go for the more exciting things in life, but to also never count on anyone. Rod ditching them for that stewardess was the best life lesson anyone could have offered Zack.
12) Professor Whitman, Community
Much like Vic Racine, Professor Whitman wanted a student like Jeff Winger to step out from the shadow of his own humility and cease the day. Sadly, we’ll run into more Professor Marshall Kanes at the community colleges we attend in our own lives and far less Whitmans, who will always teach us to use our minds in achieving the most important milestone in our academic lives – the easy A.
11) Tamara Jacobs, Dawson’s Creek
Look, I don’t want to give anyone the idea that I condone a teacher sleeping with her male student, but Ms. Hunley was a gamechanger. At the very end of Dawson’s Creek, which was not nearly as good a series as people give it credit for (but that’s another 3,000 words), Pacey had earned god status. He didn’t deserve it, mind you, because he was a total goober and very often annoying, but to have landed Tamara and later end up with Joey, Pacey would top the list of characters that I hated but certainly respected.
10) Mark Cooper, Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper
Mr. Cooper was probably the coolest lead male character on any of the TGIF series, and that’s not really the most difficult feat to accomplish, considering his competition included Cousin Larry Appleton, Balki and Steve Urkel. However, Mark lost points because I blame him for a generation of people thinking it’s totally cool for guys and their female friends to live together, because guys are idiots and always try to change that living situation. Was that entirely Mr. Cooper’s fault? Yes. But he was also a good teacher and role model to his students and basketball players, because he was just a cool dude.
9) Mr. Kotter, Welcome Back Kotter
Welcome Back Kotter was a show that I watched when I was really young because it was always airing in syndication on random channels, but I never liked it because I didn’t get it until much later in life. Mostly, I thought Arnold Horshack was one of the worst and most annoying characters ever created, so that contempt always lingered with me. But as the show has aged and I’ve watched episodes here and there over the years, I’ve realized that even though the Sweathogs were total losers who deserved to be locked away underground for the rest of eternity, Mr. Kotter was a pretty rad guy for putting up with them, as he showed the kind of mythical patience that a great teacher should have with any troubled young students. (But seriously, how did John Travolta ever become a star?)
8) George Feeny, Boy Meets World
BLASPHEMY! BLOODY RAGE! How is Mr. Feeny so low on this list?!?! He should be No. 1!!! No. Not even close. I know that people have this incredible fondness for Boy Meets World, and I’ve never really understood it, because short of our boyhood crushes on Topanga (who couldn’t hold a candle to Samantha Micelli) this show had few redeeming qualities. Shake your pitchforks and torches all you want, but while Mr. Feeny was definitely a strong role model for Cory and his fellow students, can you imagine living next door to your teacher or principal? I lived down the street from my guidance counselor, and I couldn’t get away with anything! Poor Cory never stood a chance. (Also, on no planet does he end up with Topanga, but that is, as always, neither here nor there.)
7) Mr. Collins, The Wonder Years
While I share the universal fondness and love for Winnie Cooper, The Wonder Years was never required viewing for me, because I found it to be really depressing at times. My sitcom cocktail required 75% comedy and 25% seriousness, so the tone of The Wonder Years was often way too dark for my young tastes. Case in point: Mr. Collins, the teacher who inspired Kevin Arnold to get his act together and become the best student in his class. That kind of stuff, when executed properly, can be so inspiring to kids and really push them to be better in their own classrooms. Then, Mr. Collins died. That was traumatic.
6) Ned Fellows, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air
I don’t necessarily think Mr. Fellows was a good teacher, but he was always my favorite Fresh Prince character, and “Def Poet’s Society” has always been my favorite episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. It’s partially because of “CANNONS!!! To the left of them!” but mainly because of Mr. Fellows. Very early on in the scientific process, he was in the running for No. 1 on this list.
5) Diane Choksondik, South Park
She may have died under mysterious circumstances with a belly full of semen, but Ms. Choksondik was the first teacher that ever stood up to Eric Cartman. We could probably make an argument that her firm stance against his demands to have his balls sucked caused Cartman to eventually take his antics to the next level, but while she was alive, Ms. Choksondik was a hero to her fellow teachers and the students in her class.
4) Mr. Bergstrom, The Simpsons
When it comes to The Simpsons, it’s safe to say that we’ll always remember Edna Krabappel fondly. But I still get really sad when I even think about that chalkboard scene from Marcia Wallace’s passing, so I’m going to honor Lisa’s substitute teacher Mr. Bergstrom instead, because his departure doesn’t make me all depressed. Or, I could just go with the Simpsons teacher who made me giggle like an idiot the most, and that honor goes to Mr. Dick Testiclees. I could be 65 and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and Dick Testiclees will still crack me up.
(Let’s just agree that Ms. Krabappel is in the TV teachers Hall of Fame.)
3) Chuck Noblet, Strangers with Candy
Tough? Yes. Often mean, specifically to Jerri Blank? Certainly. But was Chuck Noblet simply a tortured soul who yearned to have the best of all worlds, between his taboo relationship with Geoffrey Jellineck and getting the best from the students in his history class, as well as those working on the school newspaper? I think so. And yes, that is Ellen Pompeo buried in that mashup, but there are no fascinating facts to be found in this feature. Just scientific facts.
2) Walter White, Breaking Bad
Sure, he turned into the biggest meth dealer in the Southwest, and people were brutally murdered all around him, while the life of the young man he took under his wing was ruined, and his family grew to fear and loathe him. But before all of that negative stuff, Walter White was a really cool chemistry teacher who liked to make his classes fun and educational. And then, obviously, he became a dark, horrible human being.
1) Charlie Moore, Head of the Class
How awesome was Mr. Moore? Even though he was late to class every morning, his students still waited for him at the door and gave him a round of applause each time. That’s respect.
Serious question: Why the hell isn’t Head of the Class airing in syndication anymore? This show was awesome, and Charlie Moore was the coolest teacher in New York City. Most of all, does anyone ever give this show the credit it deserves for ending the Cold War? Because, yeah people, it ended the damn Cold War. In fact, that’s probably why Howard Hesseman ended up leaving, because he was so devastated over the fact that the rest of the world refused to acknowledge that this series saved us all from World War III. Thank you for everything you did to protect us from the Red Menace, Mr. Moore, Arvid, Jawaharlal and especially Eric, the cool one.
Oh, and for the record… The Worst (TIE): Professors Ted Mosby and Ross Geller
If hell has a TV network, it’s airing my imaginary sitcom Ross and Ted, and the plot involves the two awful characters dating their students at the worst college in America.