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Oh Captain! My Captain! The Flawed Teacher Figure in Pop Culture

Celebrating Teachers Day with the most memorable teachers from pop culture

From the inspiring to the downright annoying, these teachers are hard to forget!

No matter what anyone tells you, words and ideas can change the world- John Keating, Dead Poets Society

Through a lifetime of schools and colleges and extra-curricular classes abandoned halfway through, we’ve come across our share of good and bad teachers. The ones who love what they do, thus so imparting a love for their course in you; the ones who play to the galleries with their caustic sense of humour, inspiring cult-like devotion and disdain in equal measures; the ones who meet your constant need for validation with abundant love; and the ones who are just as tired of the whole rigmarole as you are.

In this age of helicopter parenting and mommy-knows-best, teaching has lost so much of its lustre. But as erstwhile children of another generation, we continue to look back upon some of our favourite teachers fondly, (and at some of the incompetent ones with a mixture of bewilderment and amusement), and can’t help thinking how much poorer our lives would have been without their collective expertise and neuroses.

Two of our all time favourite pop culture teachers were played by Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society and Good Will Hunting.

But with “Teachers Day” round the corner, as the nation’s children prepare for an address by the great teacher from the Parliament House, we look back at some of our other pop culture favourites – the ones who were not quite as perfect, but left an indelible mark anyway.

Albus Dumbledore from Harry Potter

It does not do to dwell on dreams, and forget to live.

The entire staff of Hogwarts is an embarrassment of riches – from the tough love approach of Snape, to the brilliance of Minerva McGonagall, to the warmth of Hagrid and the petty cruelties of Dolores Umbridge. But the one character who transcended the role of a teacher – becoming a mentor, a father figure and a fan favourite – was the Headmaster Albus Dumbledore. Not only did he help Harry recognise his true potential but also trained him to harness his skills for the good through his constant reminders about the power of love.

Being more Luna Lovegood than the Chosen Ones ourselves through our school years, we do think that he perhaps favoured Harry Potter over the rest of his wards more than he should have. But this flaw also highlights his essential humanness- no one is above a little bit of favouritism.

Ms. Sharon Norbury (Tina Fey) from Mean Girls

“But you all have to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it easier for guys to call you sluts and whores”

Poor Ms. Norbury! She may have appeared in only a couple of scenes in the insanely quotable Mean Girls, but her insistence that girls need to worry about more than just getting cute boys to like them, her immense awkwardness, and inability to land a joke reminds us of some of our favourite school teachers. We also love how she is so obviously still a bit of a nerd (how refreshing to have a female Math teacher instead of one teaching poetry or music!) and incapable of hiding her likes and dislikes. Or maybe we just want to study in a  class taught by the inimitable Tina Fey for the rest of our lives.

Ms. Jean Brodie from the Prime of Ms. Jean Brodie

“The word “education” comes from the root e from ex, out, and duco, I lead. It means a leading out. To me education is a leading out of what is already there in the pupil’s soul.”

The entire Facebook meme about the “10 books that have influenced you most”, keeps reminding us to revisit this favourite from our school days. Ms. Jean Brodie’s extremely unhealthy relationship with her favourite girls is both repulsive and oddly fascinating. Ms. Brodie means well, and when she is oversharing from her love life, or convincing her girls that they are special, or even manipulating circumstances to lead them into particularly unfortunate love affairs, she really does believe that she is exposing them to a sort of adult cosmopolitan experience that they’d not receive elsewhere.

But her fatal flaw is in forgetting that she’s the adult in this relationship – the one who should know right from wrong. We’ve had our share of such teachers in our school days – the ones who are often barely out of college themselves, and want to ingratiate themselves with some of their pupils as friends  more than mentors. And just like in this book, the results aren’t pretty. But hey, if the job of a teacher is to “teach”, then don’t we all learn from some of our most mortifying experiences?

Pai Mei from Kill Bill

It’s the wood that should fear your hand, not the other way around. No wonder you can’t do it, you acquiesce to defeat before you even begin.

If Pai Mei was our teacher, we’d possibly poison him too! He was vicious, unforgiving and altogether too full of himself! But he also imbibed in the Bride a respect of her own abilities, and made her invulnerable to pain. Plus, he taught her the five point palm exploding-heart technique! Now that’s the kind of education we can get behind!

 Mohit (Naseeruddin Shah) in Iqbaal

We can’t abide with Aamir Khan’s holier-than-thou histrionics in Taare Zameen Par, or with Saif Ali Khan playing the world’s least convincing lecturer in Aakarshan, or even with Shah Rukh Khan’s violin playing weirdo in Mohabbatein.  We do have a soft spot for Jeetendra’s tutor in Parichay (or maybe it’s just his Gulzaar glasses), but our favourite teacher from Hindi Cinema may just be everyone’s favourite curmudgeon Naseeruddin Shah.

He can barely keep himself awake and sober to teach Iqbal how to bowl. But he also can’t help be taken in by the boy’s spirit. And like some of the best teachers we know, deep (really deep) beneath his crusty exterior, he cares.

Truth be told, more than the erudition, the friendship, the communication and the knowledge, it is this ability to empathise and care that we remember from the best teachers we ever had. And that’s why we continue to learn from the five imperfect teachers above.

My Big Red Bag brings original content inspired by life’s joys and passions. Find more fun lists and features in our Pop Culture section, and stay tuned to our latest content by following us on Twitter and FB!

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