Head of the Classroom
Teachers tend to be unsung heroes, but once in a while a movie or TV show captures just how unforgettable they can be. Here are 15 of our fictional favorites, starting with the one we remember best as "Sir."
Mark Thackeray (Sidney Poitier), "To Sir, With Love"
An out-of-work engineer accepts a teaching gig at a London secondary school where the students are so rowdy that no other school will have them. Mark Thackeray's attempts to teach the young toughs some manners are met with disdain, but through persistence he wins them over. In the end, he's offered a plum engineering job but—yay!—decides to remain a teacher instead.
Gabe Kotter (Gabe Kaplan), "Welcome Back Kotter"
How can you not love a wisecracking high-school teacher who takes a job at his alma mater in Brooklyn and tries to better the lives of a gang of "unteachable" students known as Sweathogs? Turns out Kotter was once a Sweathog himself, and that only gives us more reason to root for him.
Anne Sullivan (Anne Bancroft), "The Miracle Worker"
Talk about inspiring teachers. Sullivan, the real-life instructor of Helen Keller, went blind herself when she was just 5 years old. After regaining some of her sight through a series of operations, she was hired to teach Helen, who was both deaf and blind. Anne Bancroft won the 1963 Best Actress Oscar for her role as a teacher whose will and determination are nothing short of miraculous.
Mr. Hand (Ray Walston), "Fast Times at Ridgemont High"
To be honest, he'll always be "My Favorite Martian" to us. But c'mon. Here's a history teacher who shows up at Jeff Spicoli's house—on prom night—and spends eight hours tutoring the young dude to make sure he'll make his grades. Awesome, totally awesome!
Alice Landers (Sue Randall), "Leave It to Beaver"
Miss Landers, the show's schoolteacher in 28 episodes from 1958 to 1962, replaced Miss Canfield (Diane Brewster), who appeared in only four episodes. We never got to know much about her, but how could you not love a beautiful 20-something educator who patiently puts up with the Beave, not to mention Larry Mondello?
Alice Johnson (Karen Valentine), "Room 222"
She's a young, white student teacher working in a racially mixed L.A. high school in the early '70s. Pete Dixon (Lloyd Haynes) is a highly respected black teacher who takes her under his wing. Alice isn't just perky, she's also idealistic and very hard-working—and ultimately earns a full-time slot on the faculty.
Miss Crabtree (June Marlowe), "Our Gang"
When the gang's beloved teacher Miss McGillicuddy gets married, they expect her replacement to be an old hag. Then the beautiful Miss Crabtree appears, and suddenly every rascal in the class is smitten with the kind and lovely new schoolteacher. And so were we.
Edna Krabappel (Marcia Wallace), "The Simpsons"
Who can resist a fourth-grade teacher who chain-smokes in school and gives new meaning to the word "promiscuity"? (She was romantically linked to Moe, Krusty the Clown and Principal Skinner, just to name a few.) And, yes, her name is indeed a play off of Miss Crabtree from "Our Gang."
Mother Superior (Rosalind Russell), "The Trouble With Angels"
She's the head of an all-girls Catholic boarding school with its share of rebellious teenagers. Mary Clancy (Haley Mills) resents Mother Superior and acts out every chance she gets. But the nun's patience and love eventually pay off. Instead of moving on after senior year, Mary joins the order and stays at Mother Superior's side.
John Keating (Robin Williams), "Dead Poets Society"
"Make your lives extraordinary," Mr. Keating tells his prep school students. That's about the time we fell in love with the guy. And it didn't hurt that he encouraged the young men to rip tedious pages out their textbooks, stand up on his desk and generally explore what kind of men they truly want to become.
Lydia Grant (Debbie Allen), "Fame"
"You've got big dreams? You want fame? Well, fame costs. And right here is where you start paying ... in sweat." That says it all about this fiery dance teacher at the fictional New York City High School for the Performing Arts. Ms. Grant was tough all right, but in the brutally competitive world of dance, that's exactly what her students needed her to be.
Miss Othmar, "Peanuts"
We never actually get to see Linus' teacher, or even hear her (in TV specials they used trombone sounds to suggest her speech). Still, he had a mad crush on the woman, once revealing himself to be "very fond of the ground on which she walks." Unfortunately, Miss Othmar got fired after a teacher's strike in 1969. Poor Linus had to get used to a new teacher, Miss Halverson, and so did we.
Connie Brooks (Eve Arden), "Our Miss Brooks"
She started out in radio in 1948, moved to TV in '52 and moved on to the big screen in '56. No matter where she was working, this English teacher possessed just the kind of sarcasm and wit that we appreciate. In the movie version, Connie's longtime boyfriend finally asks her to marry him, but a chimp runs off with the engagement ring.
Glenn Holland (Richard Dreyfuss), "Mr. Holland's Opus"
When hundreds of the students you taught music to over the years—including the governor of Oregon—turn out at your retirement celebration, it's fair to say that you are a beloved teacher. That goes double when they surprise you by performing, for the first time ever, the symphony that you have suffered over for most of your adult life.
Jean Brodie (Maggie Smith), "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie"
Jean Brodie shapes the minds of teenagers at a girls' school in Scotland in the 1930s, but given her fondness for fascists, she's hardly the best role model. Inspired by the teacher, one girl heads south to join her brother in Spain—she assumes he's fighting for Franco—and dies in a train accident. So, it's hard to love Miss Brodie. But Maggie Smith is amazing and the girls are, after all, the "crème de la crème."
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