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Five Popular TV Educators That Should Never Have Been Allowed in the Classroom

Over the years, countless television series have attempted to capture the experience of being a classroom educator. These characters have warmed our hearts with their compassion, their timely life lessons, and their ability to connect with their students in sometimes “superhuman” ways. We remember these sitcom classroom gurus with such fondness and appreciation. In our imaginations, they embodied all of the characteristics our middle-and-high school selves had always dreamed a teacher should and could be...But were they actually good educators? Today, Education World takes a closer look at some of TV’s most loved teachers, and measures them against the Rubric for Effective Teaching and the teacher Code of Ethics. You’ll be surprised by what we found.

Jonathan Turner (Boy Meets World)

(Image courtesy of Buena Vista television)

When Jonathan Turner first arrived at John Adams High School, he was a breath of fresh air for Cory Matthews and his good friend Shawn Hunter. They had been dealing with the firm and stuffy Mr. George Feeny for their middle school and high school careers, and the cool, suave, motorcycle-riding, be-earring’d rebel was a welcome change. Sure, he was popular, but was he a good teacher?

First of all, you can sit on the desk, have a lax attitude on classroom management, and pretend you’re “just like you guys” all you like: it’s super patronizing. The man seems more concerned with image and rapport than he does academic success. The running gag with Cory and Shawn throughout Mr. Turner’s career was that they didn’t do assignments, didn’t perform well on assessments, and avoided hard work at every turn. Is this taking the cutthroat global competition these young men are about to face into consideration? Taking Shawn into his home and being his guardian showed that Mr. Turner had a heart of gold; no one wishes to deny such a personal sacrifice. Yet, if he were really concerned with his students’ futures (not just Cory and Shawn’s), he would have held them to high expectations and prepared them for the world ahead. That’s real love.

The final blow to Mr. Turner’s classroom credibility is his seemingly constant violations of the teacher Code of Ethics. From clear favoritism, to the related conflicts of interest (his engagement in multiple personal feuds with Shawn and other key members of the community), Turner is a liability for any school system. And the potential for a serious sexual harassment accusation in season 2, episode 23, where he corners a fellow teacher (Ms. Tompkins) in a hallway during school hours, implying that she had left some article of underwear at his beyond the pale for the professional work environment. We love his edginess, but the truth is, Jonathan Turner was a mess.

Ms. Frizzle (The Magic School Bus)

(Image courtesy of Nelvana)

This is likely going to break some hearts, but needs to be said at long last: Valerie Felicity Frizzle has to be the most reckless and irresponsible person to ever walk into the classrooms of Walkerville Elementary School. She is an absolute threat to the safety and well-being of the children placed under her care, and the “adventures” she forces upon her students are nothing short of professional misconduct.

The first red flag for any administrator can be found in Arnold’s pleas at the beginning of each “lesson”: “please let this be a normal field trip!” Spoiler, Arnold: you’re gonna need therapy after this one. Because if the past is any indication, Ms. Frizzle is about to take Arnold and his class on a series of extremely dangerous expeditions that will leave them at death’s door again and again. In the episode, “Gets Lost in Space”, in a fit of panic, Arnold takes his helmet off and his head is instantly frozen. In the episode “Spins a Web”, the class gets shrunk down and is caught in a giant deinopis spider’s web (Ms. Frizzle laughs maniacally during this particular conundrum, as her terrified students wait to meet their maker). Many such images, from Carlos and Dorothy Ann grasping a plane’s wings as it plummets to the earth to the entirety of the class being turned into animals and left caged in a zoo, could only deeper the wounds of trauma these students are likely to grapple with later in life.

Perhaps even worse, Ms. Frizzle deceives the parents of these children as routine practice. Prime example, in the opening episode of the series, she takes her students to the planetarium, which is a perfectly reasonable field trip for the fourth grade classroom. She fails to mention, however, the small detail of taking them into the dark, cold, unforgiving depths of space in that very same trip. Ms. Frizzle aims for increasing engagement in her classroom, but her rash decision-making does not inspire trust. Surely, we all want our students to deeply understand the real-world application of our lessons...but at what cost?

Walter White (Breaking Bad)

(Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Television)

Mr. White is a classic example of a brilliant mind, never meant to teach: the “mad genius” in his content area, with little-to-no applicable skills for transmitting this knowledge to his class. Yes, just like every chemistry teacher on the planet, he can supplement with work with multi-colored flames and cool explosions. Yet that does not cover for his constant “stand and deliver” style of teaching. Mr. White rambles about chemistry concepts while his students dutifully scribble into their notebooks, hoping that his long-winded side stories will somehow find their way onto the final exam. He asks no questions, doesn’t differentiate a single concept, and has no mind for making his lessons diverse or engaging by any stretch of their definitions. Mr. White is a relic of the dark ages of education; a time when the teaching profession was a routine, not a passion.

Mr. White’s complete lack of consideration for the greater school community is uninspiring, to say the least. The man steals chemistry equipment from a school that clearly cannot afford to lose it, denying his students the tools they need to learn and grow. Due to his increased erratic behavior and unaccounted-for absences, he is repeatedly reprimanded. This all comes to a head when he threatens his role in the classroom by making completely unprompted sexual advances on J.P. Wynne High School’s assistant principal, Ms. Carmen Molina (appropriately leading to his “indefinite leave”, which, let’s be honest, is better for everyone). In short, one begins to suspect that Mr. White’s energy and dedication is being spent elsewhere in his life. Not to say teachers are not allowed to have other passion projects and interests, but Mr. White’s somewhat detached, impersonal, and clearly unplanned rants-disguised-as-lessons are producing uninterested and apathetic drones - not lifelong learners. He doesn’t care. He teaches half-heartedly. And unsurprisingly, to be crystal clear, his methods are not effective.

Miss Othmar (Peanuts)

(Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox Animation)

Miss Othmar is one of the teachers and one of the few adults (somewhat) depicted in the Peanuts comic strip and television series universe. Originally characterized at Linus’ teacher, later ambiguously suggested to be Charlie Brown’s, Miss Othmar’s trombone-esque orations paint the portrait of a self-absorbed, boorish educator, there only to drone her way through classtime and collect a paycheck.

The fact that the character of Miss Othmar is never actually seen on screen or strip highlights her inconstant and ever-vacant persona. The children in Peanuts struggle with some real problems, both academic and personal. The children seldom turn to their teacher, however, and when they do, they are met with a nonsensical tirade - a one-sided conversation, where she speaks completely over the heads of her young apprentices, leaving them even more dismayed and alone in the world. As a reward for such inquiries, too, Othmar continually chooses Charlie Brown to clap the chalkboard erasers, filling his lungs with the chalk dust he spends the next few days coughing up.

Although there are few direct references to Miss Othmar’s pedagogical practice, there is one instance where a lesson she has planned revolves (for some reason) around Linus bringing in eggshells for the class to build model igloos. Linus forgets to bring ‘the eggshells in for three days, presumably ruining the lesson, again and again. Does Miss Othmar adapt? No. Does she have a backup plan? Nope. Does she use the mistake as an opportunity to pivot and revise her lessons? She does not. Instead, Miss Othmar continues to berate her student, blaming him for her own lack of creativity, preparation, and initiative.

Miss Othmar eventually takes a hiatus from teaching to get married (a lovely nod to an ever-present patriarchy). When she does, she, rather unprofessionally, writes to the young Linus, saying that “she misses all her students, but misses him most of all.” Upon her return, she immediately gets fired after a teacher’s protest. We’re sure Miss Othmar was a very nice person, but we’re certainly not going to miss her “waa waa waa” in the classroom.

Mr. Clarke (Stranger Things)

(Image courtesy of Netflix)

If you’ve been following Netflix’s wildly popular show Stranger Things, you’ve also met the kids’ science teacher at Hawkins Middle School. Funny, learned, and somewhat aloof, Mr. Clarke’s real weakness does not lie in his curriculum, but in his gullibility and lack of tact.

As more and more red flags are being raised by his students, you almost want to believe he’s just innocent enough to not notice. But the truth is, he’s either unforgivably witless or he’s willfully neglectful. When a group of 12-year-olds call you at home at 10pm on a Saturday and ask how you build a sensory deprivation tank, you should be concerned. When a student wants to show you a strange creature they’ve found in a trashcan, and another quickly barges in, takes it, and runs, you ask questions. When you find yourself explaining the possibilities of inter-dimensional travel and pretty much encouraging middle schoolers to mess with the fabric of space and time...consider asking why. When the kids you’ve known and had in your class all year are suddenly toting around a young girl not enrolled in your school that can move physical objects with nothing more than a nose bleed...inquire.

Time and time again, Mr Clarke falls for his students’ lies and deceptions, putting them at risk again and again. He lackadaisically gives them scientific knowledge without instilling the burden and ethics of responsibility. With nothing more than his “acrobat and flea” metaphor, he fuels the fires of curiosity in his students, yet threatens the very nature of existence. Mr. Clarke values knowledge, but shirks the personal accountability he owes to the community.


Written by Keith Lambert, Education World Associate Contributing Editor

Lambert is an English / Language Arts teacher in Connecticut.