From Dumbledore to Yoda, what makes a good teacher

Two characters from the Harry Potter series grabbed prominent places in a survey of favourite fictional teachers. So what do they do best, and what can real-world teachers learn from them?

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 September, 2015, 4:01am
UPDATED : Monday, 07 September, 2015, 3:26pm

This academic year students will be motivated by inspirational teachers. But which teacher characters from fiction and popular culture inspire real life teachers?

According to a Times Education Supplement survey of 1,200 educators, two characters from the Harry Potter series grabbed prominent places in education's 50 favourite fictional teachers.

Albus Dumbledore, headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and Harry's mentor through most of the series, topped the poll. "Albus Dumbledore was never proud or vain; he could find something to value in anyone, however apparently insignificant or wretched. That he was the most inspiring and the best loved of all Hogwarts headmasters cannot be in question," Elphias Doge said of Dumbledore in his obituary.

In second place was beloved Miss Jennifer Honey from the Roald Dahl classic Matilda. "She was a mild and quiet person who never raised her voice and was seldom seen to smile, but there is no doubt she possessed that rare gift for being adored by every small child under her care," wrote Dahl.

And the students' adoration of her transforms them into willing learners. On the first day of school, only a few of students could spell "cat". With Miss Honey's exceptional teaching prowess, by Thursday of the first week, even one of the classes' weaker students, Prudence, could spell "difficulty" without any difficulty.

And in complete contrast, tough-but-fair Professor Minerva McGonagall, head of Gryffindor House and deputy headmistress also at Hogwarts, placed third on the list.

Fourth was John Keating, played by the late Robin Williams in the film Dead Poets Society, who inspired students through poetry. In direct contrast to the school goal of preparing students for college, Keating taught his students that occupations were noble pursuits to sustain life, but passion is the reason to live. He encouraged his students to look at things differently when they thought they knew something. "Even though it may seem silly, or wrong, you must try," he advised.

In the book Keeping Good Teachers, Mark Goldberg offers observations about the key characteristics of great teachers. These fictional teachers who have endeared all exemplified the qualities of "willingness to put in the necessary time", a "love for the age group they teach" and an "in-depth content knowledge".

Research shows a strong correlation between great teachers and a solid command of content, irrespective of the area in which the expertise lies or the age group they teach. The best teachers also often spend as much time preparing for a class as they do teaching it.

Excellent teachers have an effective classroom management style. There are few behaviour problems in their classes and a culture of respect that flows in every direction: teacher to students, students to teacher, students to students, and everyone to guests. Students have a clear, shared understanding of acceptable and appropriate behaviour.

Exceptional teachers have a repertoire of effective instructional methods and a steadiness of purpose and teaching personality. While there are teachers who can be good "performers", great teachers are steady, intelligent, concerned, interesting and interested.

Now, whom do I consider the most inspirational of all fictional teachers? Without a doubt, Yoda, the Jedi master from Star Wars. Great teachers are unique. They transcend race, nationality and species.

Yoda's key teachings are lessons for a lifetime: "A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defence, never for attack"; "Adventure, excitement - a Jedi craves not these things"; and "Unlearn what you have learned", because old habits preclude new learning.

However, Yoda's most memorable quote is one of the last he gives to the young Luke Skywalker. It is especially invaluable to students as they begin this academic year. If they want to succeed, they need to give their best.

"Do. Or do not. There is no try."

Anjali Hazari teaches IB and IGCSE biology at the French International School