The 20 Most Memorable Teachers in TV History

Frank Ockenfels 3, AMC
Frank Ockenfels 3, AMC

Pop quiz: Recall the name of your favorite teacher.

Extra credit: Recall the name of your least favorite teacher.

Regardless of how many years removed you are from your school days, it's impossible to think back on your educational career without also recalling the teachers who most impacted it. Whether because they were inspirational or horrendously ill-suited for the job, some teachers leave an imprint that stays with you for a lifetime. And the same goes for the fictional teachers who populate the world of television.

In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, we're paying tribute to the TV teachers who have shaped—and warped—the impressionable minds of generations of television viewers. (Chemistry teachers-turned-kingpins included.)

1. Walter White // Breaking Bad

Bryan Cranston stars in 'Breaking Bad'
AMC

Sure, his lectures were a little dull (even if he did have open flames in his classroom), but no one could ever accuse Mr. White of not knowing his craft. And yes, he did steal equipment from the supply closet a couple of times and keep his burner phone in the classroom ceiling for a while, but he also turned a former flunkie student into his greatest protégé, and taught us all that when you see a product that you could greatly improve, you shouldn't let little things like a shortage of Sudafed or menacing drug lords get in your way. Also, science has practical applications! Every Breaking Bad fan now knows that if you're going to try to dissolve something in hydrofluoric acid, you'd better do it in a plastic container (not a ceramic bathtub). —Erika Berlin

2. Edna Krabappel // The Simpsons

Edna Krabappel in 'The Simpsons'
FOX

Other teachers at Springfield Elementary had their cool character moments, but Mrs. Krabappel was a fan favorite from her first appearance in The Simpsons's second-ever episode. Yes, she dated around, drank on the job, and slapped Bart once (ok, twice), but Edna was a teacher who wasn't afraid to say what she felt, even if those feelings were buried beneath quips and sarcasm. That school would have been boring if not for Edna's 20-plus years as a teacher to the same fourth grade class. —Andrew LaSane

3. Mr. Feeny // Boy Meets World

William Daniels as Mr. Feeny in 'Boy Meets World'
ABC

It's easy to forgive Boy Meets World's eyeroll-worthy trope of having the school principal live next door to protagonist Cory Matthews. Not to mention him traveling with Cory and the gang from middle school to high school and then, coincidentally, also becoming a professor at the college that everyone attends because, gosh darn it, Feeny is the best. The well-spoken, well-read, highbrow neighbor transformed over the course of the series—from disciplinarian to teacher to friend to mentor and, finally, to father. As the series drew to a close, we learned that after all Feeny had given to Cory, Topanga, Shawn, Eric, and the rest of his students, the sometime-curmudgeon needed them (and the job) just as much as they needed him. He didn't travel with them to New York at the end of the show (which they joke about in the final scene: "Come on Feeny, you haven't even talked to another student in seven years"), but he did make it to Girl Meets World some 14 years later, gracing the audience with a few appearances to remind us that, just like Cory said in that final episode, he'd stay with us always. —Caitlin Schneider

4. Ms. Frizzle // The Magic School Bus

PBS

The Magic School Bus's Ms. Frizzle's mantra was, "Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy!" And what a testament that was to her adventurous, hands-on teaching approach. Ms. Frizzle was the type of teacher who'd literally go the distance in the name of scientific discovery and, as a character, had that fantastical-yet-familiar vibe that made her instantly beloved. From the bottom of the ocean to the edges of outer space, The Friz was blazing trails, setting an example for curiosity and exploration in learning, becoming an emblem for every quirkily-dressed teacher in the world, and doing it all with Liz on her shoulder. (Fun fact: Liz is actually a Jackson's chameleon, not a lizard.) —Caitlin Schneider

5. Roland "Prez" Pryzbylewski // The Wire

Jim True-Frost in 'The Wire'
HBO

As one of the first faces glimpsed in HBO’s drug-war indictment The Wire, a sheepish Roland "Prez" Pryzbylewski appeared to be uncomfortable in his role as an authoritarian: He did his best police work solving puzzles and his worst while holding a gun. Disillusioned, he skittishly entered a new career as a Baltimore public school teacher, where students with one foot already in the criminal trade took advantage of his scrambled confidence. But Prez hung on, learning to navigate a fatally broken educational system. By the end, he was steadier on his feet in front of a classroom than he had ever been as a cop. His real talent wasn't at a crime scene—it was making sure the city's youth never got there in the first place. —Jake Rossen

6. Miss Bliss // Saved By the Bell

Hayley Mills arrives to the Opening of 'Pacific Overature' at Stuion 54 on December 2, 2004 in New York City
Brad Barket, Getty Images

It's a shame that the students in Miss Bliss's class on Saved By the Bell didn't have enough time to fully appreciate her talents. For 13 episodes she was a surrogate mother, shaping the lives of a group of kids who would inexplicably move their families to Los Angeles and reunite at Bayside High School. She always supported her often misguided class, and her English accent made everything sound, dare we say, blissful. —Andrew LaSane

7. Coach Fredericks // Freaks & Geeks

Most kids lucky enough to attend public school will remember struggling through the Health component of a physical education class, which was probably led by one of the school’s coaches and completely scripted from an outdated manual. Freaks & Geeks's Coach Fredricks was a complex character with stereotypical jock-like tendencies, but he also cared about his students and showed some humanity at various points in the show’s singular season. He had a man-to-man talk with Sam about sex after a porn video confused the geeks, his feelings were hurt by a prank call, and he fell in love with Bill's mother and genuinely wanted the teenager's approval. The geeks may have hated PE, but deep down they respected Coach Fredricks. —Andrew LaSane

8. Mr. Garvey // Key & Peele

Keegan-Michael Key in 'Key & Peele'
Comedy Central

Look, no one likes a substitute teacher, and substitute teachers know that better than anyone. They also know that they aren't really expected to conjugate Latin verbs or supervise frog dissection. Honestly, a substitute's main objective is to keep the students in line and make sure they all showed up for class, but taking attendance is the worst. Names are pronounced oddly, some kids go by nicknames that aren't on the official register, and on top of that, high school kids are jerks. So it's understandable that Mr. Garvey would go into the day with a little trepidation. But props to him for standing his ground, throwing his weight around a little, and not allowing any back talk. Besides, who really knows how to pronounce O'Shaughnessy anyway? —Erika Berlin

9. Will Schuester // Glee

Matthew Morrison, Jane Lynch, Jayma Mays and Jessalyn Gilsig from 'Glee'
© 2009 FOX BROADCASTING

Like Breaking Bad's Water White, Glee's Will Schuester, a.k.a. Mr. Schue, knows of what he teaches. In casting the role of an Ohio high school teacher who reignites the school's glee club, show creator Ryan Murphy spent months observing a number of Broadway actors in order to find just the right fit for the series, and landed on Matthew Morrison. And while he's a teacher who takes the responsibility of enriching the lives of his students very seriously, we also get to see what his own life is like outside of the classroom (which isn't the case with every TV teacher), whether that means witnessing the crumbling of a bad marriage or trying desperately to win the affection of the school's guidance counselor. In the end, at least according to Glee, every problem can be solved with the perfect song. —Jennifer M. Wood

10. Mr. Garrison // South Park

Mr. Garrison from 'South Park'
Comedy Central

For more than 20 years, South Park Elementary's fourth grade teacher has provided the series with what creator Trey Parker describes as "the soap opera element." Some of Mr. Garrison's more colorful moments include attempting to assassinate Kathy Lee Gifford, marrying Richard Dawkins, and making a move on Cartman after discovering he was a member of NAMBLA. The character even spent a few seasons living as "Mrs. Janet Garrison" before deciding to undergo a reverse sex change in the episode "Eek, a Penis!" He may not be receiving a "teacher of the year" award any time soon, but Mr. Garrison (and his alter ego/puppet Mr. Hat) has definitely earned the title of one of South Park's most unique residents. —Michele Debczak

11. Miss Crabtree // The Little Rascals

Not to be confused with Ms. Crabtree, the bus driver from South Park, Miss June Crabtree was the prettiest and nicest teacher that a bunch of rascals could ever hope for. She didn't appear in many Our Gang shorts, but whenever her finger waves and smile were on screen, everyone was a little bit happier. Miss Crabtree was always sweet to her class, but she wasn't afraid to punish them for misbehavin' by sending them out to stand in the hall. —Andrew LaSane

12. Mr. Kotter // Welcome Back, Kotter

A cast photo from 'Welcome Back, Kotter'
ABC Television, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Though it's Gabe Kotter's name that appears in the title, it quickly became clear that The Sweathogs—the group of remedial students he was hired to keep in line and, if possible, actually teach—were the real stars of Welcome Back, Kotter. Which was just fine with Mr. Kotter (a.k.a. Mr. Kott-air), as he was one of the wayward group's founding members. Which might explain why a teacher would be so willing to let his students invade his life outside of room 111. But like any good story about a group of students who the world doesn't expect much of, Kotter's connection to his students helped him to get through to them in a way that no other adult (teacher or otherwise) ever had. Welcome back! —Jennifer M. Wood

13. Jessica Day // New Girl

Zooey Deschanel as Jess in 'New Girl'
Autumn Dewilde, FOX

Don't let her "adorkable" persona fool you: Jessica Day is a serious and passionate career woman. She's dealt with a whole lot in only a few seasons—multiple office romances, dating a parent, failed field trips, bullies, weird bosses, strange coworkers, becoming a boss herself, and even helming an adult education creative writing class. It hasn't always gone smoothly, but Jess's passion for her students and learning itself have always been the driving force behind her sometimes ill-conceived efforts. She has the kind of determination and single-mindedness about her life's work that makes her a standout among Nick, Winston, Cece, and even Schmidt. And let's be honest, her spunk, quirky personality, and penchant for whipping out the guitar to give a lesson make her the kind of teacher we always wish we had. —Caitlin Schneider

14. Mr. Collins // The Wonder Years

Kevin Arnold's math teacher, Mr. Collins, only appeared in three of The Wonder Years's 115 episodes (four if you count a clip show). But to this day, his storyline remains one of the iconic series's most poignant. Initially portrayed as the "I'm too old for this sh*t" kind of teacher who has lost his enthusiasm for educating the snot-nosed kids who fill his classroom, Mr. Collins's true passion for his job is eventually revealed when he offers to give Kevin, who is struggling in the class, some extra help after school. Though their meetings are strictly business, Kevin is able to glimpse at the man behind the bad suits and comes to think of him as a friend. So when Mr. Collins makes it clear to Kevin that, "I am not your friend Mr. Arnold—I am your teacher," Kevin hits back in the only way his pubescent brain can fathom: He flunks the midterm on purpose. But Mr. Collins gets the final word when, over the weekend following the test, he dies. However, through a posthumous gesture, Kevin gets a second chance at the midterm, and a final opportunity to pay tribute to his dearly departed mentor. Fun fact: Before he was an actor, Steven Gilborn—who portrayed Mr. Collins—was a professor at MIT, Columbia, University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford (where he earned his own Ph.D. in dramatic literature). Gilborn passed away in 2009. —Jennifer M. Wood

15. Lydia Grant // Fame

Debbie Allen in 'Fame'
MGM Home Entertainment

Both in front of the camera and behind it, Debbie Allen served as a teacher on the television adaptation of Fame. Reprising her role from the film as Lydia Grant, Allen lays it out for her students when she tells them: "You've got big dreams. You want fame. Well, fame costs. And right here is where you start paying: in sweat." And sweat they did. But Allen's role as a dance teacher didn't end when the camera panned away; she also choreographed the series, and won an Emmy for doing just that. —Jennifer M. Wood

16. Mr. Katimski // My So-Called Life

Jeff Perry pose on the red carpet during the 'Scandal-ous!' event hosted by the Smithsonian Associates with Shonda Rhimes and the cast of ABC's Scandals at the University of District of Columbia Theater of the Arts in 2016
Kris Connor, Getty Images

Poor Mr. Katimski had a lot to deal with in the single season My So-Called Life was on the air: In class, he helped both Brian and Jordan figure out their feelings for Angela via Shakespeare. As the drama club's leader, he was doggedly after Rickie to join up. In only four episodes, the perpetually sweater-clad teacher made a memorable mark as he navigated the angsty halls of Liberty High School in a nervous and spacey, yet sweet, way that only made his devotion to his students all the more endearing, even when they didn't totally appreciate him. He was one of those teachers who was steadfast in a largely thankless role—all for those few punctuated moments of deeply felt success. —Caitlin Schneider

17. Miss Brooks // Our Miss Brooks

Eve Arden (Connie Brooks) and Robert Rockwell (Phillip Boynton) in 'Our Miss Brooks'
CBS Television, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

When English teacher Connie Brooks would complain of being underpaid—and she did, often—teachers across the country rejoiced. Here was a portrayal of the profession that didn't mince words. One of TV's earliest educators, Brooks (played by Eve Arden) refused to conform to the stereotypical image of a mechanical authority figure. When a student drew graffiti on a wall, Brooks didn't run to the principal's office—she rushed to paint over it. Nor did she ignore the fact that teachers had feelings, too. (In Brooks's case, it was unrequited love for fellow teacher Mr. Boynton.) After the series ended in 1956, Arden got the ultimate compliment: several job offers to teach. —Jake Rossen

18. Chuck Noblet // Strangers With Candy

Actor Steven Colbert of the film 'Strangers with Candy' poses for portraits during the 2005 Sundance Film Festival January 24, 2005 in Park City, Utah
Carlo Allegri, Getty Images

Before Stephen Colbert had his own late-night talk show, he played Chuck Noblet, a history instructor who provided the teenagers of Flatpoint High with bad advice and even more questionable classroom lectures on Strangers With Candy. Noblet is mean to most of his students, but especially cruel toward fortysomething freshman Jerri Blank. However, some might say his meanness stems from a deep-rooted unhappiness—not an actual dislike toward Jerri. Noblet is an educator, yet he longs to become a rock star. He’s married to a woman, but he's secretly having an affair with his co-worker, Mr. Jellineck. These dual identities cause him to resent Jerri, whose personality is brash yet honest—a quality Noblet feels like he can never possess. —Kirstin Fawcett

19. Annalise Keating // How to Get Away With Murder

Viola Davis in 'How to Get Away with Murder'
Mitch Haaseth, ABC

Sure her methods are unconventional and she's been a bit preoccupied this semester, what with her cheating husband being accused of murder and then “disappearing,” but in-demand defense attorney and criminal law professor Annalise Keating also successfully mentored five students, won a handful of cases, and kept her gang of murdering, evidence-destroying interns out of prison—and presumably with solid GPAs to boot. Though learning textbook case law is all well and good, Keating's pragmatic, brutally honest lessons are what's really going to help get her students jobs after graduation (and keep them out of the pen). "There's no truth in the courtroom. There's just your version of what happened versus theirs," she says, always urging her students to think harder, dig deeper, and be more creative in their approach. "That's how the justice system works. It's not what's right and what's fair. It's who tells the most convincing story." —Erika Berlin

20. Dee Reynolds // It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

Kaitlin Olson as Dee Reynolds in 'It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia'
Matthias Clamer, FXX

Deandra "Sweet Dee" Reynolds has dabbled in many occupations during It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia's 13 (and counting) seasons. She has been a street performer, a surrogate mother, a YouTube star, and a stand-up comedian, but perhaps her most questionable career move was her stint as a high school drama teacher. One of her first actions was putting on a performance of Frankenstein, which she then used as a vehicle to recapture her high school glory days by playing the title role. She finally got booted from the job after taking her class to Paddy's Pub to watch the gang's reenactment of Lethal Weapon 5. Though her teaching career may have been brief, it was memorable nonetheless. —Michele Debczak

This story has been updated for 2019.

'143,' Fred Rogers's Code for "I Love You," Gets Its Own Holiday in Pennsylvania

Family Communications Inc./Getty Images
Family Communications Inc./Getty Images

"It takes one letter to say I and four letters to say love and three letters to say you. One hundred and forty-three."

That quote from Fred Rogers has become a symbol of the children's entertainer's legacy. The number 143, his special code for "I love you," is used by a charity inspired by Rogers, and it was spotlighted in the recent documentary movie Won't You Be My Neighbor? Now, Mister Rogers's favorite number has its own holiday in Pennsylvania.

As Philly Voice reports, Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf declared May 23 to be 143 Day in the state. Rogers was born in Westmoreland County near Pittsburgh and he spent his whole life in the area. By honoring the famous Pennsylvanian with his own holiday, the organizers behind the statewide 143 Day campaign hope to inspire residents to be kind to their neighbors on May 23 and every day of the year.

The initiative encourages schools, businesses, and citizens to share their acts of kindness on social media with the hashtag #143DayinPA. A "kindness tracker" on the campaign's website keeps how many time the hashtag has been used, and so far, over a 6000 acts of kindness have been shared online. And if someone has trouble thinking of ways to honor the spirit of Mister Rogers, the campaign's "kindness generator" can come up with a suggestion for them.

One hundred and forty-three was more than just a fun saying for Fred Rogers: It was a lucky number he made part of his lifestyle. The television personality even went so far as to go swimming every day to maintain his weight at the number.

[h/t Philly Voice]

10 Bizarre Documentaries That Are Stranger Than Fiction

A still from Abducted in Plain Sight
A still from Abducted in Plain Sight
Top Knot Films

Documentaries have grown considerably more ambitious since Fred Ott’s Sneeze, an 1894 clip that documents the irritated sinus cavities of its subject in just five seconds. They can inspire, as in the case of 2019’s Academy Award-winning Free Solo, about bold mountain climber Alex Honnold. They can shine a light on cultural overachievers like Fred Rogers, the subject of 2018’s Won’t You Be My Neighbor? And they can parse political history, with films like 2003's The Fog of War shedding light on decisions that shaped the world.

Other documentaries set out to chronicle true stories that, were they presented as a fictitious, might be hard for people to believe. We’ve profiled such films in previous lists, which you can find here, here, and here. If you’ve already made your way through those tales of cannibals, tragic love affairs, and twist-laden true crime, here are 10 more that will have you staring at your television in disbelief.  

1. Abducted in Plain Sight (2017)

When Idaho native Jan Broberg was 12 years old in 1974, her neighbor began to take an unseemly and inappropriate interest in her. What begins as a disturbing portrait of predation quickly spirals into an unbelievable and audacious attempt to manipulate Jan’s entire family. Director Skye Borgman’s portrait of seemingly reasonable people who become ensnared in a monstrous plot to separate them from their daughter has drawn some shocking reactions since it began streaming on Netflix earlier this year.

2. The Wolfpack (2015)

Confined to their apartment in a Manhattan housing project for years by parents wary of the world outside their door, the seven Angulo siblings developed an understanding about life through movies. The Wolfpack depicts their attempts to cope with reality after finally emerging from their involuntary exile. Hulu subscribers can watch it now.

3. Three Identical Strangers (2018)

The highly marketable conceit of director Tim Wardle’s documentary is that triplets born in 1961 then separated spent the first 18 years of their lives totally ignorant of their siblings. When they reconnect, it’s a joy. But the movie quickly switches gears to explore the question of why they were separated at birth to begin with. It’s that investigation—and the chilling answer—that lends Three Identical Strangers its bittersweet, haunting atmosphere. It’s currently on Hulu.

4. Tickled (2016)

A ball of yarn bouncing down a flight of stairs is the best metaphor we can summon for the narrative of Tickled, which follows New Zealand journalist David Farrier on what appears at first glance to be a silly story about the world of “competitive endurance tickling.” In the course of reporting on this unusual subculture, Farrier crosses paths with people who would prefer their hobbies remain discreet. When he refuses to let the story go, things grow increasingly tense and dangerous. HBO subscribers can see the film, and it’s also available as a $3.99 rental on Amazon Prime.

5. Billboard Boys (2018)

In 1982, an Allentown, Pennsylvania radio station sponsored a contest in which three men agreed to live underneath a billboard. The last man remaining would win a brand-new motor home, a considerable incentive in the economically-struggling area. Three contestants went up, but things didn't go as planned. It's available for free to Amazon Prime members.

6. Hands on a Hardbody: The Documentary (1997)

How far would you be willing to go for a new pick-up truck? That’s the deceptively simple premise for this documentary chronicling an endurance contest in Longview, Texas, where participants agree to keep one hand on the vehicle at all times: The last person standing wins. What begins as a group seeking a prize evolves into a battle of attrition, with all the psychological games and mental fortitude that comes with it. The film can be hard to find, but you can watch the first nine minutes on YouTube for free (above) and then catch the rest for $9.99 on iTunes.

7. My Kid Could Paint That (2007)

At the age of 4, upstate New York resident Marla Olmstead began painting sprawling abstract art that her parents sold for premium prices. Later on, a 60 Minutes report called into question whether Marla had some assistance with her work. Was she a child prodigy, or simply a creative girl who had a little help? And if she did, should it matter? My Kid Could Paint That investigates Marla’s process, but it also sheds light on the world of abstract art and the question of who gets to decide whether a creative impulse is valid. You can rent the film for $3.99 on Amazon.

8. Beware the Slenderman (2016)

In 2014, two Wisconsin girls came to a disturbing decision: In order to appease the “Slenderman,” an internet-sourced boogeyman, they would attempt to murder a classmate. The victim survived, but three lives have been altered forever. Beware the Slenderman explores the intersection where mental illness, social media, and urban mythology collide to result in a horrific crime. It’s available to HBO viewers or as a rental on Amazon for $3.99.

9. The Iceman Tapes: Conversations with a Killer (1992)

For years, Richard Kuklinski satisfied his homicidal urges by taking on contract killings for organized crime families in New York and New Jersey. Following his arrest and conviction, he agreed to sit down and elaborate on his unusual methodologies for disposing of victims and how he balanced his violent tendencies with a seemingly normal domestic life that included marriage and children. (You can see an example of Kuklinski's chilling disposition in the clip above.) In addition to The Iceman Tapes, which originally aired on HBO, Kuklinski participated in two follow-ups: The Iceman Confesses: Secrets of a Mafia Hitman in 2001 and The Iceman and the Psychiatrist in 2003. See them on HBO or watch the original and both follow-ups for free on Amazon Prime.

10. Tabloid (2010)

Filmmaker Errol Morris (The Fog of War) details the unusual love affair between beauty queen Joyce McKinney and Kirk Anderson, who alleged McKinney kidnapped and assaulted him after believing he had been brainwashed by the Mormon church. That’s only the beginning of this twisty—and twisted—story, which illustrates how people can perceive the same event in completely different ways. It’s currently streaming on Hulu.

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