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 Teachers' Day, 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 series' 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

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 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 FREDRICKS // 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. 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 19 seasons, 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 this classic '70s sitcom. 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). —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' 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. 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, and a YouTube star, 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

A version of this story first ran in 2015.

15 Facts About Rushmore On Its 20th Anniversary

The Criterion Collection
The Criterion Collection

On December 11, 1998, Wes Anderson introduced the world to his unique brand of whimsical comedy with Rushmore. Though it wasn't his feature directorial debut—he had released Bottle Rocket, which he adapted from a short, in 1996—it was his first major Hollywood movie. And kicked off his still-ongoing collaborations with a stable of talented actors that includes Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman. It was also the second film Anderson co-wrote with Owen Wilson.

To celebrate the quirky comedy's 20th anniversary, here are some things you might not know about Rushmore.

1. Rushmore Academy was the director's Alma Mater.

Wes Anderson sent location scouts across the United States and Canada to find the perfect high school to shoot the movie. He was having a tough time trying to find the school, until his mother sent him a picture of his old high school in Houston, Texas: St. John's School. Anderson thought it was the perfect location to make the movie.

2. Bill Murray wanted to make Rushmore for free.

Bill Murray in Rushmore (1998)
The Criterion Collection

Once Bill Murray read the screenplay, he wanted to be in the movie so badly that he considered appearing in it for free. Murray ended up working on Rushmore at scale with the Screen Actors Guild day rate minimum for smaller indie film projects. Anderson estimated that Murray made about $9000 for his work on the film.

3. Film critic Pauline Kael had a private screening.

Pauline Kael’s film criticism was a major influence on Anderson’s view of cinema. “Your thoughts and writing about the movies [have] been a very important source of inspiration for me and my movies, and I hope you don't regret that," he once wrote to her.

Kael retired from The New Yorker in 1991, so Anderson arranged for her to have a private screening of Rushmore before the film came out in 1998. He wrote about the screening in the introduction to the published version of the screenplay, and shared what Kael told him about the film: "I genuinely don't know what to make of this movie."

4. It was Jason Schwartzman’s first film role.

Casting directors searched throughout the United States, Canada, and England to find a young actor to play the lead role of Max Fischer. Australian actor Noah Taylor was the frontrunner for the part when, on the last day of casting in Los Angeles, Jason Schwartzman auditioned. He was wearing a prep school blazer with a Rushmore Academy patch that he made himself.

5. Owen Wilson's private school experiences inspired some of the movie's plot points.

As a sophomore at St. Mark High School in Dallas, Texas, Rushmore co-writer Owen Wilson was expelled for stealing his geometry teacher's textbook (the one that contained all the answers); he went to Thomas Jefferson High School to complete 10th grade. This was the inspiration for when Max is expelled from Rushmore Academy and is forced to attend Grover Cleveland High School.

Although Wilson doesn’t have a credited role in Rushmore, he does appear as Ms. Cross’s deceased husband, Edward Appleby, in a photo in Appleby’s childhood bedroom.

6. Wilson's Dad Inspired a Moment in the Movie.

Wilson’s father, Robert Wilson, was the inspiration for Herman Blume’s speech about privilege at the beginning of Rushmore.

7. Alexis Bledel was an extra in the film.


Getty Images

Before she starred as Rory Gilmore on Gilmore Girls, actress Alexis Bledel was an uncredited extra—she played a Grover Cleveland High School student—in Rushmore. You can see her in the background in various scenes, including dancing with the character Magnus Buchan (Stephen McCole) at the end of the film.

8. Both Anderson and Wilson's brothers had parts in the movie.

Owen and Luke Wilson’s older brother Andrew plays Rushmore Academy’s baseball coach, Coach Beck. He also appeared in Anderson’s directorial debut, Bottle Rocket, playing the bully John Mapplethorpe.

Eric Chase Anderson, Wes's brother, plays the architect who designs Max’s aquarium.

9. The Movie's Editor Made a Cameo.

Rushmore editor David Moritz plays the Dynamite Salesman; he sells Max the dynamite and explosives for his stage play Heaven and Hell at the end of the film.

10. Producers Made a Deal to get a Bentley.

Producers needed a Bentley for Murray's character, Herman Blume, but Rushmore’s production budget was only $20 million and they couldn’t afford to rent one. A Houston resident was willing to lend them his Bentley if they gave his daughter a role in the film. Producers agreed; the man's daughter plays an usher who seats Miss Cross at Max’s play at the end of the movie.

11. Mason Gamble's role in Dennis the Menace almost cost him the part of Dirk Calloway in Rushmore.

Mason Gamble in Rushmore (1998)
The Criterion Collection

Wilson referred to the character of Dirk Calloway, played by Mason Gamble, as the conscience of the film. Originally, Anderson didn’t want to cast Gamble in the part because of the actor’s previous—and very recognizable—role as Dennis Mitchell in the 1993 live-action movie Dennis the Menace.

12. Rushmore Upset Francis Ford Coppola.

Director Francis Ford Coppola owns a winery, and when he first saw Rushmore, he was upset with Anderson because he used Coppola’s chief Napa Valley wine rival during Max's post-play celebration. (It probably didn't help matters that Coppola is Schwartzman's uncle.)

13. Anderson's Brother Did the Movie's Criterion Collection Artwork.

The Criterion Collection edition of 'Rushmore' (1998)
The Criterion Collection

Eric Chase Anderson did the artwork for the Criterion Collection DVD cover, an interoperation of a shot from the montage of Max’s extracurricular activities at the beginning of the movie. The Yankee Racer shot is itself a recreation of a photo from French photographer Jacques Henri Lartigue, taken in 1909 when he was only 15.

14. Schwartzman waxed his chest to play Max.

Although Max only shows his chest once in the film (during the high school wrestling match), Anderson made Schwartzman wax his chest for the duration of Rushmore's filming.

15. The Max Fischer Players Appeared on MTV.

During the 1999 MTV Movie Awards, the Max Fischer Players recreated the year's hit movies—The Truman Show, Armageddon, and Out of Sight—as stage plays.

An earlier version of this article ran in 2014.

Harry Potter Star Daniel Radcliffe Says Broadway Made Him a Better Actor

Dominik Bindl, Getty Images
Dominik Bindl, Getty Images

For 10 years, moviegoers watched as Daniel Radcliffe matured on film throughout eight Harry Potter films. But the 29-year-old recently revealed that he believes the bulk of his professional growth has occurred as a result of his Broadway stage work.

“It gives me a lot of confidence as an actor, which is not always something that I’ve felt,” Radcliffe told Variety. “I feel like doing theater ... it was really very important for me psychologically.”

Radcliffe starred in a number of films after Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, the final film in the franchise, including The Woman in Black, Now You See Me 2, and Lost in London. His Broadway credits include Equus, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and The Cripple of Inishmaan.

“There’s something about doing it without an editor to save you, or a myriad of things in post-production that can help you out, something that made me go: ‘OK, I can act,’" Radcliffe continued. "I’ve grown a little bit as an actor every time I’ve gone back to the theater."

Radcliffe crediting his professional growth to working in theater may leave some Potterheads wondering if he thinks playing Harry Potter for so long held him back.

“Not professionally, at all,” he said. “There were moments when probably I coped with the personal effects of Harry Potter not as well as I could have. But professionally, no.”

According to Radcliffe, "There are directors that were, I think, excited to—I am quoting one of them here and I won’t say who—'reinvent' me.”

Radcliffe fans can gauge that reinvention for themselves with The Lifespan of a Fact, the new Broadway play starring Radcliffe, Bobby Cannavale, and Cherry Jones. It is running at New York City's Studio 54 through January 13, 2019.

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