A reoccurring element in some of our favorite TV shows and movies is the role of an influential teacher in the lives of our young protagonists. From dark professors of wizardry to kindly old men dispensing bits of moral guidance like they’re gum balls, our favorite on-screen teachers come in all shapes and sizes. Rarely do they get their proper due, however, so we’ve decided to put together a list of what we feel are the 20 best.
Adam Sandler’s acting career has been filled with improbably attractive romantic interests, but nothing has been as stupefying as the borderline mentally challenged Billy Madison winning the heart of Veronica Vaughn. He taught us that “Look at all this milk. You want some of this milk?” could be an effective pickup line.
Mr. Garrison is that one weird teacher we all had in middle or high school that no one in his class could quite put there finger on. What is his social life like? What’s the deal with that sexually ambiguous accent? What on earth does he possibly do with his free time? The answer to the last question, in Mr. Garrison’s case, was getting sex changes.
It seems about right that Tina Fey would have at least one “cool teacher” entry on her IMDb profile. In Mean Girls, her math instruction takes a backseat to the level-headed advice she gives to a wild collection of high-school girls. Looking back with the knowledge we have now, it’s probably a safe bet that she was stashing some cheese-based snacks in one of those desk drawers.
Get your Kleenex ready. In a role that seems scientifically designed to tug at audiences heartstrings and maybe even get them to stand up an applaud, Richard Dreyfuss received a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Glenn Holland, the beloved music teacher of an Oregon high school. The film spans the highs and lows of Mr. Holland’s entire 30-year career, culminating with one last emotional performance before he retires (the opus in question).
Rushmore Academy Renaissance man Max Fisher methodically ingratiates himself into Ms. Cross’ life, but, to his dismay, never into her heart. Nevertheless, he maintains that they are in a “relationship.” Don’t think so? Do you want him to grab a dictionary?
In Welcome Back, Kotter, Gabe Kaplan stars as Gabe Kotter, a quick-witted high-school teacher who takes up the job at his alma mater. Kaplan lead the series through four seasons from 1975-1979, and, as an actor who shared the same first name as the character he played, he unknowingly blazed a trail for the likes of Tony Danza and Ray Romano.
The prototypical mailing-it-in teacher, once-idealistic Edna Krabbapel is now content to go through the motions after years of abuse from the students in her rambunctious fourth-grade class. And who could blame her after 23 years with Bart Simpson? If only she could find a man who likes red wine and cats as much as she does.
The ultimate disciplinarian, the brilliantly named Mr. Hand runs his history class at Ridgemont High on “his” time. This doesn’t sit well with the perma-stoned Jeff Spicoli, played by Sean Penn, who shows up late, orders pizza and doesn’t understand Hand’s stern demeanor. But not only does hand throw Spicoli out after he’s late and give his pizza out to the rest of the class, he shows up at his house and force-teaches him until he’s made up for all the time Spicoli wasted.
Robin Williams is one of the best comedian/actors we’ve ever seen, and his role as John Keating in Dead Poets Society is one of the main reasons why. The film is as inspirational as it is tragic, and Williams’ role as a boarding-school English teacher with an outside-the-box approach is one of his most moving. Who didn’t wish they had a teacher whose first order of business was to have the class rip the pages out of their textbooks?
Teacher, mentor, neighbor and friend—has there ever been a teacher on TV as lovable as Mr. Feeny? Worth noting here is that none of the child stars from Boy Meets World ended up in rehab, behind bars or worse. Look it up: Corey, Topanga, Minkus and even Sean, the leather jacket-wearing bad boy, all seem like well-adjusted adults now. Could Mr. Feeny’s fictional, on-screen guidance have subconsciously steered his young co-stars down a more righteous path in real life? I’m not saying yes, but I’m also definitely not saying no.