Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Top 10 Pop Culture Teachers of All Time* (*Incredibly Subjective, Do Not Hate)

One of the things I've always wanted is a redemptive story of the teacher who changed my life. In my fantasy (read: movie version), said teacher would look like Mark Harmon in Summer School from the neck up, but with the hair and wardrobe of Billy Crudup from Almost Famous (read: smelly-looking rawhide jacket; chest hair-revealing batik v-neck; tight jeans; boots). He would quote Rumi and take us on field trips to look at rotting whale carcasses on the beach so that we could better feel our feelings. Maude Apatow would play me.

But I never had that. Don't get me wrong, most of my teachers were great at their jobs (what up, Ms. Jawanda! You complete me!), and the ones who weren't so great succeeded, at least, in not totally scarring me, with the exception of my elementary school gym teacher, Mr. Hyman (the cruelest part is that I WAS TOO YOUNG TO KNOW IT WAS FUNNY*), whose sudden-death basketball tournament still haunts my dreams.

*I also had a teacher named Ms. Klitnick. Same school. True story.

So I'm left to worship the all-time great teachers I've had courtesy of film and television. Choosing my top ten was hard, so I had to throw down some basic rules:

1. They have to be traditional school teachers, i.e. no Mr. Miyagi or Yoda-style spiritual guides, no administrators à la Mrs. Teasley from 90210 or Principal Skinner, and no impostors like Arnold Schwarzenegger's iconic role as Detective John Kimble in Kindergarten Cop. Sads, I know.

2. No teachers who headline their own show or movie. They have to be scene-stealing supporting players. Sorry Mr. Kotter, Mr. Cooper, Mr. Holland, Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Races Minds, and my personal dreamboat Mark Harmon.

3. No one who helped Haley Joel Osment pay it forward (you know who you are).

4. No teachers from books. Because, you know, ugh, PAGE WORDS. (My teachers are so proud of me.)

Who does that leave? My all-stars. To wit:

1. MR. HAND (Ray Walston), American History, Fast Times at Ridgemont High

OK, so this severe disciplinarian (some might say... dick) loses points for torturing Sean Penn’s completely lovable Jeff Spicoli, but if you don’t secretly love the curmudgeonly Mr. Hand, you people must be on dope.

2. MS. KRABAPPEL (Marcia Wallace), 4th Grade, The Simpsons

World-weary, disgruntled, drunk, and perpetually horny, Edna Flanders (née Krabappel) is the yellow-skinned gold standard for bad teachers.

3. COACH CUTLIP (Robert Picardo), Gym, The Wonder Years

So, I guess I really have a thing for deeply unhappy bullies. Or I just really enjoy pointing out that Coach Cutlip led a double life as a sexy, spray-tanned cowboy in Innerspace:

4. MR. KATIMSKI (Jeff Perry), English and Drama Club, My So-Called Life 

The socially awkward, sweater-vested Mr. Katimsky may not have been able to get Ricky’s name right, but in a few short episodes he proved that his heart was as big as the inexplicable pauses he took between words.

5. MR. KEATING (Robin Williams), English, Dead Poet's Society*

O Captain! My captain! The original manic hippie man-child, Mr. Keating ripped books, climbed desks, shunned rules, and inspired his students to live life to the fullest, to mixed results (SPOILER ALERT: points off for Neil's suicide). He probably needs to be medicated, but damn if he wasn’t fun.

*I know it seems like I'm breaking my second rule here, but even though he's the biggest star in the movie, he's not the protagonist. So I'm including him on a technicality.

6. MR. COULSON (Michael Vartan), English, Never Been Kissed


P.S. Are pop culture English teachers every anything but angels sent straight from heaven? How does analyzing Shakespeare correlate to innate decency and beautiful hair? Discuss.

7. MR. JELLINECK (Paul Dinello), Art, Strangers With Candy

An authority figure "with the mind of a child," prone to turtleneck sweaters, secret gay liaisons with Stephen Colbert, and disfiguring injuries, Mr. Jellineck has the soul of an artist and the scalp of Tony Manero.

8. ECONOMICS TEACHER (Ben Stein), Self-explanatory, Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Not the most creative choice, maybe, but arguably the most memorable. I wish I could repeat this guy’s name over and over again in a miserable nasal monotone, but the most iconic teacher in film history doesn’t have one! Oh, well. At least we’ll always have the--anyone? Anyone?--Hawley-Smoot Tariff Act.

9. MR. WHITE (Bryan Cranston), Chemistry, Breaking Bad

Say what you will, but the man knows his chemistry. Am I right, Pinkman?

10. PROFESSOR ROSS GELLER (David Schwimmer), Paleontology, Friends 

I'm not gonna lie, this was a close one between Dr. Geller and How I Met Your Mother's Ted Theodore Mosby, but A) I'm breaking my second rule again (oops) ; and B) the man thought of Jurassic Park before Michael Crighton. AUTOMATIC A.

Ugh, I'm already regretting narrowing this list to ten. I could do another list with just guidance counselors. Or principals! Or janitors!

But that's homework for another day. Right now I'm working on getting this guy up to ten:



  1. Mr. Katimsky was the teacher I always wanted. He could call me Enrique any time.

    1. WORD. He would have called me Uma, and I would have said nothing.

  2. Okay, love the list, especially since I am teacher. But also, I love that your kid is also apparently often almost naked of an evening. By 5 pm our pants are gone and by 6 the shirt is usually gone, too. Awesome counting as well. Ours is attempting to sing the alphabet but he only knows G.

    1. Thank you! And if you figure out the ideal amount of naked time that does NOT result in a urine-soaked rug, please please let me know.

  3. No Mr. Feeny?!?!?!

    1. I know, I KNOW. But no administrators = no principals. Even though Feeny was also a teacher I had to disqualify him.

  4. Is it just me, or can you see the New York accent on four?

    1. You should hear him say, "Da ball, da ball!" It's pure Long Island, which is funny especially since Jeff and I don't have accents.

  5. jellineck for the win. that was one of the best shows.

    1. I miss it. Geri Blank is my Facebook friend somehow, and I keep trying to figure out if it's actually Amy Sedaris behind the account. If so I really need to harass her more.

  6. Anonymous7:04 AM

    Your little guy is a cutie! What does it mean that I keep watching it and shouting "Six! Six!". Yeah, I thought so.

    1. Aw, he DOES say six sometimes, but then skips to nine and ten. Then I give him a high five, because it's so cute, and seven and eight are super lame anyway.

  7. TIME stole your idea!

    Nice counting, Sam! I love his voice. :)

  8. Haha, awww nice vid at the end. I wish I could do something similar with my hs teachers, but mine was a military HS, so not much diversity there.

  9. I just saw list of sexy teacher over the internet. I don’t have even a single hot teacher in my college. But this is good too for my studies. Just now I went through their crimes and tawdriness.


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