Saturday, October 10, 2015

Friday Five on Saturday: 5 Favorite (Fictional) Teachers

Image courtesy Katelyn Jade

As a teacher (of sorts) myself, I am basically morally obligated to answer this one. I'm also really, really, excited to answer it, because I think teachers are immensely underrated and undervalued in American culture. Sure, everyone loves Dead Poets Society but then we also joke about how teachers are glorified babysitters who only work 9 months out of the year. Um, excuse me?

My list includes real-life teachers alongside fictional ones, just because.

5. Senor Chang (Community) (season 1, mostly)

I mean, he's Chang. His character took some bizarre directions—I guess that's what happens when a bunch of people work together on a story—and sometimes it was okay and sometimes it wasn't. Season 1 despotic teacher Chang is where it's at, though I do like the storyline he gets in the Karate Kid theatrical adaptation episode.

I allowed myself one silly answer, because a little levity never hurt, but the rest of these answers really speak to what I admire in teachers (and hope to be myself, one day).

4. Ma Yeo-jin (Majin) (The Queen's Classroom)

Courtesy Wikimedia and iOK Media.

MAJIN IS THE BAMFEST TEACHER CHARACTER TO HAVE EVER BEEN WRITTEN. A lot of favorite teacher characters are theatrical, over-the-top ~*~performers~*~ and while that's great, you get the impression that maybe some of them should have been actors instead of teachers.


Majin devotes herself to the betterment of her students to an almost unprecedented level. Part of the appeal of teaching (for me, and apparently for a lot of the OTT teacher characters) is being able to forge a connection with students and be their friend and mentor and, once in a while, have fun with them.

MAJIN IS TOO GOOD FOR THAT. She started out as that teacher, apparently, but realized that what was the best for her students wasn't to be their friend, but to teach them to be friends for each other. This lesson, unfortunately for Majin, comes at the cost of her ever being able to be their friend. She fights for them and champions for them in exhausting, unimaginable ways outside of the classroom, but in the classroom she resists every urge or temptation to be funny, to be entertaining, to be likable. Instead she engages in a year-long Socratic dialogue with them, leading them to some heavy life truths by forcing them to question their environment, their values, and even her own authority.

I could never do that.

3. Mrs. B

I took piano lessons for about ten years, from 7 to 17, and Mrs. B was my teacher for 8 or 9 of them. I had a student of hers before I started with her, and supposedly I was the catalyst for some kind of feud or fallout between them?


(My first teacher was still in high school when she started giving lessons, and Mrs. B instructed her to refer any clear talents up the ladder to Mrs. B herself, as she was a professional with a proper music education background and years of experience and so on—if a sucky kid gets bad instruction, it's no loss, but she wanted any potential talent to have experienced training from the get-go. As it turned out, I was pretty good! I'll never know how good, for reasons I'll get into later, but good enough that Mrs. B could tell by my first recital and demanded to know what the hell, man? My then-teacher said something about Lawyer Mom being the church organist and helping me(???) or making me practice a whole lot or whatever, but my second recital rolled around 6 months later and Mrs. B had it all sussed and flipped her lid at my then-teacher and, if I'm recalling this story correctly, they fell apart permanently as a result.

I knew none of this until years later. I stopped lessons with my first teacher because she was leaving for college; my parents offered me the choice of another neighbor or my first neighbor's teacher (Mrs. B). I'm surprised they let an 8-year-old make that kind of decision? But I said that I thought it would at least be more consistent to have my teacher's teacher than a completely new track. In retrospect, that decision was a life-changer.)

Like my other favorite real-life teachers, Mrs. B had standards, and I'm ashamed to say that I was a lazy piece of crap who failed to meet almost all of them. I got by for years with the scantest amount of practice because I was a halfway decent sight-reader (meaning: I could play things up to a certain difficulty fairly well on the first try) and even though she tried to have quite a few Come to Jesus moments with me, the message never sank in. (If someone had told me that Malcolm Gladwell tidbit about 10,000 hours I might have been a less lazy piece of crap. Who knows.) We won't even discuss my disastrous senior recital. :(

To a small extent, I can also pinpoint some of the problems I had on my first teacher: she did not (that I recall) instruct or even recommend scales, which are a vital piece of learning to play an instrument well. I also had a tendency to keep my thumbs on middle C no matter what in early songs. I realize this is a popular way to introduce kids to the keyboard but it's not good pedagogy. Otherwise you end up like me, learning to contort your hand(s) to keep that thumb on C instead of fluid, natural fingering.

But that's passing the buck. I could have gotten over that small handicap if I had given more of a shit in middle and high school. I coulda been a contendah! But I didn't, and now I regret it.

Sorry, Mrs. B.

2. Ms. R-B

I have a lot of teachers from kindergarten up until senior year I could put on this list, but it would more or less be an exercise in injustice. My school district, which has its own set of problems (like the football coach/high school principal...imagine that combination if you will), was at least blessed with a lot of really fantastic and dedicated teachers while I was there (and that still seems to be the case today). I don't have enough room here to thank all of them, but if you were a teacher of mine at any point: thank you. At one point or another I was probably a sullen and defiant piece of shit to you, and I'm sorry for that. I was a kid/preteen/teenager, which isn't much of an excuse, but so it is.

However, there is one teacher I single out every time when it comes to teachers, and that is my 10th grade/AP Language and Composition/Creative Writing teacher, Ms. R-B. Out of a school full of amazing teachers, she was my favorite.

I think sometimes when you're a teacher, you get a little jaded and you lower your expectations out of students because it's easier than trying to keep pushing that rock uphill. But R-B, despite having been a teacher for many years before I had her, never gave up on that Sisyphean task, not until she retired. That meant that most everyone else groaned and thought of her as "the strict" teacher—she wouldn't have won any popularity contests among the student body—but it also meant that you learned a lot from her. At least, you did if you paid even the slightest bit of attention and gave the barest of shits.

I kick ass at writing essays. You know why? Because she taught AP Language and Composition and put us through essay bootcamp right from the first week. We churned out essays on a weekly/bi-weekly basis (my memory is a bit fuzzy). I wrote more in that class than I ever did in any other class I ever took; by the time I got to college, I was an essay-writing machine and could handle anything the 100- and 200-level courses threw at me; at the 300 level and above it became a challenge, but always a challenge I was confident I could meet. (I also got a 5 on the AP Language and Composition test and got to skip Freshman Composition. Natch.) None of that wouldn't have happened without essay boot camp.

Not only did you write a lot, but R-B expected everyone in her class to write well. If you phoned it in on a paper, she wouldn't be afraid to give you the grade you deserved. I think that's what soured most of the student body on her: you could definitely argue that grade inflation was something of a thing in my district, and I think it burned a lot of egos to get a C or worse.

I admire her ability to stick with her career for so long (she taught for well over the average 7-year career span of most teachers today, and at the same school to boot) in the face of apathetic and snotty students. I would not have the patience for that; in fact, my classes with her were the ones that dissuaded me from becoming an English Literature teacher—not because her classes were horrible (they were great), but because I realized they were exactly how I would teach a class, and if it led to the kind of withering apathy and disrespect I saw in my peers, then I wouldn't be able to hack it.

Incidentally, out of all of the people from high school I ever really connected with, and still talk to today, almost all of us took AP Language and Composition with R-B and loved the hell out of that class (and her). Even as shitty, self-absorbed teenagers, we could tell that she gave a shit.

I actually ran into her a week before I left the country forever and it was the most gratifying and wonderful thing that could have happened while I was out running errands. We even trade letters periodically, and Christmas cards.

1. Teacher Dad

I don't mention Teacher Dad as much as Lawyer Mom here, but he is of course my favorite teacher, ever, by virtue of being my dad.

I am who I am in large part because of the parents I had, of course. Both of them fostered my curiosity as a child and never patronized me or my brother in their explanations of things or answers to questions, and both of them worked hard and made sacrifices to give their children a comfortable life. Lawyer Mom is the one responsible for my love of reading and for whatever sense of compassion and empathy I can make claim to (some days it isn't much), while Teacher Dad is responsible for my persistence (some might say stubbornness), my sarcasm, and my...backbone? courage? cynicism?

We spent a lot of my teenage years being angry and dysfunctional and yelling at each other, but now we're grown-ups I'm a grown-up so it doesn't happen as often. As it turns out, fighting with your teenager, even a lot, actually teaches them to resist peer pressure. But I wouldn't be surprised if it also encourages just better critical thinking and a healthy skepticism regarding authority. Teacher Dad also always held me and my brother to high standards when it came to academic performance (white people do Tiger Parenting too, guys) and just whatever we did in general. It was okay to suck and fail sometimes, just as long as you did the best you could. (High standards also seems to be a theme throughout this Friday 5. Well then.)

Honorable mention:

Ueda Jiro (Trick)

He is technically a physics professor, although we never see him do any teaching in the show (which is why he gets an honorable mention instead of a place in the list proper). Even if he's often a jerk, you can tell that he really cares about Yamada. Hiroshi Abe is also just a lot of fun to watch. He has a great deadpan comic presence.

Who are some of your favorite teachers, real or otherwise?


  1. Yay, Chang! I love your stories about your real-life teachers. My absolute favorite teacher in high school was my AP English teacher, and I kept in touch with him for years...he ended up moving to Alaska and we lost touch but I still remember him as one of my favorite people ever. Luckily for him though, the AP kids at my school really loved learning and were very respectful...which is a little strange for American classrooms, for sure=P

    1. My AP teacher was also the de facto English teacher for almost the entire 10th grade, which is when most kids grumped about her. It's also when I remember having my teaching epiphany, as my class was full of obnoxious little shits who probably shouldn't have been in the so-called "honors track" to begin with (BUT THAT'S ANOTHER TALE OF HIGH SCHOOL WOE).

      AP Language and Composition in 11th grade was a calmer, less chaotic, and more serious/interesting class than the 10th grade madhouse because all of the students in there, even if they didn't like R-B, were at least serious about studying. I think we all looked down our noses at the students in AP Literature and Composition in 12th grade who hadn't run the AP 11 gauntlet. Like, the class almost doubled in size just because that many students didn't want R-B as a teacher.