By Hillary Busis
August 31, 2012 at 02:30 PM EDT
Everett Collection

Great teachers are all alike, in a sense — they’re mentors, role models, lifelong inspirations. Terrible teachers, on the other hand, are all awful in different ways. Some are drunken burnouts, while others are obnoxious frauds or sexually amorphous jerks who invite their personal BDSM slaves to perform lewd acts in front of their fourth graders. (Okay, that last one is probably limited to South Park).

Still, TV shows and movies are filled with characters who exemplify both poles. And in honor of back-to-school season, PopWatch wants to know who you think deserves to be at the head of the class — as well as who needs to have their teaching certification revoked, pronto.

The rules: These polls focus on teachers, so school administrators (sorry, Principal Belding), librarians (ditto, Rupert Giles), coaches (adios, Sue Sylvester), headmistresses (good riddance, Matilda‘s Trunchbull) and guidance counselors (you too, Mr. Russo from Freaks and Geeks) weren’t eligible for inclusion. Otherwise, though, it’s anyone’s game. Will you exalt Mr. Feeny and denounce Professor Umbridge, or celebrate Dead Poets Society English teacher Mr. Keating while pooh-poohing Ms. Halsey of Bad Teacher? The choice is yours and yours alone — but here are your options. Don’t worry; we made sure to show our work.

BEST

Honorable mentions: Professor Indiana Jones, who is awesome but doesn’t spend much time in the classroom; Mr. Schneebly (a.k.a. Dewey Finn) from School of Rock, who got his class rocking but relied too much on help from a precocious fifth grader.

Miss Geist, Clueless

Why she gets an A: Cher Horowitz’s instructor has contagious compassion. She can even inspire her self-centered students to think about the plight of other people — no small feat in Beverly Hills.  

Room for improvement: Even after her makeover, Miss Geist remains a little, uh, sartorially challenged.

Mr. Feeny, Boy Meets World

Why he gets an A: Infinitely patient, supernaturally wise, and just snarky enough, Feeny is a national treasure. When he tells you to open a book,  you open a book, damnit!

Room for improvement: In some circles, following the same three kids from elementary school to college is called “stalking.

Mr. Kotter, Welcome Back, Kotter

Why he gets an A: Buchanan High’s Sweathogs were known to be unteachable — until wisecracking Mr. Kotter came along and encouraged them to live up to their potential.

Room for improvement: Sometimes, his jokes get in the way of, you know, actually teaching anything.

Mr. Keating, Dead Poets Society

Why he gets an A: Oh Captain, my Captain! Free-spirited English teacher Keating breathed life into stuffy Welton Academy, encouraging his students to think for themselves and carpe the diem.

Room for improvement: Well, there was that kid who killed himself. And Keating’s also partially to blame for every sappy “inspirational teacher” movie that came in DPS‘s wake, as well as Robin Williams’ descent into the maudlin.

Professor McGonagall, Harry Potter series

Why she gets an A: Tough but fair, McGonagall is an excellent teacher who doubles as a badass member of the Order of the Phoenix. It’s not just anyone who could survive four Stunning spells to the chest.

Room for improvement: Minerva could stand to let loose every once in awhile — we bet she’s a blast after a few butterbeers.

Mr. Bergstrom, The Simpsons

Why he gets an A: Poor, stifled Lisa Simpson doesn’t get much support at Springfield Elementary — until Mr. Bergstrom shows up and teachers her to have faith in herself.

Room for improvement: He leaves just when Lisa needs him most. Of course, that’s how substitute teaching works — but couldn’t they at least have stayed pen pals?

NEXT: The nominees for Worst Teacher, featuring familiar faces from South Park, Community, and Harry Potter… again.

WORST

Honorable mentions: Ms. Hart and Ms. Covett from Notes on a Scandal, who are both twisted and a tiny bit sympathetic; Ferris Bueller’s Econ teacher, who doesn’t have enough screen time to prove how terrible he really is.

Mr./Mrs. Garrison, South Park

Why s/he gets an F: How much time do you have? When Garrison isn’t berating his students, he’s spouting racist drivel or putting a gerbil into somebody’s butt — right in front of the chalkboard.

Partial credit: Er… he really seemed to love Mr. Hat?

Mrs. Krabappel, The Simpsons

Why she gets an F: Snide, jaded, and inappropriately sexual on school grounds, Krabappel is the embodiment of everything that’s wrong with America’s public school system.

Partial credit: Her romance with Principal Skinner was sort of sweet… at least, the first time around.

Señor Chang, Community

Why he gets an F: He’s loud, obnoxious, devious — and, oh yeah, he doesn’t even have a teaching degree.

Partial credit: Chang got a little more tolerable once he was fired from his post — but being pathetic isn’t the same as being sympathetic.

Ms. Halsey, Bad Teacher

Why she gets an F: Doy. The movie isn’t called Good Teacher.

Partial credit: She’s nicer by the final reel, though she’s also no longer a teacher.

Professor Umbridge, Harry Potter series

Why she gets an F: Between the kitten fixation, the poisoned-honey voice, and the way she tortures students in detention (“I must not tell lies”), Umbridge is one of the most evil characters in the entire Harry Potter saga. And that’s saying something.

Partial credit: None whatsoever. Unless you’re a Slytherin.

Mr. McAllister, Election

Why he gets an F: He doesn’t sleep with a student, like his fired best pal — but Mr. McAllister does let his affair distract him from his work, and his personal vendetta against Tracy Flick really goes beyond the pale.

Partial credit: Come on, Tracy’s really annoying. Wouldn’t you also want to take her down a peg?

Read more:

Back to school: Who’s the cruelest mean girl of them all? — VOTE

Jon Stewart gives back-to-school wisdom — VIDEO

35 Hot TV/Movie Teachers

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