Our favorite TV teachers
Educators are a huge part of our lives. Sure, they can be the bane of our existence, but the really good ones can be mentors who help us find ourselves and set us on the paths to our future. Sometimes we need a teacher to show us our true potential and other times they need to be there to lay down the law. Whether they’re the head of the glee club, an inspiring drama professor, or the high school principal, TV is bursting with educators just doing their best (and sometimes their worst) for their students.
Mr. Feeny (William Daniels) on Boy Meets World
Feeny, F-F-F-Feeny! Every ’90s kid dreamed of getting a lecture in life lessons from the venerable Mr. George Feeny, a man who was full of wisdom and side-splitting bon mots. Whether he was the Matthews’ next-door neighbor, a sixth-grade teacher, a principal, or even a college professor, Feeny always toed the line between authority figure and kindly mentor, particularly to the eldest Matthews sibling, Eric. May we all have a Mr. Feeny in our lives.
Mr. Kotter (Gabe Kaplan) in Welcome Back Kotter
Welcome Back, Kotter is probably best remembered for a young John Travolta’s luscious locks, but at its heart was the titular Mr. Kotter, a wise-cracking, caring teacher in charge of a diverse classroom of remedial students known as the “Sweathogs.” Though the principal expected the students to drop out, Kotter befriended many of them and helped them unlock their own potential. It turned out he was once a remedial student himself, and he used that as a bonding mechanism. The sitcom stood as a true testament to good teachers and their ability to impact our lives.
Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison) on Glee
Mr. Schue was the inspiring teacher we all wish we had. Feeling trapped in a loveless marriage, Will Schuester restarted the glee club that gave him the most defining moments of his high school years. Along the way, he found a salvation of his own, but also taught the members of the Glee club to follow their dreams, be kind to each other, and have each other’s backs (as well as the pertinent life lesson that there is a Journey song for every occasion). If every kid had a Mr. Schue in their life helping to raise them up, the world would be a better place. All we ask is that they do approximately 100% less rapping.
Lydia Grant (Debbie Allen) on Fame
Fame! I want to live forever… Lydia Grant taught her students at the fictional New York City High School for the Performing Arts (based on the very real LaGuardia High School) the true cost of fame, pushing them to their sweaty breaking points in her dance class. She doled out tough love, but she was exactly what the students needed to build the thick skin necessary to succeed in the brutal world of professional dance. Bonus points go out to Debbie Allen for also being the series’ choreographer and winning an Emmy for singing the original song “I Still Believe in Me” in an episode.
Max Medina (Scott Cohen) on Gilmore Girls
Max Medina was every bookish woman’s dream and every teenage girl’s nightmare — the hot English teacher who dates your mom. Mr. Medina was a brilliant literature instructor and one of the most beloved teachers at Chilton, but things got awkward for Rory (Alexis Bledel) when he dated and eventually got engaged to Lorelei. Though he didn’t have a happy ending on the series, we wish our English teachers were this romantic and intelligent.
Mr. Garvey (Keegan-Michael Key) on Key and Peele
When he first appeared in the “Substitute Teacher” sketch, Mr. Garvey quickly became one of the most popular characters on the beloved Key and Peele comedy show. A veteran inner-city school teacher, Mr. Garvey would not take any lip from his students — even if he was mispronouncing all of their stereotypical white names. Garvey was not only a hysterical riff on the unpredictable substitute teacher but provided great commentary on race relations and which names society designates as “mainstream.”
Ms. Valerie Frizzle (Lily Tomlin) on The Magic School Bus
Hop aboard the Magic School Bus for a life-changing lesson with Ms. Frizzle. The quirky red-headed teacher — who never saw a wacky patterned dress she didn’t like — made sure to teach her students the importance of hands-on research and that learning is always an adventure. Leading students on in-depth lessons that involved taking the Magic School Bus to exotic locales ranging from the Arctic to the inside of the human body, Ms. Frizzle always had a few surprises up her sleeve.
Lou Mazzuchelli (Josh Radnor) on Rise
There are a lot of reasons to dislike Mr. Mazzu — number one being that he got a job he has no business having over the far more qualified Tracey Wolfe (Rosie Perez). And he has a propensity for bull-headedness and concepts that don’t necessarily fit in with the limitations of a high school drama department. Still, his commitment to his students (which extends to letting a foster kid live with him) and his belief in offering teenagers and a wounded town the chance to heal through a high school production of Spring Awakening is an admirable (if occasionally misguided) goal. It’s a “Bitch of Living,” but Mr. Mazzu, we’ve all got our junk and our junk is you.
Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor) on How I Met Your Mother
Ted Mosby’s architecture career had just about as many ups and downs as his storied dating history, but he found a fulfilling career when he was offered a position as an architecture professor at Columbia University. Though he got off to a rocky start fueled by his own anxiety, he eventually ended up loving teaching. In true How I Met Your Mother meta-fashion, Ted still has his own page on the website Rate My Professor.
Charlie Moore (Howard Hesseman) on Head of the Class
Mr. Moore was not exactly the ideal teacher. An out-of-work actor, he took up substitute teaching to pay the bills and found himself in charge of a group of highly gifted students. The show found its humor in contrasting the more strait-laced nature of the teens with Moore’s unique and occasionally off-the-wall hippie advice. But ultimately, his unconventional (and casual) approach helped his students respect each other and learn to consider and pursue their individual talents in ways beyond the expectations of their school and parents.
Jessica Day (Zooey Deschanel) on New Girl
Has there ever been a more adorkable teacher than Jessica Day? When Jess first applies to be the titular New Girl and the new roommate of three quirky guys, one of her defining features is her occupation as a teacher and her dedication to her students. The show saw her get laid off and fill the gaps with adult education and subbing before rising to become a vice principal and principal. Her love life may be an on-again, off-again mess, but Ms. Day always has her life (and her adorable school supplies) in order when it comes to her job.
Uncle Joey (Dave Coulier) on Full House
Uncle Joey had a short-lived, but memorable tenure as a substitute teacher on the eighth season of Full House. When Michelle’s (Ashley/Mary-Kate Olsen) class needed a substitute teacher, Uncle Joey agreed to step in, but he quickly discovered the class was out of control and had to lay down the law. This upset Michelle who decided to lead the class in giving Joey the silent treatment (how rude!). It was an important lesson for Michelle about authority and learning to listen to her teachers, even if they also happen to be one of her hilarious family members at home.
Ben Chang (Ken Jeong) on Community
When we first met Ben Chang, he was the slightly unstable Spanish teacher at Greendale Community College. It eventually turned out that he completely faked his teaching credentials, but he remained a fixture at the college as a music student, a security guard, the leader of a coup, and more. We hope your Spanish teacher knew more than a few phrases from Sesame Street!
Mr. Katimski (Jeff Perry) on My So-Called Life
Mr. Katimski was a groundbreaking onscreen teacher in so many ways. Not only was he a passionately devoted English teacher (and part-time drama instructor), but he was also openly gay — something rare for both television and educators when the series was airing in the early ’90s. Mr. Katimski delivers a highly memorable speech, known as the hallway scene, with the immortal line, “Nobody should hate who they are.” May we all have a Mr. Katimski to turn to when we need help with accepting ourselves or who we might be in love with.