As Some ‘Reformers’ Disrespect Public School Teachers, It’s Nice Seeing Top-Notch Teachers in Fiction

Teachers in literature! Most are smart, hardworking, and compassionate — like most real-life teachers we and our children had and have.

So it’s a shame that public school teachers aren’t more respected these days by many politicians, bureaucrats, and other bigwigs. For that reason, this blog post will offer an opinionated interlude before discussing some of fiction’s most memorable instructors.

One of my other writing pursuits is a topical humor column called “Montclairvoyant” that runs weekly in my hometown newspaper, The Montclair (N.J.) Times. An issue I’ve frequently focused on has been how education “reform” adversely affects teachers — and of course students, too.

This bipartisan “reform” began in earnest with President Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” initiative and continued with President Obama’s “Race to the Top” funding. “Race to the Top” basically bribed states to use the crummy Common Core curriculum (which doesn’t have enough emphasis on things like literature, art, music, etc.) and to increase standardized testing with exams such as the PARCCs. Those are the “Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers” tests given twice a year even to elementary school students whose college and career plans are far in the future.

Standardized testing has increased so much that, when prep time is factored in, weeks and months are spent on those exams at the expense of fun, creative, effective learning. So, teachers are losing lots of their autonomy, even though they know best what their students need. Meanwhile, test results are also used to evaluate teachers, even though teachers have no control over the socioeconomic factors that make it harder for some students to learn.

Why all this “reform”? Part of it can be explained by “following the money.” Selling the tests and other classroom materials to school districts enriches private corporations such as Pearson, and selling the computers on which the standardized tests are given enriches tech companies. Also, if students and public schools are seen as failing — which the results of confusing, badly designed, age-inappropriate tests can create a false impression of — some districts might find their public schools replaced by charter schools that make many dollars for hedge-fund guys and other rich people. (Charters get taxpayer money, but taxpayers have no say in how they’re run.)

And charter school teachers usually aren’t unionized — meaning “reform” is partly designed to lessen the influence of (or even break) teacher unions. Also, the teaching field includes many women and Democrats, so right-wing Republicans love to see educators and public schools harassed. Which makes it even more disturbing that certain prominent Democrats such as Obama are also committed to “reform” — even as they and their fellow “reformers” in the GOP often hypocritically send their own kids to private schools that don’t have to deal with the Common Core and endless standardized tests like the PARCCs.

Great news, though: Many public school parents are refusing to allow their kids to take the PARCCs. In my town, the refusal rate was a magnificent 42.6% during the first round of tests this year (despite the fact that our PARCC-supporting, now-former superintendent provided parents with little “opt out” info), and that figure will undoubtedly grow. This pushback happened through the efforts of parents and others — some unaffiliated, some who are members of the Montclair Cares About Schools organization, some who are among the members of the “Share Montclair” Facebook group, etc.

A link to a recent “Montclairvoyant” column.

Anyway, most people trust and like teachers much more than they trust and like the corporate-friendly bigwigs foisting “reform” on public schools. One of my favorite fictional teachers is none other than Anne Shirley in Anne of Avonlea, the first sequel to L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. Anne becomes a teacher while still a pre-college teen — and predictably things don’t always go smoothly. But she is as kind and imaginative in her Canadian classroom as she is in her personal life, and earns the love and respect of students.

Another beloved teacher is Charles Chipping of James Hilton’s novel Goodbye, Mr. Chips, who starts off as a rather rigid and conventional educator but warms up over the course of his many-decade career at an English public boarding school.

Also in England, there’s the innovative teacher Ricky Braithwaite who wins over his at-first unmotivated students in E.R. Braithwaite’s autobiographical novel To Sir, With Love — later made into the famous movie starring Sidney Poitier.

Jane Eyre was briefly a teacher as well, and a good one, after fleeing Thornfield Hall in Charlotte Bronte’s classic novel. (Previously, she instructed one kid — Edward Rochester’s ward Adele — while governess at Thornfield.) Jane’s teaching approach was undoubtedly inspired, at least subconsciously, by the wonderful Maria Temple at the initially miserable Lowood institution Jane was forced to attend as a girl.

In American fiction, among the many admirable educators is drama teacher Dan Needham of John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany.

Great teachers abound in children’s books, too, with one of the best being the ingenious, enthusiastic Ms. Frizzle of The Magic School Bus series written by Joanna Cole and illustrated by Bruce Degen.

Of course, not all teachers are terrific. In J.K. Rowling’s blockbuster Harry Potter series, for instance, educators range from admirable (think Minerva McGonagall) to incompetent (think Gilderoy Lockhart).

Then there are teachers somewhere in the middle of the competence spectrum. Ida Ramundo means well in Elsa Morante’s History novel, but her classroom performance deteriorates as she becomes overwhelmed by various disasters while trying to survive in Nazi-occupied Rome.

The title character in Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is an educator with charisma, but unfortunately she has fascist sympathies.

Also on the irresponsible side is young teacher Aimee Lanthenay, who has an affair with the student star of Claudine at School. But almost everything is played for laughs in Colette’s first novel, so the major ethical breach seems somewhat muted.

Who are the fictional teachers you remember most?

You’re also welcome to mention literature’s memorable professors (something I discussed in this 2012 post), or talk about America’s education situation in general.

(The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area — unless you’re replying to someone else.)

For three years of my Huffington Post literature blog, click here.

I’m writing a literature-related book, but still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as Ann Landers and “Dear Abby,” and other notables such as Hillary Clinton, Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.

110 thoughts on “As Some ‘Reformers’ Disrespect Public School Teachers, It’s Nice Seeing Top-Notch Teachers in Fiction

    • Good morning, bebe! Thanks for the comment. Well said! Thanks for the great YouTube clip, too. 🙂

      I just read the summary of that NPR interview. REALLY interesting.

      Somewhere in my collection of 45s, I have B.B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone” from when I was a teenager.

      Liked by 1 person

      • On a totally different topic, bebe, I just finished “Killing Floor” last night. Wow! A tremendous action/thriller. I can see how it really jump-started the Jack Reacher series. In some ways you can tell it’s the first novel of the series — the prose and dialogue, while excellent, are not quite as snappy as they would become. And Reacher, while definitely REACHER, is a bit different. For instance, he shows a tiny bit of fear amid his amazing courage. Also, he actually thinks about getting into a long-term relationship with the main female protagonist. Lee Child’s middle names are “Page-Turning Author”! 🙂


        • That is great Dave..I was reading Harold Fry this afternoon…the writing is superb i have only read one third of the book. You would love it too…some of the thought process of Harold and some chapters are about his wife Maureen.
          After this one I will read Killing Floor.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Thanks, bebe! I hope to get to the Rachel Joyce novel you mention within a couple of months. Glad you’re finding its writing so great!

            My Lee Child addiction is delaying a bit my getting to some of the other books on my reading list, but I’m still limiting myself to one Jack Reacher novel a month. It’s taking a lot of willpower. 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

            • I was laughing the thoughts inside Maureen…Harold was walking and she lied to her neighbor that he sprained his ankle and now he wants to visit him.
              Then she went to see a consult and she got an intern instead and mentioned her husband has Alzheimer..and the way the intern was asking the details and she was answering is absolutely hilarious.

              Liked by 1 person

  1. Hey Dave, with you 110% on the need for our society to treat educators better. Many of my dearest friends have dedicated their lives to teaching the mostly spoiled brats of the rest of us and they deserve more respect and better pay. That said please forgive the glibness to follow. My first thought was of the protagonist from Robertson Davies’s The Deptford Trilogy ,than I recalled being upset at myself for missing the boat(pun intended) on your recent mismatched couples piece. I don’t remember ever seeing Patrick O’ Brian’s Aubrey- Maturin series ever come up nor do I know if you’ve read any of the adventures of the late 18th early 19th century duo but they are wonderful ,well informed novels. Captain Lucky Jack Aubrey is much what one expects from a British sailor gruff , direct , funny and mostly uncultured , though he plays a mean violin , adventurer. Steven Maturin ,the ships surgeon is a fascinating man of science and the Enlightenment. He is also a spy for England even though he’d been an Irish rebel in his youth. Anyway back to your theme. In one of the latter novels( I’m going from memory so my quotes are approximate ) it transpires that the ships Captain has a duty to tutor any minors in his charge. While Jack is giving history lessons he becomes confused and asks Steven ” What was it the Americans rebelled over , no fornication without representation ” Steven gamely replies ” No Jack it was taxation , I believe the colonists were all for fornication ” So there it is ,hope I gave you your laugh of the day 🙂

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    • I totally agree, Donny, about the need to treat educators better. Like you, I have friends (and family) in that profession, and the tales they tell…

      As for the authors you expertly mention, I’ve read Robertson Davies’ “Murther & Walking Spirits” (intriguing novel filled with journalists — one dead — rather than teachers 🙂 ) but haven’t gotten to that Canadian writer’s “The Deptford Trilogy.” I haven’t read any of Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey–Maturin work, but loved your interesting/engaging description of some of it — and the hilarious excerpt. Yes, that is the laugh of the day!


  2. The number of teachers in YA literature are numerous. I still think Ms Frizzle outshines them all.

    My favorite character who is a teacher would have to be Suzan Sto Helit. She is not only Death’s granddaughter but in her final appearance in the late Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels she’s also become a school teacher, after a stint as a governess. She is fun, likable, and yet strict. Her ability to deal with any situation in a calm manner makes her a rare character in the series.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ms. Frizzle IS great, GL, isn’t she? I also love the animated “Magic School Bus” episodes with that teacher voiced by the terrific Lily Tomlin.

      I haven’t read a lot of YA literature lately, but I’m not surprised that that genre has many educator characters.

      That teacher in the late Terry Pratchett’s work sounds excellent. Thanks for mentioning and describing her! And she does seem to have quite a grandfather… 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Howdy, Dave!

    — Who are the fictional teachers you remember most? —

    Although most folks likely know The Great Nat Hentoff through his many excellent nonfictional articles on either civil liberties or jazz, he also has authored a number of fictional works such as the novel “In the Country of Ourselves,” focusing on sociopolitical change through the multicolored prism of students and teachers at a secondary school in an era remarkably like the late 1960s-early 1970s. Although character development isn’t exactly the author’s thing in this work, its most memorable teacher to me is Mr. Scanlan, the adviser to the school newspaper, which, of course, affords the writer the chance to discuss the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights here and there — beginning on the first page, as I recall.

    Speaking of such recollections reminds of the only time I was able to employ a very old joke about truancy in the appropriate circumstances during my own secondary-school career. Basically, I cut all my classes five consecutive days to work on my foul shot, meaning I didn’t have any kind of excuse note penned by my parental unit to give the appropriate authority upon my return to school. Naturally, the homeroom honcho sent me to the vice principal to be disciplined (again). The vice principal and I discussed the facts of the matter. Pause. And he said to me, “Why do you hate school?” And I said to him, “I don’t hate school: It’s the principal of the thing.”

    J.J. (Alias MugRuith1)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, J.J.! I didn’t know that Nat Hentoff has been a fiction writer in addition to being a columnist and jazz writer. Not surprised that Hentoff put that Mr. Scanlan character into a position where he (Hentoff) could discuss constitutional matters. 🙂

      As for your second paragraph: Though that is indeed an old joke, I have to say…VERY well-played!


  4. I remember reading Pat Conroy’s “The Water is Wide” many years ago. This book is a memoir/novel about a young teacher assigned to a small island off the coast of South Carolina. The residents of the island are mostly African-American descendants of slaves, who have very little connections with the mainland or with mainstream America. His wide-eyed objective is to educate the children to bring them into the great society that is America and to prepare them for a future in this society. During this process, he encounters the effects of racism and tradition, but has success in reaching these students. More importantly, the teacher becomes the student and learns more from the folks of this island then he is able to teach them. I believe that great teachers never stop being enthusiastic students. This book was made into a movie in the ‘70’s titled “Conrack” starring Jon Voight. I recall seeing the movie at the local theater when I was much younger, but have not encountered it since.

    Liked by 1 person

    • drb19810, I also remember seeing that “Conrack” movie many years ago! But until reading your comment, I didn’t realize the film was based on a novel with a different name.

      When teachers do appear in literature, the narrative arc frequently has them facing a difficult classroom situation before finally winning over the students — often in an innovative way. The “History” novel I mentioned in my post is one of the opposite exceptions; the protagonist basically has the attention of her students before eventually losing that as she gets buffeted by life.

      And you make a great point in your eloquent comment that good teachers never stop trying to learn — including from their students.


    • One of my memories from that movie was when John Voight and Hume Cronyn, as the old style school administrator, are in a bar and the TV is on news coverage of anti-war demonstrators in Washington. Hume says with a disgusted expression something like, “Look at those animals! I wouldn’t give ’em a bucket of spit if they were starving in the desert.” Then he notices his son among those ‘animals’ flashing a peace sign at the camera. “Is that my boy Ralphie? Ralphie! Ralphie!”

      Liked by 1 person

      • What a GREAT scene, bobess48! I had totally forgotten it. I saw that movie the year it came out — 1974 — so it’s now all a blur.

        Today, some people know Jon Voight only as the father of Angelina Jolie!


        • Wow – like you, Dave, and Bobess (I assume), I saw the movie “Conrack” in the theater during its original release (40 years ago – fellow old men!). How interesting that we were all impacted by this film, but yet it is unheard of today. (I just did a Netflix search – to my knowledge, it has never been released on DVD).

          Liked by 1 person

          • Frightening how much time has passed, drb19810. 🙂

            I’m shocked that “Conrack” might not be available for home viewing. A very good movie, and Jon Voight was well known back in the day. I wonder if there’s some copyright issue. But I guess the film might be more obscure than we think!


            • by the way, I should have said something long ago, but you can save some keystrokes by referring to me as drb (and skip the 19810, which is simply my zip code that distinguishes me from other drb’s on other sites)

              Liked by 1 person

            • I just checked on Amazon and it’s only available as a Japanese import (average price ($34.99). It’s also a Region 2 DVD, which means that it won’t play on most DVD players in the U.S. I thought it had been available on VHS at some point because I know I’ve seen it again since 1974, other than on network TV.

              Liked by 1 person

            • The movie ‘Conrack’ and the autobiographical memoir on which it was based, ‘The Water is Wide’, were the first time that I heard of Pat Conroy. I think I may still have a copy of ‘The Prince of Tides’ but after all these years have read to read anything by him, despite my brother’s strong recommendations (I think he’s even seen him and gone to a book signing at least once). Guess I’d better get onto that.

              Liked by 1 person

              • bobess48, I’ve never read Pat Conroy myself; my only (indirect) exposure to his work was “Conrack.”

                There are so many authors, so I guess we all have to choose which ones to read and which ones not to read. 🙂


              • The only other work by Pat Conroy that I’ve read is “Lords of Discipline”, a not-too-complimentary look at the Citadel from a cadet’s point of view during the time that the first African-American student was admitted. Conroy pulls from his own experiences as an alumnus of the Citadel to enrich this novel. I loved this book. When I found out that Conroy wrote “The Water is Wide”, and that it was the basis for “Conrack”, I had to read it, since I had remembered the movie from years earlier.

                Liked by 1 person

              • Dear bobess48, I read “The Prince of Tides” many years ago, which I enjoyed, yet I was going through a major depression at the time, so does that even count? I’m only kidding In acknowledgement that each of us deals with depression or other mental illnesses in our own way.

                Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Dave, unfortunately I’m unable to contribute this week, as I can think of no way to mention “Gone with the Wind” unless I can talk about non-classroom teachers, in which case, I think everyone should have a Mammy, even if she was a darkie.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s a shame that an otherwise great novel like “Gone With the Wind” is shot through with racism, as you wryly allude to in your comment. Not sure if you ever saw this article, Susan, but it’s a good one:

      As you also allude to, some novels can indeed fit into almost any thematic essay about literature. In the case of “Gone With the Wind,” we have: Racism in literature — check! Greed in literature — check! War in literature — check! Bad marriages in literature — check! Curtains turned into dresses in literature — check! 🙂


      • Lol at your last line, Dave. With my current re-read though, I’m actually finding the book to be more sexist than racist. However, I don’t think that either the racism, or sexism, or curtain cutting at all detracts from the greatness of the novel, as it’s obviously very accurate for the period that “Gone With the Wind” is set in.

        Thanks for the link to that article. Interesting and thought provoking, though I’m not sure I agree with all of it.

        I just randomly bought “Ruth’s Journeý” which is Mammy’s story during her time before Tara, so that could be interesting. Though it will have to be a guilty pleasure read, as I’m not actually supposed to buy books anymore. Why can’t I stop… 😦

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks for your excellent follow-up comment, Susan! I haven’t read “Gone With the Wind” in a long time, but it definitely has lots of sexism. As always in a case like that, one wonders how much of things is an author being sexist, racist, etc., and how much of it is just an accurate rendering of (in this case) a 19th-century world. As you note, “obviously very accurate for the period.”

          There’s also the age-old question of what we think of excellent novels that also happen to have some intolerance, and/or are written by authors with controversial views.

          I’d be very interested to hear what “Ruth’s Journeý” is like, and what you think of it.

          Last but not least, it IS hard to stop buying books. There are much worse habits. 🙂


          • “Gone With the Wind” was written so long after the Civil War, that I forget it was written so long before now. Not only were sexism and racism social norms in the 1800s, they were still norms in the 1930s. That being the case, I think Margaret Mitchell was very ahead of her time. Scarlett alone is an amazingly independent character, and some of the thoughts that she has (such as lusting after other women’s husbands, and confessing that she finds her own children bothersome) are downright shameful. Her interactions with Rhett are just incredible. And when Rhett says, ‘Why, Scarlett! You must have been reading a newspaper! I’m surprised at you. Don’t do it again. It addles women’s brains.’ I can only imagine that Margaret Mitchell’s tongue was very much in her cheek. Especially when compared to lines like Scarlett’s ‘Oh, if I just wasn’t a lady, what I wouldn’t tell that varmint!’ I guess that kind of sexism could be considered intolerant, but I’m finding it to be very good fun. A lot of books have the poor down trodden soul rise up at the end to vanquish the bullies, but the real world just isn’t like that, (at least not very often) and so I don’t mind if the literature I read covers the darker side of human nature, as long as it’s done well. And in my personal opinion, despite tackling about a thousand different topics, Mitchell nails them all.

            I’m looking forward to reading Donald McCaig’s ‘authorised’ prequel to GWTW, however it’s going to take a LONG time to get there. I have so many books on my to read list, which is one of the reasons that I’m not supposed to buy more. Plus I have a kindle, so hard copies are just a no-no. But sometimes they’re so pretty and they sing to me, and I just can’t help myself…

            Liked by 1 person

            • Very true, Susan — “Gone With the Wind” should be looked at with a double lens: set in the 19th century and written in the 1930s, when, as you say, gender roles were still pretty rigid.

              But, yes, the flawed Scarlett O’Hara is a very strong female character. And I think you’re right that there are some tongue-in-cheek aspects in her depiction.

              After seeing your comment, I’m convinced I should eventually reread “GWTW.” Like you, I have a very long reading list, so the emphasis is on “eventually.” 🙂

              As someone who doesn’t use a Kindle (yet), I can’t argue with what you said about the appeal of printed books. Loved the last line of your comment!


  6. I just recalled a teacher or set of teachers from literature. Dickens superintendent Gradgrind (perfect name for this character in a school institution) in ‘Hard Times’ was the first to come to mind, with his repetitive trademark line, “What I want is FACTS!’ I don’t remember very much else about him or the novel, surprisingly enough, since I only read it about five years ago. I’m sure Dickens peppered several of his novels with these tyrannical figures, just can’t think of one specifically.

    Tom Sawyer in his eponymous novel also suffered at the hands of a disciplinarian schoolmaster. I remember him being asked to name two of the disciples and he just blurts, out of desperation, “DAVID AND GOLIATH!” Time to pull out that switch.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oops, I misremembered an important detail from ‘Tom Sawyer’. The question about the disciples was in church. Nonetheless, the preacher or Sunday School teacher or whoever he was, was a pretty brutal disciplinarian to be switching Tom for giving the wrong answer to a Bible question.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Great “Hard Times” reference, bobess48! I don’t remember much about that novel, either, except that it was one of Dickens’ shorter books. “Gradgrind” is one of Dickens’ better character names — and he coined a number of vivid/memorable ones.

      Nice “Tom Sawyer” mention, too! That was a hilarious scene in church! Tom was definitely not an, um, academic. 🙂


  7. Anne Frank wrote a series of short stories, personal anecdotes, and the rough draft of a novel that were placed in a special collection. Tales From the Secret Annex was initially published in 1949, and re-published in, I believe, 1961.

    There were chapters where Anne fondly recalled some humourous incidents with two of her teachers. The first teacher (Miss Riegel) taught Biology to Margot Frank, then Anne. Anne felt that Miss Riegel disliked and purposely picked on her in class.

    When Anne received a low mark on her report card, she was furious, and told her parents how Miss Riegel treated her in class. Anne’s father Otto went to the school to speak with Miss Riegel. The teacher informed Mr. Frank that she did not dislike Anne; in fact, Miss Riegel stated she felt that Anne was a sweet child.

    The second teacher was Mr. Mijnheer Heesing, Anne’s geometry teacher. Mr. Heesing and Anne frequently bumped heads because of Anne’s talkative nature. One time, he assigned her an essay to write as punishment for her constant talking in class. Her next punishment for talking in class was the same as the first: write an essay. It got to the point where everytime Anne was caught talking in class, her teacher assigned another essay for her to write.

    This actually helped Anne establish a fond relationship with Mr. Heesing. He took notice of her creativity and read her essays in class to the amusement of her classmates. Anne was given the nickname Mrs. Quackenbush by her classmates…because she quacked all day long like a duck. LOL…cute nickname.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great mention of Anne Frank, Ana, and thanks for the tons of interesting information either I didn’t know or had forgotten. (I haven’t read “The Diary of Anne Frank” in a LONG time.) What a brilliant, engaging adult she would have been had she lived.


      • This collection is not as well known as The Diary. If I’m remembering correctly, the short stories and first few chapters of the novel she was working on were written in a notebook separate from the diary entries.

        The stories about her teachers are very funny, and the fairy tales are quite adorable. I hope you get a chance to read this collection one day.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Oops — sorry, Ana. You were referring to Anne Frank’s “Tales From the Secret Annex,” not her diary. Not a problem with your previous comment, but a temporary problem with my reading comprehension. 🙂 It does sounds like quite a collection!


  8. Killing Mr. Griffin is a mystery/suspense book by Lois Duncan. It is about five high school students whose plot to kidnap and intimidate their English teacher goes terribly wrong.

    Little background on Mr. Brian Griffin: He taught English literature, and was not a popular teacher. Known for strict discipline, Mr. Griffin was disliked by just about every student in his classes because he graded hard, gave lots of homework, and frequently embarrassed/shamed students in class who did not complete their assignments. Mr. Griffin did not believe in being a “peer” to his students, which was something the more popular teachers were doing.

    There was only one student he successfully established a good relationship with; unfortunately, that student was one of the five who was involved in the kidnap plot. This student was very smart, very studious, loved classic literature, and Mr. Griffin felt that she was the type of student that made teaching worthwhile. Based on her profile, it’s hard to see how she would become entangled in a plan to kidnap her favourite teacher. Lots of twists and turns that explain her involvement and how the plot unfolded.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Whoa — that sounds like a pretty intense book, Ana. I guess Brian Griffin wasn’t an Anne Shirley-like or Mr. Chips-like teacher!

      Too bad those five students didn’t try to kidnap and kill a PARCC test. Of course, given that Lois Duncan’s novel was from 1978 and the PARCCs didn’t start until this spring, that might have been difficult… 🙂

      Thanks for the terrific summary of “Killing Mr. Griffin”!


      • Let’s set this up: five students break into a fictional school…we’ll call it ABC Elementary…kidnap a PARCC exam, and take it out to the woods to intimidate it.

        Dave, it would be a tragedy if we didn’t get this project rolling. You write, I’ll direct, and we’ll come up with a good soundtrack.

        Of course, we can just focus on making an awesome soundtrack to distract the audience from the crappy movie we make:)

        Liked by 1 person

        • LOL, Ana! (Especially your last paragraph.) We could always remake “Barefoot in the PARCC,” “Jurassic PARCC,” or “Mansfield PARCC.” Heck, if Jane Austen had a rigid Common Core education, her wonderful novels might have been unreadable…


          • OMG, you did not say Jurassic PARCC. LOL!!! That seriously made me laugh. You simply can’t get any better than computer engineered, man-eating examinations that also look like dinosaurs. That is almost as awesome as killer klowns coming in from outer space.

            Something is missing though. There should be an anti-PARCC coalition to fight and defeat these disastrous dinoexams on the battlefield. You should lead this coalition, Dave. And of course, if you guys are gonna fight these evil dinoexams, you need a good fight song playing in the background.

            I can’t think of a more appropriate song than Kung Fu Fighting. Every horrendous, low-budget, B-list movie needs a song like this on the soundtrack:

            Liked by 1 person

            • Ha ha! Love the subtitles of that “video,” including the occasional misspelling!

              Yes, Ana, it’s hard to beat CGI movie dinosaurs for campy fun. I wonder if the real dinosaur community had their clowns, and if any of those dino-clowns were of the “killer klown” variety? Or maybe I’m confusing that with the “killer asteroids from outer space” that might have done in the dinosaurs…


  9. There are various stories of the students as wayward,miscreants who come from rough and tumble backgrounds,neighborhoods who try to be tamed by a teacher who goes over and above both inside and outside of classroom. One example is To Sir With Love,set in a classroom of rowdy young people. The teacher becomes friend,confidant,joining them for basketball,reaching out in many ways to build trust. Same in Prime of Ms. Jane Brodie,she showed her girls who were like her children, art,appreciation of beauty,woman as odalisque. On Long Island f/t union teachers make exorbitant salaries,amortized with days off,72 I believe in summer stand alone,its ridiculous in my opinion. The NYT had a good article recently on reason for very high college costs. Numerous high level administrative salaries part of answer. Many professors are p/t,cannot get tenure. Their salaries have barely increased since the 1970’s.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great observation, Michele, about the way many colleges and universities spend so much on administrators (as well as sports and buildings) while paying adjunct professors dirt wages with no benefits. Some school districts also overdo the spending on “central office” positions while, say, paying teacher aides poorly. Very wrong priorities.

      You also made an excellent point about how some “teacher literature” offers the dramatic, inspiring scenario of an exceptional teacher making a huge difference with “difficult” students after initial struggles trying to “reach” them.


  10. Hi Dave, this was a tough one this week to come up with anything not already mentioned, which is surprising because of how important teachers are in our lives. The only novel I could think of as something I’ve read in the last few years is “Disgrace” by J.M. Coetzee, about a professor at a technical university in Cape Town in post-apartheid South Africa. As the title would imply, David Lurie isn’t a sympathetic character; in fact, he loses his job teaching after seducing one of his students. He then winds up on his daughter’s smallholding, where a horrific attack on the farm takes place. I didn’t know until today that there was a movie made of the book in 2008, starring John Malkovich. Even though many unsavory events occur, I thought it very well written, and as I’ve said before, I’ve got a strong fascination with Africa. On an more inspirational level, there was the book written by Bel Kaufmann, “Up the Down Staircase.” I’m fairly certain I read the book, but know for sure I did see the movie starring Sandy Dennis that I enjoyed very much.

    I understand what you’re saying about teachers today, as I was talking recently with a retired elementary school teacher. She knows many teachers who are still working, and none of them are happy with what they are being made to do. They have to stick to standardized teaching plans, with no time to adapt anything to meet the needs of individual children. It’s such a shame, as I was very fond of most of my teachers and feel that they had great impact on my education and my life.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kat Lib, I also had a hard time coming up with many teachers for my post; as I mentioned elsewhere, it was easier to think of college profs in lit. Maybe non-college teachers are also not getting the respect they deserve from some authors? 🙂

      I’ve never read J.M. Coetzee. Would you most recommend “Disgrace,” or something else by him? And I just put “Up the Down Staircase” on my list after reading your comment and then a Wikipedia description of the book. Excellent addition to this conversation!

      “…how important teachers are in our lives” — nicely said, as was the rest of your comment, including its last paragraph. Many teachers, current and recently retired, are demoralized with what’s going on. Teachers need to, and are adept at, adapting their lesson plans to their specific students, and to the different capabilities and learning stages of those students. All this standardized curriculum and test stuff is putting an awful wrench in that.


      • By the way, Kat Lib, I’m getting close to finishing “Smilla’s Sense of Snow.” Such an unusual and fascinating novel — part mystery book, part various other things. I’m very intrigued about how the novel is going to end!


          • Kat Lib, I’ll let you now what I think. I hope to finish the novel by tomorrow. The sea voyage the determined Smilla is on has certainly been intriguing and harrowing!


          • Kat Lib, I just finished “Smilla’s Sense of Snow.” As I said, a very unusual novel — haunting, with an offbeat, fascinating, not-warm-and-fuzzy heroine. I found the book at times riveting, at times slow-moving, and occasionally confusing — and perhaps it could have been a hundred pages shorter. The ending was effective in its way while kind of low-key considering the buildup. But I’m very glad I read the novel, because it’s just so…different. 🙂


            • Dave, I haven’t been online much this week, with this and that (but mainly because of both laptop and tablet problems — ugh!). Anyway, I had to go back and read the ending again, and when I looked it up on Wiki, and it said: “The film made some changes to the plot, especially having a more conclusive end in which the villain Tørk Hviid gets killed, instead of the book’s deliberately ambiguous ending.” I don’t necessarily dislike ambiguity, but I think I mentioned a book I recently read that ended at the most critical part of the book with, alas, no denouement at all. That I didn’t like, even though I’d enjoyed reading the book up to that ending, or should I say, non-ending. Looking forward to tomorrow night’s column!

              Liked by 1 person

              • Are your laptop and tablet problems resolved? I hope so. A very worrisome thing to go through.

                Great, thoughtful comment, Kat Lib! I also don’t necessarily mind ambiguity in a novel’s ending, but I’m glad in this case that the movie sharpened the conclusion. I guess when it comes to mystery thrillers and that sort of thing — even a mystery thriller as offbeat and literary as “Smilla’s Sense of Snow” — I prefer a definitive ending. In “non-genre” literature, an ambiguous ending can sometimes work.

                New column ready to go for tomorrow night. 🙂


      • I’d have to go with “Disgrace,” since it happens to be the only one I’ve read! I’m not sure why, other than there are so many books just lying around my home just waiting to be read. I also think that at that time I was doing my regime to diversify my reading: (1) modern fiction; (2) classic fiction; (3) non-fiction/memoir; (4) mystery/thriller; then back to (1); etc. It was actually rather fun to do, so maybe I should get back to that (I’ve kind of hit a wall when it comes to reading, which does sometimes happen to me, but I hope not much longer).

        Liked by 1 person

        • Ha, Kat Lib! If a person has read only one book by an author, that book is certainly a candidate to be that person’s favorite book by that author! 🙂

          I know we’ve previously discussed the benefits of diversifying one’s reading, and I’m still conscious of doing that at least to an extent. “Smilla’s Sense of Snow” is certainly different for me because, Stieg Larsson’s great Millennium Trilogy notwithstanding, I (unlike you) haven’t read a lot of Scandinavian fiction.


          • Dave, I went to B&N the other day and went to the section where J.M. Coetzee’s books would have been, but they were unfortunately on the very bottom shelf, and with my disability, I can’t bend over or squat down that far. I was under a slight time pressure, so I didn’t want to ask for help, especially since I was just browsing. I know I could order his works on-line, but there is still something about holding a book in one’s hand that is important to me (except for legal thrillers, which I’m still stuck on).

            Liked by 1 person

            • Sorry more of Coetzee wasn’t easily accessible for you, Kat Lib. Those bottom shelves in bookstores and libraries can be hard to reach even for people without physical issues. But I guess both places feel they have to maximize space. 😦

              Given that I still exclusively read books in printed form, I hear you about the appeal of that!


  11. Good teachers do not get the respect they deserve; nor do they get paid enough for the value they provide society. I think sometimes ‘reform’ is merely another way saying ‘destroy’ and it truly is all about the greedy among us seeking profit over good. “Dead Poet’s Society”? One of my all time favorites.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jack, what you said about teachers and “reform” couldn’t have been said better. Thanks! Teachers do provide so much value to society.

      This is indeed one of those cases where a euphemistic word (“reform”) masks something with a lot of negative in it.

      And, as I also said in my reply to “PatD” below, I agree that teachers are very underpaid.

      When one thinks of fictional teachers, the protagonist in “Dead Poets Society” is one of the standouts!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Hi Dave … I can’t think of a book to mention at this moment — I’ll give it some thought this week — but thank you for your spot-0n comments about standardized testing. When my children were in school in the 80s and 90s, standardized testing was taking hold but not to the degree it is now. My granddaugher is starting school in the fall and I can only hope her generation will not have to be subjected to these ridiculous “tests”. Teachers have my genuine admiration; it’s not an easy job and it certainly doesn’t pay what it’s worth. Teaching is definitely a labor of love, and I just hope our teachers will be allowed to get back to what they were trained to do — teach, without being under the thumb of standardized testing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well said, Pat! I can tell you’re someone who really appreciates teachers. 🙂 And thanks for the kind words about my comments on standardized testing!

      You’re absolutely right that while there has been some standardized testing for decades (such as the usually take-just-one-time SATs), it has greatly escalated in recent years. For instance, the PARCCs are given twice yearly, every year, from third to 11th grade. Totally insane.

      I also agree that teachers, at least in the U.S., are very underpaid for what they do and how many hours they spend on the job — not only in the classroom, but preparing lessons, grading things, interacting with parents, getting professional development, and, unfortunately, dealing with all the onerous demands of education “reformers.”


    • 80s and 90s….that was probably the CAT, or the California Achievement Test. I remember taking those exams. That was around the time my parents put us in Catholic schools, partly due to cultural/religious reasons, but also because we were losing instruction time. It seemed like every other day, those Scantron sheets and Number 2 pencils were being shoved in our faces.

      Liked by 1 person

      • “…losing instruction time” — exactly, Ana. All that test prep and test-taking leaves less time for better learning.

        And now tests like the PARCCs are on computer — which means glitches, trouble for elementary-schoolers not as adept on computers as older kids, and trouble for poorer kids who, even in 2015, might not have a computer at home and thus are not as adept digitally as more affluent kids. So “the achievement gap” widens. 😦


        • My mom invented this neat geography game that we played at home. She had a box of index cards. On one side, she wrote the name of a U.S. state, a province, or country. On the other side was its capital city. We had to give the correct answer based on what was written on the card she held up. For example, if the card read “Stockholm”, we had to respond “Sweden.” If the card read “Tennessee”, we responded “Nashville.”

          My teacher found out about this game from my mom, but she took it a step further. She added oceans, mountain ranges, and archipelagos. Every afternoon was geography time. It was so much fun. Our game was unfortunately getting pushed back from every day to every other day. Our mom was a stay-at-home for her oldest children. She was what you’d call a classroom parent, so she noticed right off that something was changing in the environment. The enthusiasm that my classmates had for the geography game was quickly turning into disappointment because we weren’t playing it like we used to.

          I don’t know what the adults discussed, but the next thing I knew, me and the siblings were in another school where we participated in various learning activities like the geography game. So many of my old friends in Nashville-Memphis-Jackson who majored in Education to become teachers have left the profession. No support from the school and administrators, little to no support from some parents, GOP-led legislatures are constantly attacking their wages and benefits, and now on top of their many duties, teachers are expected to be armed with guns to thwart any potential school shootings.

          I certainly don’t have any answers to this educational crisis in America. I don’t have any children, and I was educated in a combination of public and private schools…but mostly private. I don’t even think I’m qualified to participate in this discussion since I have little to no experience in this area.

          Liked by 1 person

          • What a great game from your impressive mom! And fantastic that your teacher picked up on it, and expanded it! It’s the kind of creative, innovative, fun thing that the almost worthless, deadly boring standardized tests put the kibosh on (or the partial kibosh on).

            And it’s true that many teachers are becoming demoralized and leaving the profession, which might be what corporate interests and others trying to privatize public education might be hoping for. 😦

            You’re discussing all this quite well, Ana!

            The answers? Too long to get into here. But if all the money being poured into things like standardized tests was instead used to reduce class sizes, try to make a dent in poverty, etc., public school education would be in a better place.


            • You now have a little insight into why I love traveling and map/geography themes (I don’t think you got a chance to see my vintage map clocks before I took those pics down from Twitter, but they are neat).

              I feel sorry for children and parents who are caught in the middle of these political games. It is ridiculous how students are being used to test these unfounded, untested educational strategies. No money for public school teachers, supplies, books, and paraprofessional educators, but there’s money to hand over to an *educrat* who just opened a chain of charter schools. Really????

              Good topic, Dave. Duty calls, so….have a good day. (BTW, U2 tour opens Thursday in Vancouver. Got my 360 tour tshirt, jeans, and Canadian flag bandana READY. Try not to get too jealous).

              Liked by 1 person

              • Yes, Ana, you got your love of traveling, geography, and maps early!

                And you wrote a great second paragraph that really sums things up. The motives for all this education “reform” certainly seem to put kids in about fifth place — after profits, bashing unionized public school teachers, profits, and bashing unionized public school teachers…

                Wow — U2 is coming soon for you! I still have over two months to wait. 😦 I assume you saw “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” stunt with U2 busking in disguise at NYC’s Grand Central Station? Fun!


      • I know the California Achievement Tests were given in the 60’s, when I was in elementary school, and probably before that. For some reason I didn’t freak out over those tests. I think the novelty of devoting a good deal of the school day to something other than the usual classroom activity and the terror of being called upon to deliver an answer that, even if you thought you knew the answer, that spur-of-the-moment adrenaline would push right out of your brain had a lot to do with my feeling about it. Also, the activity of sharpening several No. 2 pencils and penciling in answers in the little bubbles for multiple choices was still a novelty for me at that point in my life. I was so naive I didn’t even think to ask what they were for or how they were used. They were just a change of pace from the usual for a few days.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I hear you, Brian. I didn’t mind taking standardized tests, either (well, not TOO much 🙂 ), but they were much fewer and farther between back then. Also, I worry about the people who are not as good at taking standardized tests, and/or who — through no fault of their own — come from families that are not as academically focused, that are in tough economic straits, etc.

          Those No. 2 pencils WERE quite nice…


        • So taking these exams was a kind of “welcoming distraction” from your normal school activities…something new and different was introduced in your normal routine. That is a unique, mature, and different perspective on test-taking.

          I don’t recall too much objection when testing was first introduced at my school. When it began occurring too often, that is when the concerns started. How frequently were you and your classmates tested, if you don’t mind my asking?

          Liked by 1 person

          • Ana, when I was in school in the ’60s and ’70s, the only standardized tests I can remember taking were the PSATs (once) and the SATs (once) in high school. And those tests were technically voluntary; I don’t think people had to take them if they weren’t college-bound.

            I took plenty of other tests (including midterms and finals), but they were generated by our own teachers who knew what was going on in their classrooms.


            • The ACT was the same way. The only students who took it were those who were going to college. It eventually became mandatory and part of graduation requirements. Didn’t matter if a high school student was going to a four year college, a community college, trade-school, the military, or entering the workforce, he/she had to take and pass the ACT before receiving the high school diploma.

              Mid-terms and finals are acceptable. As you stated, those test questions are made up by actual teachers, not some out-of-state, six-figure making administrator who’s never set foot inside of a classroom. Assessing the educational levels of children is fine, but this obsession with testing is out of control. Children can’t learn because they are only being taught how to take tests.

              Liked by 1 person

              • Yes, some standardized-test proponents try to claim that standardized-test skeptics are against ALL tests. Nope — they’re again tests foisted on students by federal/state/corporate officials who, as you aptly note, “never set foot inside of a classroom” once they finished going to school themselves. (Often private school.)

                Interesting, Ana, that the ACTs eventually became mandatory, even for students not going to college. I wonder if that’s also the case now with the SATs.


          • Ana, we’re talking about 50 years ago so my memory of many things from then is hazy. I think they gave the California Achievement Tests once a year, usually in early spring (I seem to recall it being in March?). Perhaps my naivete about what they were used for alleviated my usual test-taking panic that persisted all through school up through college.

            Liked by 1 person

      • Ana and Dave, I went to school in the 50’s and 60’s, so there wasn’t much standardized testing back then. I do remember one achievement test in elementary school, and I did well, except when it came to two categories: spacial relations and mechanical ability. I know no one who knows me now that wouldn’t agree with that assessment, especially about mechanic abilities.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yes, many fewer standardized tests back then, Kat Lib. I don’t even remember an achievement test in elementary school, but things can be different from district to district and state to state.

          As for spacial relations and mechanical ability, we all have strengths and weaknesses. 🙂 You certainly have major talents in writing, literary knowledge, and various other areas!


    • Thank you, Bill!

      Yes, we never forget our great teachers — such as the two of yours you mentioned. I can also clearly remember my favorites from many years ago, and my younger daughter currently has an absolutely wonderful teacher: Ms. Chanin.

      To me, terrific teachers are infinitely more to be admired than politicians, movie stars, rock stars, pro athletes, and other “celebrities.”


  13. What is happening in our educational system is frightening, to say the least! I can’t add to your list of novels portraying teachers, but I can add a movie – “Dead Poet’s Society”. I adored Mr. Keating, as portrayed in the movie by Robin Williams. He taught those boys how to learn and how to draw conclusions on their own, which is the key to being a good teacher. A good teacher gives you all of the tools you need to continue learning throughout your lifetime.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I so much wanted to include “Dead Poets Society” in my column, and hoped it had been a novel before becoming a movie. But no. 🙂 I’m very glad you mentioned it, though. There have been some very memorable movies featuring teachers.

      “A good teacher gives you all of the tools you need to continue learning throughout your lifetime” — great line, lulabelle! And many teachers still manage to do that despite being hamstrung by what’s happening these days in education.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Definitely, Almost Iowa! Though I tend to write mostly about novels, all literature is welcome here (short stories, poems, plays, musicals, etc.).

      And I didn’t know “The King and I” was based on a novel! Thanks for mentioning that! Some books are much less known than the entertainment vehicles they inspired, with “Forrest Gump” (film infinitely more famous than the novel) being one of many examples.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I read the book Anna and the King of Siam and it is a VERY fictionalized biography of the real Anna Leonowens who did go to Siam to teach the children of the king. I think Anna Leonownes was guilty of a little self-aggrandizement.

        Liked by 1 person

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