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Favorite Fictional Teachers | Teacher Talk

Reading that Abbott Elementary is back for a third season was some of the greatest news I’ve had in awhile. Generally, I give a giant eye roll to the characterization of teachers in tv and movies, but Abbott Elementary is a refreshingly accurate and hilarious depiction of all the highs and lows of teaching. I’m such a huge fan of the show that I even took the BuzzFeed Quiz to find out which character I am (no surprise here – I’m Janine Teagues!), and in honor of Ms. Teagues, I wrote about my favorite top five favorite fictional teachers.

#5: Melvin B. Tolson, The Great Debaters
Right away, I’m breaking the “fictional” rules, as The Great Debaters is based on a true story of Melvin B. Tolson, a professor and debate coach at Wiley College. As a former high school debate coach, I loved showing this film to my debate classes just so I could declare: “I write the arguments!” Denzell Washington’s performance is nothing short of inspirational, and watching his students debate Harvard gives me goosebumps every time.

#4: Mr. Garvey, Substitute Teacher - Key & Peele
Honestly, taking attendance was the toughest part of the teaching gig for me, and no one captures that better than Mr. Garvey in the Substitute Teacher skit on Key & Peele. (Profanity warning for those who haven’t seen the skit). Also, since my name is Jacqueline, Mr. Garvey has always been near and dear to my heart.

#3: Ms. Norbury, Mean Girls
Tina Fey really gets it right with her eagerness to make math interesting and relatable, but the scene where she sees her students at the mall is what makes Ms. Norbury #3 for me. Wearing her uniform, complete with a green vest covered in flare, Ms. Norbury sees her students at the mall and discloses that she bartends a few nights a week, while simultaneously trying to convince one of her students (Lindsay Lohan) to join the mathletes team. This conversation went about as well as you can imagine, and Ms. Norbury concluded it with arguably the most accurate statement a teacher can make: “Well this has been sufficiently awkward.”

#2: Janine Teagues, Abbott Elementary
I think it’s the BuzzFeed summary that did it for me: “You're Janine Teagues! Like Janine, you're an idealist. You have a huge heart, and all you want to do is help people — especially your students. And, you'll admit, you also yearn for the approval of people you admire. You are perseverant, and you won't take no for an answer (even if no really is the answer...). You'll never quit on others, and all you ask in return is that they don't quit on you.” Ms. Teagues shows what it’s like to really want to fix the broken lights in the hallway, as well as the hilarious fallout of trying to fix problems like that yourself. Ms. Teagues truly captures what it’s like to be a young teacher who cares deeply about her students, and also what it’s like to make a lot of mistakes. Also a shout out to my personal Mrs. Barbara Howard, Ms. Gwendolyn Foster-Steen, who never ceased to amaze me with her ability to have all her students in a perfectly quiet line, while standing in the hallway.

#1: Ms. Frizzle, Magic School Bus
"Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!" is forever burned into my childhood memories. Lily Tomlin’s voice as the wacky Ms. Frizzle was exactly the one I needed to hear, both as a child and as a teacher. I equally love the newer Ms. Frizzle, voiced by Kate McKinnon, who is the younger sister to the now Dr. Frizzle (still voiced by Lily Tomlin). There is something about the Magic School Bus that will always capture the true magic of a great teacher, and thus, “The Frizz” earns my top spot of favorite fictional teachers. (Full disclosure: I even went as Ms. Frizzle this year for Halloween.)

Jacqueline Wilber, Ed.D. is an experienced educator from South Dakota. She is currently a faculty member at the University of South Dakota and Director of the Center for Student and Professional Services in the School of Education.

She began her career in public schools in 2007 and has served as a teacher, librarian, and administrator. Jackie holds a Nebraska Teaching Certificate for 7-12 grade English/Language Arts, a Nebraska Public Library Certificate, and an Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher (e-RYT 500) credential through Yoga Alliance. She was a 2014 Sioux Falls School District Teacher of the Year Finalist.