We’ve all had some inspiring teachers, but such inspiration is not limited to real life: movie and TV teachers also have the power to inspire us to reach new heights. While avoiding obvious examples such as John Keating from Dead Poets Society and the immortal Mr. Kotter, here are seven fictional teachers who have inspired me in some way.
Laura Roslin, Battlestar Galactica
When Battlestar Galactica begins, Laura Roslin is the Secretary of Education for the colonies. When the Cylons wipe out the vast majority of humanity, Roslin is elevated to President. Compassionate and surprisingly tough, Roslin is an inspiration to every teacher who’s ever said, “I wish I were in charge!” Over the course of the series, Roslin also continues to teach children when out of office, proving that once a teacher, always a teacher.
Pai Mei, Kill Bill
This somewhat brutal kung fu master might, at first blush, seem to be a terrible example for a teacher. He’s physically and emotionally abusive, plus that thing he does with his beard is kind of pretentious. So why is this cruel person an inspiration to teachers? Well, Pei Mei is inspiring in one way: his high, exacting standards. He expects a lot from his students, which ultimately benefits his students. He also shows a surprising amount of compassion when dealing with the Bride: his best student. Teachers need to be tough sometimes, and we could all use a little bit of Pai Mei in us.
Professor X, X-Men
Charles Xavier is an inspiration in more ways than any other character, much less teacher, I can recall. Since Xavier uses a wheelchair, he is an inspiration to the disabled community. As the founder of a school, he’s an inspiration to any teacher who has wanted to do that. Importantly, Xavier’s school is for mutants. In the Marvel Universe, mutants are born with superpowers, and they are a strong metaphor for groups that have been persecuted, especially for their race, religion, or sexuality. So Xavier is also an inspiration for anyone who wants to help and teach people from their own group.
Prez, The Wire
Initially, the character of Roland “Prez” Pryzbylewski is the opposite of inspiring. He’s a terrible cop with the worst temper, and the only reason his career doesn’t end sooner is because of nepotism. When Prez left the force and became a teacher in an extremely difficult Baltimore school, I feared the worst. But as often happened on The Wire, I was surprised: over the course of Season 4, Prez slowly and surely became a capable teacher. Being a cop brought out the worst in him, but being a teacher brought out the best. Prez is an inspiration to anyone who feels like a screw-up and wants to make a change. Sometimes helping others is really the best way to help yourself.
Rupert Giles, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Giles wasn’t explicitly a teacher, but as school librarian and “Watcher” for Buffy Summers, he more than fulfilled the role. He helped guide the young heroine in her dangerous, vampire-hunting destiny, while making sure she was always informed and prepared. Giles became a father figure for Buffy, and that’s not an uncommon role for teachers. I find Giles inspiring for his emphasis on research: he always made Buffy go beyond a Wikipedia-level of knowledge. He also showed how a teacher can be nurturing without trying to be too parental. Giles was the essence of supportive.
Obi-Wan Kenobi, Star Wars
This gentle Jedi master might have been the first teacher I can remember seeing in TV or movies. In the original Star Wars, “Ben” Kenobi was thought to be a weird, hermit-like kook hanging out in the deserts of Tatooine. Little did Luke Skywalker know that Ben was really Obi-Wan, and Obi-Wan was a Jedi knight—and soon to be Luke’s teacher. Kenobi is inspiring because he shows you’re never too old to make a difference. He also demonstrates the importance of learning from your mistakes. Kenobi fouled things up with his original student Darth Vader, but he avoids the mistake with Luke, partly by recognizing someone else was better suited to complete the boy’s training: namely, that green muppet Yoda, who is quite the inspiration himself.
Carol, The Walking Dead
In the most recent season of ‘The Walking Dead’, the zombie-apocalypse survivors have built an impressive community in a former prison. There are children in this community, and Carol has been teaching and reading to them—but she’s teaching more than math and English. She’s also teaching the best ways to slay zombies. In a post-apocalyptic world, this is necessary information, and Carol is doing the children a huge service that will likely extend some of their lives. Carol is a reminder that teaching must remain practical, and she also shows that you can overcome even the worst grief. In a previous season, Carol’s own daughter died, but she has recommitted to keeping other children from the same fate.
These inspirations relate to all teaching, but online teachers may need their lessons more than most. Teaching online can feel isolating, but you can overcome that isolation with effort. As much as in-person teachers, the online teaching community needs to be nurturing like Giles, tough like Pai Mei, and strong like Laura Roslin. We can help our people, like Professor X. We can learn from our past like Carol and Obi-Wan, and we can find redemption like Prez. Like a hero’s journey, the teacher’s journey is always just beginning. So, never forget: