In my last post on the practice and pedagogy of Hogwarts teachers, I outlined a couple examples of shockingly inconsistent (at best) teaching practices. Today, once again in honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, I’d like to highlight some of the best teachers at Hogwarts—because there are some great ones.
We’ll start in reverse order of my own personal rankings.
Pomona Sprout and Filius Flitwick
These two are tied for the third spot among Hogwarts teaching greats, and that’s partially only because we don’t get to see much of them teaching. But what we do see—it’s good. Let’s take them each individually for a moment.
Professor Sprout, by all accounts, seems to be a great teacher. In the Herbology lessons we see, she teaches students practical skills with real-world applications (such as cultivating mandrakes and bubotubers that Madam Pomfrey uses to cure maladies). She seems to have good control of her class; in the books and in the films we see students follow her directions quickly—even if they are a bit skeptical about things like collecting bubotuber pus.
Professor Sprout is also, not insignificantly, the first person to notice Neville Longbottom’s skill in Herbology—which she mentions to Professor Moody (aka Barty Crouch, Jr., but that’s sort of a moot point here.) The key is, this is a huge boost to Neville’s confidence—and it’s something all good teachers do at one point or another—helping students recognize and build on their strengths. And, ultimately, Neville ends up succeeding her as Herbology teacher at Hogwarts. Pomona for the win!
Likewise, Professor Flitwick appears to be a skilled instructor. He’s Head of Ravenclaw House, so you know the guy has brains. He scaffolds instruction really well, too—teaching students to recite charms first, then having them practice in simple, basic ways (levitating a feather) before moving onto harder tasks (changing vinegar into wine) as they advance. Plus, he takes on an extracurricular activity (he conducts the Hogwarts student choir) and we all know only the coolest teachers lead after-school clubs.
What’s not to love about Lupin? If life were fair (and literary excellence didn’t require a revolving door of Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers) Lupin would have been in the DATDA post at Hogwarts from the very beginning. Alas for us and for Harry, that’s not the case. But the guy can teach! His lesson on defeating a Boggart goes down as one of the best lessons taught at Hogwarts, hands down. AND it follows the I Do-We Do-You Do lesson structure that all rookie teachers know well. 10 points to Gryffindor!
Lupin also takes Harry under his wing in teaching him the Patronus charm, even though it’s advanced magic for someone of Harry’s age. He doesn’t shy away from challenging a student who shows an interest in learning something new and difficult. Just as Professor Sprout sets Neville on the path to a future career teaching Herbology, I think it’s having Lupin as a teacher that starts Harry on the path to eventually becoming an Auror. After all, the other students encourage him to start Dumbledore’s Army because of all the advanced skills he learned from Lupin.
I freely admit it—I want to be Professor McGonagall when I grow up. Or maybe it’s Maggie Smith that I want to be. Either way, the Head of Gryffindor House pretty much kicks serious wizarding butt.
The thing that makes McGonagall my Hogwarts teaching idol is that she strikes that warm/demanding tone that many teachers find so elusive. She also shares my own mostly-serious-but-also-slightly-snarky-in-a-way-that-lets-you-know-I-secretly-love-you style of teacher-student interaction. She starts her class off right from the bat by setting high expectations: “Transfiguration is some of the most complex and dangerous magic you will learn at Hogwarts. Anyone messing around in my class will leave and not come back. You have been warned.” But she also has deep care and concern for her students and colleagues, that she always lets show at just the right moments. She puts Harry on the Quidditch team and gets him a broom. She defends Professor Trelawney, and then Hagrid, from Umbridge—even though it lands her in St. Mungo’s for quite a while. And she knows how to have a little fun, and show a little spirit, along the way—especially when it comes to Gryffindor and the House Cup. When it comes to teaching, McGonagall is the whole package.
The teachers of Hogwarts—the good, the bad, and the mediocre—offer a lot of insight into what makes a great teacher. It’s no wonder the ones who really excel at it have earned such devotion from their students. As I reread the books now and again, I enjoy reflecting on the different teaching styles and skills shown by the faculty.
And in the meantime, I’m still waiting for my own job offer from Dumbledore. I’d make a wicked Muggle Studies professor.