Just For Fun

The 11 Best Teachers in
Children’s Literature

by Janssen Bradshaw

Illustration: Nathan Gelgud

School is one of the most enduring settings for children’s literature and for good reason! Children spend so much of their life in the classroom, interacting with their peers, learning new skills, and discovering the world around them.

Of course, one of the most important parts of a good academic experience is a great teacher. Most of us can name at least one teacher that made a difference for us, and we hope that our children will get to experience the joy of a magical teacher year after year.

With the return to school close at hand, we thought it’d be fun to reflect on some our favorite teachers in children’s literature. Add your own favorites in the comments below if we missed them!

Viola Swamp imageMiss Nelson (Miss Nelson Is Missing by Harry Allard, illustrated by James Marshall)
Miss Nelson might be my all-time favorite. When her class won’t fall into line, she dresses up as the terrifying Viola Swamp who whips that class into shape. By the time kindly Miss Nelson returns, all the spitballs and bad behavior are a distant memory. I love her so much that one year I dressed up as both versions of her!

Purple purse imageMr. Slinger (Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes)
Exuberant little Lilly loves everything about school, especially her beloved and very hip teacher, Mr. Slinger. But when Mr. Slinger confiscates Lilly’s new purple plastic purse (because she can’t keep from distracting the whole class), Lilly’s love turns to instant dislike. Mr. Slinger brilliantly shows that a good teacher doesn’t just know how to make things fun and interesting, but also how to handle discipline and childhood outbursts. I could take some parenting lessons from this mouse.

Magic School Bus imageMs. Valerie Frizzle (The Magic School Bus by Joanna Cole)
Haven’t we all secretly wished for a teacher that could take us on magical field trips into outer space or through the arteries of the heart? And now, as a parent, I’m so grateful for books that make science cool and interesting for my girls!

Kid reading imageMr. Falker (Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco)
Everyone needs a teacher like Mr. Falker, who sees through Trisha’s despair and discovers that she doesn’t know how to read. And he’s willing to give her the help she needs to overcome this challenge that seems insurmountable, changing the whole course of Trisha’s life. If only every struggling child had such a teacher.

Letter imageMiss Binney (Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary)
Kindergarten is a hard transition, but when you have a teacher you love like Miss Binney, it makes things a little easier. Whenever I read that letter that Miss Binney sends home, asking Ramona to return to kindergarten, it’s hard not to get a little teary.

Doggie imageMiss Stretchberry (Love That Dog by Sharon Creech)
Poetry is the worst! At least that’s what Jack thinks when his teacher gives out one poetry assignment after another. But, eventually, Jack learns that poetry might be just the way to process some things in his life. This book, and Miss Stretchberry, are magic.

Glasses imageMiss Honey (Matilda by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake)
For the child with little to no support at home, a loving and wise teacher at school is even more important. Miss Honey is just that teacher for Matilda, who loves to read and has parents who think she is deeply weird. And when Matilda discovers a way to help her beloved teacher, their bond grows even deeper.

Magic wand imageRemus Lupin (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling)
There are plenty of excellent teachers in the Harry Potter series (as well as some truly terrible ones — Doloros Umbridge, anyone?) but Remus Lupin definitely has a top spot on my list. He makes the class fun, helps keep the Slytherin/Gryffindor rivalries at bay, and teaches them really useful skills. What more could you ask for?

Shakespeare imageMrs. Baker (The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt)
When Holling Hoodhood is the only one who spends Wednesday afternoons in the classroom while his classmates attend religious classes, Mrs. Baker doesn’t take the easy way out and just ignore him and do her own thing — she takes the opportunity to give private Shakespeare instruction. And I love that as the book progresses, you start to see Mrs. Baker not only as an excellent teacher, but also as a real person, with her own concerns and life outside the classroom.

Trophy imageMrs. Olinski (The View from Saturday by E. L. Konigsburg)
After a car accident, Mrs. Olinski returns to teaching and focuses much of her attention on her sixth-grade Academic Bowl team. It’s an unusual combo, and the story about what they all have in common is one of the best school stories out there.

 

Cameo imageMiss Stacy (Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery)
How could you forget Miss Stacy? I think of Anne’s best teacher often, whenever I’m having a bad day and think, “Tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it.”

 

What other teachers would you add to this list? Chime in with your favorites in the comments below!

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