TV teachers who kept my attention


Virginia Smith. She was my music teacher in high school. My heart beat faster in her class. Good thing it was choir, because otherwise I know she would have heard it.

One day Ms.Smith encouraged me to audition for a folk singing group. (Yes, folk singing. You do the math.) I sat next to her on the piano bench, meekly singing the notes she played, certain that I was shaking too hard to be on pitch. Then she turned to me and said, "You have remarkable voice control." I had no idea what that meant, but I floated out of the room. I folk-sang my little heart out that year, and singing has been an important part of my life ever since. A teacher can do that.

I know those of you in education get a little melancholy this time of year. Teaching is the Rodney Dangerfield of professions. (Except Rodney got rich off getting no respect.) Still, some of our favorite television characters have been teachers. Who among us didn’t admire Miss Beadle for reining in Nellie Oleson? And who didn’t know a Dorothy Zbornak (played by Bea Arthur on Golden Girls) who scared the hell out of us but was the best teacher we ever had?

Here are a few more:

Ronnie Cooke (Jeri Ryan), Boston Public

Actual teachers hate this show because it’s so unrealistic. What, you mean lawyers don’t come to speak at career day and suddenly decide to leave a six-figure job to teach at an inner-city school? You mean teachers have more than one class a day? What did Ronnie Cooke teach, anyway? Is it wrong that I don’t care?

Helen Crump (Aneta Corsaut), The Andy Griffith Show

Opie wasn’t happy when he got a new teacher in the middle of fifth grade. He called her "Old Lady Crump" and complained that she gave him too much homework. But Helen became one of Mayberry’s most beloved citizens — and Sheriff Taylor’s girlfriend — and eventually won over Opie as well.

The thing I loved about Helen Crump is that she wasn’t the typical ’60s woman. She was independent, career-oriented and often quick-tempered, not afraid to speak her mind. She couldn’t cook and had no intention of learning how to cook just to snag a husband. A lot like, well, me.

Molly Hudson (Lesley Boone), Ed

Everybody loved Carol Vessey. Carol, Carol, Carol. You know, I’m not sure what Carol taught, either. Probably not much, since all she seemed to think about was whether she was dating the right guy. I know what Molly Hudson taught, though. Science. She sponsored extracurricular activities, too. Remember when she refused to cast the popular girl in the school play, opting for talent instead? Eventually, her dedication was rewarded with a promotion to principal. A principal with a Foo Fighters poster on the wall, no less. Go, Molly.

Miss Crabtree (June Marlowe), Our Gang

The Little Rascals gang adored Miss Crabtree. She was sweet, kind and always listened to them. She was also patient with whatever mischief the kids got into. And, of course, she was a knockout. (I know, technically Miss Crabtree was a movie teacher. But I’ve only seen Our Gang on television so I’m calling poetic license.)

Tina Torres (Sarah Shahi), Teachers

So what if Teachers was cancelled after only seven episodes? So what if Tina was a substitute? And so what if the show just wasn’t funny? Sarah Shahi, people.

Alice Landers (Sue Randall), Leave It To Beaver

I was as nervous as Beaver when Miss Canfield was promoted to principal and a new teacher took her place. But a few hours with Miss Landers let us know everything would be fine. I crushed on her right along with Beaver. My palms sweated when the Cleavers invited her to dinner. I fought off tears when Beaver disappointed her. I admired her house as Beaver and Whitey cleaned up the yard. And my heart broke when I learned that Miss Landers was engaged.

What made me feel better? Nothing less than Miss Landers, who promised that nothing would change but her last name.

Dr. Bette Porter (Jennifer Beals), The L Word

Imagine the first day of art history class. In walks Dr. Porter … I’m sorry; I lost all train of thought.

OK, who are your favorite TV teachers? Why did you love them? You can even throw in some real teachers if you want. I’m just gonna’ sit here and stare at Dr. Porter.

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