Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Illustration for article titled Hey, teacher! Leave those kids alone!: 26 evil, awful, or just plain stupid educators in TV and film

1. Principal Vernon in The Breakfast Club

The Breakfast Club wasn't content to narrow just the students down to broad stereotypes: In addition to the brain, the athlete, the basket case, the princess, and the criminal, there's Principal Richard "Dick" Vernon, the frustrated ex-jock. He can't stand looking bad in front of the students, and "criminal" Judd Nelson pushes all of his pro-authority buttons. He even tries to provoke Nelson into punching him—after locking him in a utility closet and threatening to find him and kick his ass, of course.

2. Olivier Castro-Staal in Six Feet Under

Throughout Six Feet Under, Claire Fisher is forever in pursuit of the "life of an artist"— exactly the kind of naïve, ill-defined goal that makes her easy prey for the likes of Olivier Castro-Staal, professor of the equally vague "Form And Space" class she enrolls in at LAC-Arts. With his open contempt for authority and penchant for grand declarations like "An artist never questions her right to experience everything the world has to offer," Olivier charms Claire into becoming his assistant by promising to introduce her to a world of exciting nonconformity and visceral experience. Which is nothing compared to the seductive trip he lays on her boyfriend Russell, whom he screws while Claire is out running one of his selfish, degrading errands. Over time, both Claire and Russell start to see Olivier for who he really is: an arrogant, self-pitying child who never quite got over not becoming a famous artist, and who regularly takes it out on his students. And although he (slightly) redeems himself by recommending Claire for a job, his true feelings are revealed when he tells her, "You were my student and my assistant. Now we're competition."


3-6. Mrs. Krabappel, Miss Hoover, Principal Skinner, and Superintendent Chalmers in The Simpsons

While Principal Skinner periodically leaps Sisyphean hurdles to keep Springfield Elementary going, the entire staff deserves some blame for the school's condition, as a shameful place where low test scores (and row after row of ugly, ugly children) abound, the few intelligent students are openly resented and frequently exploited, and kids are only inspired when they're serving as free test-marketers for a toy company. Of course, it's all too easy to point fingers at the teachers themselves: Edna Krabappel and Elizabeth Hoover are both pictures of institutionalized apathy, worn down by lack of funds, far past pretending to take interest in their students' performance (and in Miss Hoover's case, annoyed with those who excel), and primarily interested in sneaking cigarettes in the teachers' lounge. But as with any bureaucracy, incompetence trickles down from on high, and the worst of all might just be Superintendent Chalmers, whose intense dislike of disorder serves as a mask for his own considerable detachment: Surveying the anarchy of Ned Flanders' brief, chaotic reign as principal, Chalmers shrugs, "The way America's public schools are sliding, they'll all be this way in a few months. I say lay back and enjoy it! It's a hell of a toboggan ride!"


7-8. Principal Togar in Rock 'N' Roll High School/Vice Principal Vadar in Rock 'N' Roll High School Forever

Pity the principal that goes up against the forces of rock 'n' roll—whether those forces come in the form of the Ramones or, um, Corey Feldman's band The Eradicators. In Rock 'N' Roll High School, über-strict Principal Evelyn Togar calls the police on the rockin' students of Vince Lombardi High, and even takes away their ringleader's Ramones tickets. The students' response? Stage a Ramones concert on the school lawn, then blow up the school. By Rock 'N' Roll High School Forever, Principal Togar has increased her strength (and insanity) tenfold. She's now Vice Principal Vadar, and she rules with an iron fist—literally: She has a prosthetic metal hand (and a prosthetic whip hand) that she uses to intimidate the rockers at Ronald Reagan High. But rock (and Corey Feldman) will not be stopped: In the end, the school gets blown up again.


9. Vic Racine on My So-Called Life

Mr. Racine, Angela Chase's substitute English teacher, wore clashing socks, chomped on toothpicks, hosted classroom writing sessions by candlelight, insisted his students call him "Vic," and encouraged them to write with honesty, even if that honesty lead to poetry with phrases like, "he tastes my juicy sweetness." In short, he was a cool teacher—not to mention an inspirational one. He even figured out that Jordan Catalano looked so dopey not because his choker was too tight, but because he didn't know how to read. Still, it's easier to teach honesty than to practice it. Turns out "Vic Racine" was an alias, and the inspirational substitute teacher had abandoned his family, and was wanted for back payment of child support. Still, Mr. Racine was an effective teacher in that he taught Angela that heroes aren't perfect, and to never, ever trust anyone who obsessively chews toothpicks.

10. Everyone in The Faculty

Strict teachers and principals like Bebe Neuwirth in The Faculty can be such jerks, especially when they've been infected by an alien parasite that's taken over their brains, and they're sending all of the students for mandatory health inspections so the school nurse (Salma Hayek) can slip alien parasites into their ears. Luckily, there's a way to combat such jerky, alien-infected high-school faculty members: drugs—specifically, Bic pens full of cocaine. Thus The Faculty is the only movie where openly dealing drugs in high school will get the faculty off your back.

11. Mr. Hand in Fast Times At Ridgemont High

Mr. Hand at least turns out to be interested in his students' welfare by the end of Fast Times At Ridgemont High, but he's still a hard-ass largely for the sake of being a hard-ass, and he seems more interested in establishing his dominance than actually teaching: When Sean Penn shows up late to class on the first day, Mr. Hand (played by Ray Walston), tears up his schedule card and sends him to his office. Mr. Hand also looks down on all of his students, assuming they're on dope. (Granted, they probably are.)

12. Michel Delassalle in Diabolique

Usually, European boarding schools are associated with the finest a continental education can offer. Not so with the run-down, crumbling school run by headmaster Michel Delassalle (played with maximum oiliness by Paul Meurisse) in Henri-Georges Clouzot's suspense classic Diabolique. The grounds are in ill repair, the professors—like the perfectly named Mssr. Drain—are incompetents and time-servers, the kids smoke and harass the staff, and Delassalle himself is a monster who mistreats his wife and openly carries on an affair. Even the two women who are supposed to love him are plotting his demise. He's such an uncaring administrator that the school seemingly would only get better if he disappeared, but in fact, it gets much, much worse.


13. Principal Strickland in Back To The Future

Ageless authoritarian Mr. Strickland rules the hallways of Hill Valley High with a strict military precision that perfectly matches his bullish bald head. But while there's nothing wrong with maintaining discipline—especially in a school where bullies like Biff Tannen roam free—it's Strickland's oft-stated disdain for "slackers" that earns him a place on this list, a lifelong prejudice that manifests in statements like, "No McFly has ever amounted to anything in the history of Hill Valley." For Strickland, fostering young minds obviously runs a distant second to instilling them with fear and crushing their dreams—although to be fair, Back To The Future's grand statement ('The future is what you make of it") and Strickland's admonition to not be such a loser are pretty much one and the same.

14. Mr./Mrs. Garrison in South Park

Given the emphasis that South Park has put on Mr. Garrison's personal life over the last few years—his coming out of the closet, his home life with Mr. Slave, his multiple sex changes—it's easy to forget his early days on the show, when his sole purpose was to be the world's craziest, most thoroughly incompetent teacher. In his early days, he patronized his third-grade class by teaching through a hand puppet named Mr. Hat, who was racist, gay, and insulting to the students. ("Mr. Hat, may I please be excused from class?""Well, Kyle, no! You hear me? You go to hell! You go to hell and you die!") When Mr. Hat disappeared, apparently off on his own adventures, Mr. Garrison briefly replaced him with a tree branch named Mr. Twig, but eventually, he learned to stop hiding behind a puppet and express his many sexual kinks, his racism, his profound ignorance, and his hatred for his students openly, abusing them and encouraging them to abuse each other. At least, when he wasn't replacing the school curriculum with his own lessons on pop culture, like how many times Charo appeared on The Love Boat, or why, um, Chubby Checker left The Beatles.

15. Principal Snyder on Buffy The Vampire Slayer

It ain't easy running a school, and Principal Snyder has it harder than most, having to take over Sunnydale High from a man who was literally eaten alive by his own students. Still, that doesn't explain the intense pleasure Snyder gets from being a bully, his "tingle" of glee at making life miserable for Buffy, Giles, and the rest of the Scooby Gang, nor his obvious favoritism for athletes and unabashed hatred for everyone else. (Perhaps his philosophy is best summed up by a line in "School Hard": "A lot of educators tell students, 'Think of your principal as your pal.' I say, 'Think of me as your judge, jury, and executioner.'") Even more troubling, Snyder's reign comes at the behest of evil Mayor Richard Wilkins, who specifically appointed Snyder to the job so he could cover up the school's frequent supernatural activity, dismissing it as the acts of gangs on PCP. With nary a redemptive moment, Snyder is second only to the Big Bad in the ranks of Buffy's nemeses; speaking for everyone onscreen and at home, Xander later dreams of telling Snyder, "I never got the chance to tell you how glad I was you were eaten by a snake."


16. Mr. Jonas in How Green Was My Valley

A sentimental but still pretty dark adaptation of Richard Llewellyn's novel about growing up poor and Welsh at the end of the Victorian Era, John Ford's How Green Was My Valley stars young Roddy McDowall as Huw (pronounced "Hugh") Morgan, a kid whose scholastic abilities might be his ticket out of his dead-end mining town. Ford's film rhapsodizes over village life without skipping any of the hardships, including the outside prejudice McDowall encounters when he earns the right to leave the village to go to school. There, a sadistic, foppish teacher (Morton Lowry) berates him for being poor, when not caning him to the bone. But Lowry's reign of terror ends when a pair of villagers, including a local prizefighter, beat Lowry up in his classroom under the guise of administering a "boxing lesson," thus fulfilling an unspoken fantasy of school-kids everywhere.


17. Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films

Hogwarts School Of Witchcraft And Wizardry has employed its share of questionably qualified professors throughout the Harry Potter series, including addled Divination instructor Sybill Trelawny (played by Emma Thompson in the films), vapid pretty-boy Gilderoy Lockhart (Kenneth Branagh), and Quirinus Quirrell (Ian Hart), the original Defense Against The Dark Arts teacher who was actually possessed by the world's most evil wizard. But Potions master Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) most routinely and viciously terrorizes his students. Harry Potter's greatest antagonist second only to Lord Voldemort, Snape is ambiguously evil, and his true nature is one of the series' greatest mysteries. A one-time servant of Voldemort who switched sides and swore loyalty to headmaster Albus Dumbledore at great personal risk, Snape's history and malicious treatment of Harry make him a constant suspect of greater evildoing. Originally drawn as a menacing but fairly innocuous bat-like caricature, Snape grows more malevolent as the series grows progressively darker, but while what seem like his worst acts actually have semi-reasonable justifications, it's harder to justify his blatant favoritism and abuses of authority in and out of the classroom.

18. Dr. Phillip Barbay in Back To School

They should've let actor Paxton Whitehead keep his real name to play the stuffy British professor Dr. Phillip Barbay in Rodney Dangerfield's ridiculous, sometimes hilarious Back To School. Not only does Rodney prove him a bad teacher—he's a business prof who knows nothing about the business world—but he's also a stuffed shirt who tries to keep Rodney from getting an education. Luckily, Ned Beatty's Dean Martin keeps him in his place. Sam Kinison also makes an appearance—as either the world's greatest or world's worst contemporary American history teacher.

19. Prof. Jerry Hathaway in Real Genius

Professor Jerry Hathaway hates popcorn, but he loves easy money and doesn't mind a little bit of evil. When the CIA hires him to create a laser that can eliminate human targets from space, he passes the work along to his students—Val Kilmer in particular. Hathaway—played by William Atherton—threatens to flunk Kilmer if he doesn't complete the nefarious project. But all ends well, and the professor's comeuppance involves lots of popcorn.


20. Padre Manolo in Bad Education

There are twists within twists in Pedro Almodóvar's Hitchcockian drama Bad Education, but they all point to one particular moment of education gone bad. Schoolboys in the 1960s, young Ignacio and Enrique are sweet on each other, which fills their teacher Padre Manolo (Daniel Giménez Cacho), with rage and lust. To keep Enrique from being expelled, Ignacio pays a terrible price. Then, years later, their abuser pays a price as well. But that's just in a film the grown-up Enrique (Fele Martínez) is making from a script by Ignacio (Gael García Bernal). Or is it?

21. Jim McAllister in Election

Matthew Broderick is such an instantly likeable actor, and his character in Election is so full of good intentions, that it's easy to overlook the fact that he's not necessarily a good teacher. Sure Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) is unbearable, and the source of Broderick's best pal's marital woes. But it's not like anyone asked him to commit statutory rape. There's spite behind Broderick's attempts to deny the overachiever her place in student government, and in the end, outright deception unbecoming an educator, even one motivated by the possibility of stopping a monster in her youth.

22. Ed Rooney in Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Speaking of spite and Matthew Broderick, how psychotic is Dean Ed Rooney's daylong quest to shut down Ferris Bueller's likeable slacking? As played by Jeffrey Jones, Rooney remains so monomaniacal that he practically earns a day in the fictional suburb of Shermer filled with humiliation and pain—dog harassment, ruined shoes, the indignity of taking the school bus—while his quarry treks through the most beautiful parts of Chicago. Where Broderick's Election character defines his responsibilities a little too loosely, Jones in Bueller is a slave to the job. Maybe someone should tell him that life moves pretty fast, etc., etc.


23. Dean Gordon "Cheese" Pritchard in Old School

In a role perfectly suited to his general sleaziness, Jeremy Piven plays the vindictive Dean "Cheese" Pritchard in Old School, spending all of his scenes cartoonishly trying to shut down the fraternity started by Luke Wilson and Vince Vaughan. The dirty dog even goes to far as to hire a spy, but of course the plan backfires.


24. Dean Wormer in Animal House

A whole lot of movies about wacky hijinks on campus got made in the wake of National Lampoon's Animal House, but John Vernon's Dean Wormer remains the model for crusty, bitter old deans in every variant that's appeared over the last 30 years. Wherever a humorless, mean stick-in-the-mud prevents a gaggle of drunken louts from spending their parents' tuition money on Jack Daniels, Dean Wormer will be there. Wherever double-secret probation is enacted, Dean Wormer will be there. And whenever an authority figure gets thrown into water, Dean Wormer will be there. So powerful did Dean Wormer prove as an object of derision that his one good piece of advice—"fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life"—has been universally ignored ever since.

25. Mrs. Tingle in Teaching Mrs. Tingle

Almost to the last, sadistic movie teachers abuse their students out of jealousy. Could that be because most movies with bad educators want to flatter their teen viewers? Maybe. Certainly Teaching Mrs. Tingle writer-director Kevin Williamson knew a thing or two about playing to teens in the '90s, having created the savvy, self-aware horror movie Scream and the savvy, self-aware teen soap Dawson's Creek. In his sole directorial effort, however, he can't find a tone, which lets Helen Mirren's grave performance as a sadistic instructor held against her will by a could-be valedictorian (Katie Holmes) dominate the movie. She's the only three-dimensional character around, making it too easy to wish she would turn the tables on her tormentors. That can't have been part of Williamson's plan.

26. Mr. Woodcock in Mr. Woodcock

Giggle if you must at the world's funniest-sounding shorebird, but not in Mr. Woodcock's gym. You'll have to run laps—or worse, suffer the sort of humiliation that leads to forever-diminished confidence and touchy-feely self-help books. As played by Billy Bob Thornton, Woodcock is a humorless, militaristic middle-school gym teacher who bullies the weakest, plumpest, and least coordinated boys in class. He's not above forcing a wheezing asthmatic kid to run laps, for example, and his random cup-checks involve whacking his students in the groin with a whiffleball bat. In other words, not the sort of guy you want dating your mother. At least not if you like her.

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