The Most Notorious Teachers in Fiction

Mean teacher

The air is getting crisper, carrying with it thoughts of apple picking, new sweaters…and that one teacher you once had, who publicly bemoaned the loss of corporal punishment in schools. Everyone’s had a difficult prof or two, but few among us can boast having been taught by the kind of flat-out nuts found in the school systems of literature. Here are some of the most notorious teachers in fiction:

Miss Trunchbull (Matilda). This sociopathic schoolmarm could only have come from the brilliantly twisted mind of Roald Dahl. Her fantastical flights of creative child abuse include hammer-tossing a little girl (she didn’t appreciate her pigtails) and making students serve time in the Chokey, a skinny cupboard studded with nails and broken glass.

Dolores Umbridge (Harry Potter series). It’s tempting to put Snape on this list, but I think Umbridge is a better example of true evil in a Hogwarts professional. She’s a bigoted, backward-thinking witch who uses her powers in government to stem progress–and to be placed as a spy and interim headmaster at Hogwarts, where she preaches a “theoretical” magical education, ensuring students be helpless against Ministry forces (and Voldemort). And who can forget what went down during Harry’s detention? No clapping erasers for Umbridge.

Hannah Schneider (Special Topics in Calamity Physics). Hannah’s a sexy, worldly film teacher who cares about her students. Well…she cares about six of her students, whom she’s molded into an impenetrable little clan of elite snobs. Aside from feeding them alcohol and giving them an (unwarranted) inflated sense of self, she takes them on an unsanctioned and ultimately treacherous field trip, then up and dies on them in mysterious and terrifying fashion (for the uninitiated: this is not a spoiler). That’s not even the worst of it…but go any further, and I will hit spoiler territory.

Mrs. Gorf (Wayside School series). Mrs. Gorf majorly gamed the system: if a student answered a question wrong or otherwise annoyed her, she’d turn them into an apple, which she’d then add to the pile on her desk. No teacher who gets that many apples from her students could possibly be bad, right? By putting the evidence of her evil in plain sight, Mrs. Gorf gets away with this treachery for ages—until her students trick her into turning her spell on herself. She’s then eaten. Yeah, this series is dark, which is a big part of its enduring appeal.

Mr. Smith/Broxholm (My Teacher is an Alien). In this grade-school classic by the endlessly delightful Bruce Coville, a mean teacher is revealed to be…an alien! What I remember best about this book is how much the cover freaked me out when I got it from the bookmobile around age 9. I had to pile Babysitters Club books on top of it just to handle its presence in my room. Over the course of a four-book series (ending with the excellently titled My Teacher Flunked the Planet), aliens continue sniffing around an American grade school in sinister fashion—but their motives are revealed to be more complex than KILL THE HUMAN CHILDREN. Highly recommended bedtime reading for braver-than-average kids (just hide those covers).

Professor Moriarty (Sherlock Holmes, The Adventure of the Final Problem). Before he chucked the academic life to devote himself full-time to Nefariousness, Moriarty was a promising mathematician, and a professor at a “smaller universit(y).” What, summers off weren’t enough time to bring all of London’s underworld under your methodical iron grip? Apparently the “criminal strain” in his blood won out over his desire to form young minds.

Who’s your vote for the scariest teacher in fiction?

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