Some of you might know I’m a big Harry Potter fan. I have a Professor Snape action figure in my classroom. He’s one of my favorite characters. I was thinking over the last week or so that it might be fun to evaluate the effectiveness of some of the Hogwarts professors in light of the fact that I’m an educator myself.
Severus Snape, Potions/Defense Against the Dark Arts
Obviously the favoritism and sarcasm are not the hallmarks of a good teacher, but I don’t think we should count him out entirely. He does manage, albeit through fear tactics and bullying, to teach his students quite a great deal about Potions and Defense Against the Dark Arts. It is also through Snape that Harry learns the Expelliarmus spell that helps him in his first duel with Voldemort in the graveyard in Goblet of Fire. J.K. Rowling has said that Snape was loosely based on a teacher she had. Yikes!
Minerva McGonagall, Transfiguration
As much as we like to consider her tough but fair, she occasionally has her lapses, too. Disgusted by Neville Longbottom’s poor performance in class, she once remarked, “Longbottom, kindly do not reveal that you can’t even perform a simple Switching Spell in front of anyone from Durmstrang!” (Goblet of Fire, Ch. 15). All in all, however, she tends to have high expectations (but not unreasonable ones). She inspires respect in her charges, and in several instances, readers are shown she cares for her students. For example, when Dumbledore, Snape, and McGonagall arrive at Prof. Moody’s (really Barty Crouch, Jr.) office to rescue Harry from the man whom they now realize is an imposter, McGonagall’s first concern is Harry:
“Come along, Potter,” she whispered. The thin line of her mouth was twitching as though she was about to cry. “Come along… hospital wing…” (Goblet of Fire, Ch. 35)
After Dumbledore insists that Harry stay a moment longer, McGonagall even begins to argue with the headmaster. McGonagall is another teacher who manages to educate her students well.
Rubeus Hagrid, Care of Magical Creatures
Hagrid is just an awful teacher. He’s a great friend to Harry, but his lessons are dangerous or boring most of the time. The only time he manages to plan good lessons are when he implements units started by his replacement, Professor Grubbly-Plank (for example, the lessons on unicorns). Even Harry is forced to acknowledge that Grubbly-Plank is a better Care of Magical Creatures teacher in Order of the Phoenix:
“And don’t say that Grubbly-Plank woman’s a better teacher!” [Harry] added threateningly.
“I wasn’t going to,” said Hermione calmly.
“Because she’ll never be as good as Hagrid,” said Harry firmly, fully aware that he had just experienced an exemplary Care of Magical Creatures lesson and was thoroughly annoyed about it. (Ch. 13)
Filius Flitwick, Charms
Flitwick seems to be a competent teacher, but it would also seem he allows students a little bit too much free rein in his class. Students frequently use his class as an opportunity to talk off-task (as Harry, Ron, and Hermione do during one lesson on banishing spells in Goblet of Fire). Hermione was also able to earn a 112% on her exam in first year, which would seem to be an impossible feat, as 100% is a perfect score. It sort of makes you wonder about his assessments.
Sybill Trelawney, Divination
Professor Trelawney’s penchant for predicting the deaths of her students as a greeting seems odd in the extreme. She does not generally fraternize with the other staff, which also marks her as odd. Professor Trelawney also has a drinking problem, as Harry and/or his friends twice come across her in a state of inebriation after consuming cooking sherry. Probably not a good idea if one is attempting to learn something, but she is good for entertainment value.
Dolores Umbridge, Defense Against the Dark Arts
Harry Potter’s DADA teacher in Order of the Phoenix teaches her students nothing practical and has them read the textbook and do busywork. I had an English teacher like that in tenth grade. I can never recall her standing in front of the room. I don’t remember reading anything. I remember doing exercises out of Warriner’s grammar book every day. My shop teacher in 6th grade (at my middle school, students had to sample all the Connections classes for 6 weeks each) made us copy out of the woodworking book when he got mad at us. Which was a lot. He also drank a beer in class once. At any rate, we were talking about Professor Umbridge. Well, clearly, she’s not really there to teach, but to be the Ministry’s toadie. I wrote a post about this once, so I won’t repeat it all here. Some of you might enjoy a look at it, though.
Professor Binns, History of Magic
Binns lectures in a boring monotone, which prevents most of his students from learning anything about his subject matter, which should rightfully be a fascinating one. Not exactly sound pedagogical theory, but we’ve all had a teacher like this, too. “Bueller… Bueller…”
Gilderoy Lockhart, Defense Against the Dark Arts
Poorly prepared in his subject and focusing instruction on his own exploits, Gilderoy Lockhart might be the worst teacher Harry has at Hogwarts. A glance at the first quiz he gives should tell the reader all he/she needs to know about Lockhart’s instruction.
Pomona Sprout, Herbology
Herbology students work hard, as would seem logical in the Head of Hufflepuff House’s class. They get plenty of hands-on practical experience. Professor Sprout also seems to be a fair teacher. She also praised Neville to Professor Moody (Crouch); when Moody repeated the praise to Neville, it clearly gave him a self-esteem boost. After Goblet of Fire, the reader sees Neville excel in Herbology, which is nice to see.
Remus Lupin, Defense Against the Dark Arts
I think Professor Lupin might be the best teacher Harry has. He relates well with the students. Snape attempts to insult Neville Longbottom in front of the entire DADA class as they are about to tackle the boggart in the faculty lounge:
“Possibly no one’s warned you, Lupin, but this class contains Neville Longbottom. I would advise you not to entrust him with anything difficult. Not unless Miss Granger is hissing instructions in his ear.”
Lupin replies in Neville’s defense:
“I was hoping that Neville would assist me with the first stage of the operation,” he said, “and I am sure he will perform it admirably.” (Ch. 7)
Perhaps we can forgive him then, for allowing another teacher — Snape — to be mocked openly in his class (when the boggart-Snape appears dressed in clothes similar to those worn by Neville’s grandmother). In addition to caring for his students, he is also able to inspire their respect. When he rescues Harry from Snape after Snape attempts to confiscate the Marauder’s Map, he reprimands Harry for not turning it in: “Your parents gave their lives to keep you alive, Harry. A poor way to repay them — gambling their sacrifice for a bag of magic tricks” (Ch. 14). As Harry walks away, he feels “worse by far than he had at any point in Snape’s office.” Lupin’s final exam is also an excellent assessment — it is application, higher order thinking skills, a true test of what they have learned.
Alastor Moody (Barty Crouch, Jr.), Defense Agains the Dark Arts
The imposter Moody tells the DADA class that they have covered dark creatures very well under Lupin, but are behind on hexes. Even though he turns out to be a Death Eater and murderer, he might have a point. Harry and his classmates did learn quite a bit from the imposter Moody, even if he did resort to illegal curses to teach them. Harry learns how to fight the Imperius Curse. He learns about the Cruciatus Curse and the Avada Kedavra, which he previously had no knowledge of, despite the fact that the Avada Kedavra killed his parents and the fact that he is the only survivor of the AK.
Horace Slughorn, Potions
I am not sure what to make of Slughorn. His penchant for favoritism doesn’t speak well of him, but he’s not exactly evil per se. Unlike most Slytherins Harry has met so far, he is not prejudiced against Muggle-born or Half-Blood wizards. Lily Evans, Harry’s Muggle-born mother, was one of Slughorn’s favorite students. However, he told Tom Riddle about Horcruxes, which was clearly a mistake, but he seems to feel obvious shame and regret over the incident. Harry does seem to learn a great deal in his class, but he attributes most of what he learns to the notes written by the Half-Blood Prince in his textbook. As that person turns out to be Snape, one could argue he really learns a lot more about Potions from Snape.
Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster
While Dumbledore’s function in the series is mainly administrative, we do learn that he taught Transfiguration when Tom Riddle and Rubeus Hagrid went to Hogwarts. We are never given an assessment of Dumbledore’s teaching skills, but based on his relationship with the students, he was probably fairly good. I do wonder at his skill in selecting some of his staff, but he seems, in all, to be a fairly good administrator. He is not always as supportive of his faculty as he could be, but often that’s because the faculty member in question is being unreasonable (Snape, most of the time). He is careful to make sure Harry always demonstrates respect for Snape, often correcting him when he doesn’t refer to him as Professor. He is open-minded and intelligent. When the government attempts to interfere at Hogwarts, he does what he can, within bounds, to protect his faculty and students.
On a slightly unrelated note, do you ever wonder if students develop other more mundane skills necessary for survival both in the Muggle and wizarding worlds? For instance, no one seems to worry about how well students write (though they seem to be assigned quite a lot of essays) or read. They don’t take math, unless you count Arithmancy. I suppose one could consider Potions to be a chemistry class of sorts, and perhaps some biology would be covered in Transfiguration; students take Astronomy, too. However, in general, science looks nothing like it does in Muggle schools. Harry takes a history class, but it is narrow in focus, which I am not sure is wise. Harry and his friends could do with learning a bit more about history in general, and their knowledge of geography does seem weak. I suppose Muggle Studies might cover this material somewhat, but we never really learn much about that class. In terms of foreign language, I don’t see much of it, unless one counts Ancient Runes. Neil Ward at the Harry Potter Lexicon discussed the “roundness” of the Hogwarts education in this essay. Lexicon founder Steve Vander Ark asks whether we would, indeed, want a Hogwarts education for our own children.