Literature has had its share of tyrannical tutors; Miss Trunchbull from Matilda and Miss Minchin from A Little Princess are surely the most obvious examples. These characters serve as antitheses to the authors’ conceptions of what makes a true teacher: empathy, commitment, generosity and open-mindedness. A good teacher enables their students to achieve excellence while giving them space to find comfort within their skins. A teacher’s role in providing education is central not only to the advancement of society but also to a child’s discovery of their own identity. In literature, children have found refuge in, been challenged by, and inspired by their teachers.
Miss Jennifer Honey, from Roald Dahl’s Matilda, loves Charles Dickens (or rather, Dahl’s Chickens) and embodies an early prototype of the cottagecore aesthetic. Besides being resilient, fair-minded, and intelligent, Miss Honey exudes a kind of affectionate brilliance in all her interactions with her students. Her eagerness to engage with, listen to and observe her students leads her to recognise Matilda’s intellectual potential in a manner that no one else in her life could. She treats her students just as she would her rather cluttered front garden: she allows them to take up space, nurturing their desire for knowledge and growth. While Matilda is just as important to her as the rest of her “children,” she goes out of the way to make sure she is intellectually challenged to a sufficient degree, filling in the void she knew Matilda’s parents had created.
The superintendent of Lowood Institute, Miss Temple, becomes perhaps one of the most reliable characters early in Jane Eyre. Jane’s predicament in childhood is similar to Matilda’s: she was regularly misunderstood and villainised by the adults in her life, who abused their positions of power to make her life miserable. Instead of conforming to the narrative about Jane’s wickedness and duplicity, Miss Temple dares to form her own conclusions based on observation alone. She is a beacon of hope for Jane as the only person at Lowood who treats her with respect and compassion. A true teacher, she is a positive female role model and a place of refuge for Eyre.
Mrs. McGongall was perhaps the most intelligent and patient of all characters in Harry Potter. Her magnanimity wasn’t obvious: she was, first and foremost, a teacher, treated all her students with sternness and wasn’t particularly biased towards any one of them. She was observant, which led her to understand her students more deeply and sincerely than any other teacher at Hogwarts – even Dumbledore. Despite having reservations about several characters in the Harry Potter series, she never ignored the possibility of their being good people. She looked out for and was protective of each child, as well as the collective student body, all at once. It is, therefore, perhaps, unsurprising that by the end of the series she had become both Headmistress of Hogwarts and recipient of the Order of Merlin, First Class, an award bestowed upon witches and wizards who achieved great things for the Wizarding World.
As literature makes glaringly evident, teachers hold a powerful place in society: the key to empowerment and education lies in their hands. It is crucial to celebrate their roles as much as humanly possible – there isn’t another one quite like it.
Nitya Khirwar (Class of 2022)