Are teachers that terrible? Representations of teachers in film and television

I love being a teacher. It’s become a part of my identity, and something that I am extremely proud of. But sometimes teachers get a bad rap. The perception of long holidays and short work days makes many jealous (until they learn the truth that is), but I don’t let the jibes about being a slacker bother me. What does bother me is the negative representation of teachers in film and television.

While there are some fantastic representations of teachers such as Louanne Johnson (Dangerous Minds,1995) and Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall (the Harry Potter series, 2001 – 2011), many teachers on the screen are shown behaving in ways unbefitting of a professional educator (McCullick et. al., 2003). Just some of these perpetrators include:

Drug and alcohol use:

  • Walter White (Breaking Bad, 2008 – 2013) who steals equipment from his school to set up a drug lab.
  • Principal Rolle (The Substitute, 1996) who is part of a drug distribution ring with a student.
  • Dan Dunne (Half Nelson, 2006) whose drug habit is uncovered by a young student who becomes his confidante.


  • Mrs Trunchball (Matilda, 1996) who finds pleasure in torturing her young students.
  • Eve Tingle (Teaching Mrs Tingle,1999) who tries to sabotage and kill several of her students.

Affairs with students:

  • Veronica Vaughn (Billy Madison, 1995) who strips for (and kisses) her student Billy (Although she can be forgiven because Billy was, in fact, a grown man).
  • Tamara Jacobs (Dawson’s Creek, 1998 – 2003) who has an affair with student Pacey Witter.
  • Mr Rooks (Veronica Mars, 2004 – 2007) who impregnates student Susan Knight.

Multiple offenders:

  • Edna Krabapple (The Simpsons, 1989 –  present) who drinks, smokes and engages in sexual relations with Principal Seymour Skinner on school grounds.
  • Elizabeth Halsey (Bad Teacher, 2011) who drinks and uses drugs on school grounds and commits fraud to raise money for breast implants, all while desperately courting another male teacher.

There are a few interesting patterns here when dividing up the gender of the teachers. In fact, research suggests that archetypes of teachers are often gender-driven (Dalton, 2013).

When it comes to the females, what stands out most is that many of their flaws relate to their sexuality, and particularly affairs with other teachers or students. Even the two female multiple offenders spend much of their time chasing a male suitor.

Unfortunately female teachers are often sexualised (Bauer, 1998; Beyerbach, 2005). Teachers are depicted in pornographic films, and the ‘sexy teacher’ is a common dress-up feature. There are even songs dedicated to the sexualisation of teachers (Van Halen’s Hot for Teacher, Velvet Revolver’s Just Sixteen and Elton John’s Teacher I Need You).

Even the sexuality of teachers is stereotyped on the screen, with homosexual male teachers such as Mr G (Summer Heights High, 2007) being represented as feminine, and female homosexual teachers (overrepresented in physical education) represented as butch. Interestingly, the representation of female PE teachers in general centres on lesbianism (McCullick et al., 2003; Harris & Griffin, 1997).

Although there have of course been cases of teacher impropriety around the world, I would like to see research conducted to see whether the rate of misconduct is relative to the portrayal of it in film and television.

There is suggestion that “movies are so embedded in our culture that it is often difficult to determine when they mirror society and when they shape it” (Farhi, 1999). With this in mind, what are these negative representations telling our students about the role of a teacher?

What do you think of the representation of teachers in film and television?




Bauer, D. M. (1998). Indecent proposals: Teachers in the movies. College English, 60(3), 301-317. Retrieved from

Beyerbach, B. (2005). The Social Foundations Classroom: Themes in Sixty Years of Teachers in Film: Fast Times, Dangerous Minds, Stand on Me, Educational Studies: A Journal of the American Educational Studies Association, 37(3), 267-285, DOI: 10.1207/s15326993es3703_5

Dalton, M (2013). ‘Bad Teacher’ is bad for teachers. The journal of popular film and television, (0195-6051)41 (2), 78 – 87. DOI: 10.1080/01956051.2013.787352

Farhi, A. (1999). Recognizing the superteacher myth in film. The Clearing House, 72(3), 157-159. Retrieved from

Harris, M. B., & Griffin, J. (1997). Stereotypes and personal beliefs about women physical education teachers. Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal, 6(1), 49-83. Retrieved from

McCullick, B. (2003). Butches, Bullies and Buffoons: Images of Physical Education Teachers in the Movies. Sport, education and society (1357-3322), 8(1), 3 – 16. DOI: 10.1080/1357332032000050033

Image Attribution

Bad Teacher [Gif]. Retrieved October 15, 2014, from

Dewey Finn School of Rock Teaching [Image]. Retrieved October 16, 2014, from

Flash [Image]. Retrieved October 16, 2014, from

Freedom Writers Swank [Image]. Retrieved October 16, 2014, from

It’s the weekend [Gif]. Retrieved October 16, 2014, from

TheDailyVinyl. (2009). Hot for Teacher by Van Halen [Video file]. Retrieved from

2 thoughts on “Are teachers that terrible? Representations of teachers in film and television

  1. This topic reminds me of when I first told my friends I was going back to university to complete my teaching degree, I was met with references to Billy Madison and having elicit affairs with children. Yes they were only joking, but the inference to pop culture and bad teaching is there. Upon reflection this sensationalism of teachers having these outrageous lives, filled with affairs, drama and scandal is definitely a representation some of my students exhibit. Often on a Monday I am asked how my weekend was, when I respond with the usual answer of it being full of lesson planning, marking or completing uni work I am met with a look of doubt and curiosity. I honestly believe they think my life is like that of Elizabeth Halsey or Veronica Vaughan, and my craziness is just hidden under the cloak of an everyday teacher. I also find many of my students oddly curious about staff room gossip, wanting to delve into the intricate relationships and conversations that exist. I try my best to ignore them, but sometimes their assertions are just hilarious.

    Now don’t get me wrong, I understand Hollywood movies are all about profit and no one would pay to watch me mark 28 essay exams, writing the same corrections I had written on their drafts, but could they at least attempt to show something real? Upon doing some further research I stumbled across a site (hyperlink at the bottom) that tries to debunk myths about teachers. One myth I found particularly hilarious was how movies portray teachers as only having that one class of 15-25 students that require rescuing, inspiring, or destroying. In reality, we have up to six of these classes weekly, all of which need inspiration in their own special way. As teachers I suppose all we can do is continue to be professional and good at our jobs, after all the best method of destroying stereotypes is through actions, not words.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a great post. I have often given much thought to the negative stereotypes given to teachers from movies and dramas in popular culture. But this is not an old adage, it has been spurred on by this current generation of movie goers. Old movies such as ‘Goodbye Mr Chips’, and ‘To Sir With love’ and even more recently ‘Saving Private Ryan’, glorifies the role of a teacher. The positive representations of teachers in current movies is rare to find. ‘Dangerous Minds’ and ‘Sister Act’ attempted to represent the heroic role that teachers play in troubled societies however these representations are damaged by all of the movies you listed above. The sexualisation of female teachers is a troubling trend in popular culture. Although this is not helped by stories of female teacher affairs with students in the USA, these stories seem to pop up regularly, but therein lies a gender inequality where male teachers in the same position are seen in a much more negative light. There is an advertisement currently on television for the company ‘Cougars Online’ (or something like that). In the advertisement there is a young man who sleeps with his teacher of 4 or 5 years ago, a woman he fantasized about as a teenage male. Advertisements such as this are created purely because the creators know very well that many teenage males fantasize about female teachers, it is a market to take advantage of by the depraved. Popular culture is a representation of what youth want, this example is a reason for concern and demonstrates the need to carefully critique social trends that affect our youth.


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