Snape, McGonagall, and Umbridge – an educational inquiry

The recent passing of the delightfully talented and exquisite protagonist Alan Rickman had me misty and re-watching the Harry Potter serieScreen Shot 2016-01-19 at 11.39.48 AMs again. Of particular note, is The Order of the Phoenix, featuring the awful Mrs. Umbridge. I started to think about whether I had ever had a teacher like her, and of course, I have. So have many students. So I decided to give a report card for all of the major educators featured in the Harry Potter book and film series. You know, for fun.

Minerva McGonagall – In terms of student care, the transfiguration teacher scores very high marks. She is firm but fair in her reprisals, and is one of the only teachers who really listens to the students. Students do fear her, though, which is a liability. She is at times warm and loving to Harry and his mates, and at other times cold and cross. As an instructor, she seems to be a stand and deliver sort, so she should be docked a bit in that area. Seems mostly like bookwork in her classes. However, when the lives of her students are on the line, she is brave and wise, much like her namesake, Athena. Grade: B+

Filius Flitwick – This charms teacher seems to fully embrace experiential education, if only the more traditional parts. In class, he demonstrates a desired outcome and the students attempt to replicate it. When successful, they are praised. When unsuccessful, they try again. Overall, this appears to be a very strong environment for learning. Grade: A

Sybill Trelawney – The divination teacher is also an experiential coach in essence, but fails to properly track student progress. As students attempt to meet learning goals, she is oblivious as to how the students are progressing, and when asked, students often lie about what they accomplish in order to continue off-task behavior. This learning environment may work for a few students, but the lack of classroom management and formative assessment strategies is troubling. Grade: C-

Horace Slughorn – The potions professor featured later in the series exhibits some of the best and worst qualities of a teacher. One one hand, his inquiry-based classroom approach is spot-on. He issues challenges to students and helps them as they work toward success. On the other hand, he revels in his personal relationships with students, and they are not appropriate. In a way, Slughorn “collects” students to spend time with individually, to groom for his own purposes. Even if those purposes are generally benign, it is still creepy. Grade: D-

Remus Lupin – As one of the only Defence Against the Dark Arts teachers who actually taught students anything useful, Lupin is a singular standout on the teaching staff. His lessons are interactive, engaging, and relevant. He uses modeling, experiential exploration, and authentic learning. He puts students in position to learn safely, yet allows them to see things as they really are, not an artificial version. His influence is felt long after his tenure at Hogwarts, as Harry later implements many of Lupin’s teaching methods in his own instruction of Dumbledore’s Army. He is a nearly flawless teacher…except for that night or two each month. But hey, who’s perfect? Grade: A-

Rubeus Hagrid – In his short, turbulent time as Magical Creatures instructor, Hagrid showed us his true colors quickly. He cares deeply for the students, and eagerly shares his passions with them in a highly engaging atmosphere. He is a true teaching coach, and he does a marvelous job of showing instead of just telling. His one weakness or area of growth is to work on his student management. He loses control of one of his more ill-behaved students and he was hurt. Sure, the student defied his orders and did everything in his power to get himself hurt, we as teachers need to take precautions to protect students, if only from themselves. He got a bad rap for a generally fogivable mistake, but his judgment may be a liability. Grade: B

Severus Snape – The famous Potions teachers is clearly a talented wizard, but his table-side manner leaves a bit to be desired. Snape rules with an iron fist, and his classroom management is based on fear more than anything. He does, however, get results. Students in Snape’s class learn quickly and are rewarded for their hard work with real knowledge. His teaching style is one part textbook and discussion, and one part lab exploration. He understands the high stakes of education and values rigor. Snape just needs to lighten up a bit. Grade: B

Dolores Umbridge – Oh boy. This teacher / headmistress is so hated by fans she ranks above Voldemort as the least liked character in the whole series…and he kills people by the dozens. To my observation, she doesn’t kill anyone, yet she is loathed with the fire of a thousand suns. Let’s start with the pedagogy: She is awful. Her version of “applying Common Core” standards is to stick to a script and not venture beyond for even one question. Her curriculum is bland, irrelevant, and unengaging. And she defends it as what is best for students. Her teaching style is entirely textbook-based, and she adds nothing to the lesson except empty regurgitation of the established content. She condescends and berates students, and clearly has no interest in their well being. Beyond that, she hides all this vitriol and contempt behind a sweet smile. That’s the part I think people hate most about her. Voldemort is Hitler, a concept which we are mostly familiar with, but only in the faraway abstract. But we have all known an Umbridge. We have all known someone who treats kids differently when the adults have all left the room. The one who no one will believe is a vengeful, sadistic monster. Unlike Snape, who teaches through tough love and general respect, she is a tyrant unmotivated by the goals of the school or what is best for students, but an ulterior agenda that is far more sinister. Grade: F


Headmaster Albus Dumbledore – I am not going to be popular for this appraisal, but Dumbledore is a very inconsistent school leader. While he seems to care genuinely for everyone is his care, he is frequently absent at times when the school needs him most. Furthermore, he is very perceptive to those around him, yet he completely misses no less than three imposters among his teaching staff, each so obvious that students are well aware there is a problem with them, even if they can’t say what. Overall, he is a defender of good, and an advocate for individual growth, so I give him that. He also seems to be a very good delegator and helps Harry and others in ways that go far beyond the job description. While he is beloved by staff and students, he uses people for his own agenda, even if that agenda is genuinely good. In retrospect, Dumbledore would probably make a far better superintendent with McGonagall as headmistress. Grade: B-


Ok, that was fun, wasn’t it? If you enjoyed this thought experiment, please share. If you disagree, I welcome your respectful comments.






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