It’s officially back-to-school season — or, if you’re no longer a student, watch-people-go-back-to-school-on-TV season.
This fall, the Sex Education teens broadened their educational horizons, with Maeve moving to America to study writing under well-known author Thomas Molloy (guest star Dan Levy). But, as a fan of his work, Maeve is devastated when he turns out to be, well, awful: a snobby, suffer-for-your-art type who tells his young students that most of them probably aren’t talented enough to make it as writers.
“I was just trying to push you to be better,” he tells Maeve — only after she considered quitting her dream of being a writer altogether.
“I don’t think you were,” she says. “And even if that is true, your words really crushed me. ... I just want you to know that, as a teacher, your words hold a lot of power.”
It’s refreshing to see a bad teacher get called out because, in the canon of small-screen educators, it doesn’t happen that often. Beyond the hallways of Abbott Elementary, which platforms generally good, hard-working teachers, many of them on TV are fairly bad people. Much has been written about the negative portrayals of TV teachers, with Wake Forest University professor Mary M. Dalton telling The Washington Post that 21st-century discussions about education have led to fictional educators who are “burned out, incompetent, unfulfilled, immature, irresponsible, and worse.”
That “worse” would apply to teachers like Pretty Little Liars’ Ezra Fitz, who dates (and then marries!) his student, Aria. But many other TV teachers are horrible for other reasons — and you’ll find eight of them below.
Thomas Molloy, Sex Education
Hasn’t Molloy ever heard of a compliment sandwich? Even if he found Maeve’s story about the eldest Brontë sister boring (which I really doubt it was!), there’s a way to communicate that without totally discouraging her first try. He also throws her phone out a window and later says she’s not cut out to be a writer. As Maeve’s arc proves, a mean teacher can make or break your life ambitions — so why not be nice?
Jonathan Moore, YOU
Jonathan Moore (the academic formerly known as Joe Goldberg) cops to using professor-isms (“Say more?”) as a way to feign being good at his new job in YOU Season 4. Even so, the bookish serial killer is generally interested in the material, and his class, American Iconoclasts of the Short Story, would be a fun time if you didn’t need to worry about being murdered — or framed for murder.
Hannah Horvath, Girls
Hannah once served as a substitute teacher on Girls, and it was rough. In Season 4, she befriends a pre-Euphoria High Maude Apatow and acts like a student herself — as she tells an annoying catcaller, “Please! We’re children!”
If you were a teenager, you’d love to have a teacher like Hannah. But once your frontal lobe has matured, you realize it’s not OK for a teacher to accompany you to get your tongue pierced over lunch. Plus, exposing herself to the school’s principal to get out of trouble is bad, even for Hannah.
Walter White, Breaking Bad
In Breaking Bad’s first episode, Walter White tells his former pupil, Jesse, “I never expected you to amount to much.” That alone puts him in bad teacher territory — shouldn’t educators root for their students to do well? Especially the ones they’re worried about? It gets worse when Mr. White announces his plan to blackmail Jesse into being his partner in the drug business, which, yikes.
Will Schuester, Glee
Speaking of teachers who blackmail, there’s Will Schuester from Glee — who begins his reign as the New Directions teacher by planting weed in Finn’s locker and threatening to put the crime on his permanent record unless he joins the team. He’s responsible for other atrocities, too, like telling his students that they’re all minorities for being in the glee club and that nearly NSFW performance of Britney Spears’ “Toxic” with his students. And those are just in Season 1!
Max Medina, Gilmore Girls
It’s easy to see why Lorelai was drawn to her daughter’s handsome, well-read English teacher. But after a certain number of rewatches, the charm wears off. He dates Lorelai, then quickly inserts himself into the stepdad role, making Rory feel awkward. Sure, Max’s faults are less about how he operates in the classroom and more about how he skirts boundaries outside of it. But when you’re tasked with nurturing young minds, it’s important to protect them emotionally and not turn them into a social pariah by making out with their mom in the middle of a school day.
Cory Matthews, Girl Meets World
You were probably disappointed if you watched Girl Meets World to see whether Cory Matthews lived up to his mentor Mr. Feeny’s teaching skills. In the Disney Channel follow-up to Boy Meets World, Cory’s attempts to channel life lessons into history lessons often resulted in his daughter and her friends monopolizing class discussion — and if you were one of the students not in her orbit, you likely didn’t learn much that day. That might be a good thing, though: Cory once described the Civil War as a conflict about “trying to figure out who we were as a people,” which is a pretty gross oversimplification even for middle school.
The Constance Billard Teachers, Gossip Girl (2021)
The controversial decision to put the Constance Billard teachers in charge of Gossip Girl in the 2021 reboot raised eyebrows, and for good reason. Spilling anonymous tea about your elite, private-school friend group from an outsider’s perspective? Fun and campy. Disseminating the details of your students’ private lives as their teacher? Concerning!
Creator Joshua Safran pointed out to Variety that the teachers aren’t that much worse than Dan Humphrey (“Was it any better than [Dan] destroying his own sister? His own girlfriend?”), but still, it’s a creepy twist for the people tasked with looking after kids all day.