For many of us, fall means it's time to return to the classroom. And some of our most memorable educators have reached us through our TV screens. They have made us laugh, cry and even taught us TV viewers some lessons too.
Let's take a closer look at a few of television's top teachers. (And feel free to add your own favorites in the comments below.)
Welcome Back, Kotter: Gabe Kotter
Let's face it, Mr. Kotter had a tough job on Welcome Back, Kotter. He was in charge of a group of wayward teens called the Sweathogs who'd rather goof around than actually learn something. Mr. Kotter handled the troublesome quartet of Epstein, Horshack, Washington and Barbarino with good humor. He didn't even get upset when they made themselves at home at his apartment, entering the place via the fire escape.
Actor Gabe Kaplan, who created the sitcom and played Gabe Kotter, actually based the show on kids he knew from his high school years in Brooklyn. As he explained to People magazine, his former classmates were "so tough that their yearbook photographs had front and side views." The network had Kaplan and his co-creator Alan Sacks tone down the program, but still one Boston TV station didn't want to air the show. As John Travolta, who played Barbarino explained to USA Today, "It was an era where the schools were having a problem with students and disrespect for teachers, and we just added to that."
Fame: Lydia Grant
Debbie Allen was one fierce dance teacher on the hit TV drama Fame, which debuted in 1982. Lydia Grant pushed her students at New York City's High School for the Performing Arts to do their best. As she told her class, "you want fame. Fame costs. And right here is where you start paying in sweat." Allen had firsthand experience in the school of tough love growing up. As a teen, she studied at the Houston Ballet Foundation. Allen told the Huffington Post that it was "the most intense ballet program known to man and God, and it really pushed me and made it possible for me to become the Debbie Allen that everybody loves—singing and dancing all over the world."
Lydia may have been tough at times, but it was only because she really cared. She formed a close bond with her students, especially Leroy (Gene Anthony Ray). Allen was also the cast's dance teacher as well, serving as the show's choreographer. She must have been an excellent real-life teacher as she earned two Emmy Award wins for her choreography. In 2009, Allen returned to the TV famous high school—this time as Principal Angela Simms—for a short-lived remake of the 1980s show.
The Simpsons: Edna Krabappel
No one would ever call The Simpsons' Mrs. Krabappel an enthusiastic educator. But then again, she spent years as mischievous Bart Simpson's teacher so that could do an number on anyone. Mrs. Krabappel often punctuated her frustration with "Ha!," her trademark laugh. Still behind her cynical attitude viewers caught glimpses of her gentler side. In one episode, Mrs. Krabappel raised Bart's failing grade on a test when she figured out he had actually studied for once. Bart even nominated her for "Teacher of the Year" in another episode, but he was also responsible for getting her fired in a later season. Mrs. Krabappel deserved a medal for all the grief she put up over the years.
The Simpsons retired the character of Mrs. Krabappel in 2014 in honor of Marcia Wallace, the actress who provided her voice. Wallace died in 2013 and had won an Emmy Award for her work as Mrs. Krabappel in 1992. Before The Simpsons, Wallace was best known as Bob Newhart's wise-cracking secretary on The Bob Newhart Show.
Glee: Will Schuester
Nice, earnest teachers can be a rarity on television, and Mr. Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison) really stood out as a champion for William McKinley High School's underdogs during Glee's six-season run. Known as "Mr. Schue," he initially puts up his own cash to fund the school's failing glee club. Mr. Schue even had to face off the scary cheer coach Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) several times to keep his group afloat over the seasons.
Despite numerous obstacles, McKinley's favorite Spanish teacher managed to turn his ragtag bunch into a competitive performing force. His character's kind, nurturing troop leader persona leaked into Morrison's off-stage life as well. As he explained to the Washington Post, his younger castmates "still think of me as their teacher, as a mentor to them."
Girl Meets World: Cory Matthews
Sometimes the student becomes the teacher, and that's exactly what happened on Girl Meets World. On the show, Ben Savage plays a grown-up version of Cory Matthews, the subject of the hit 1990s sitcom Boy Meets World. Cory and his friends may have driven Mr. Feeny (William Daniels) nuts on the earlier series, but now the thirty-something Cory is the one in charge of the classroom. He even married his sweetheart from his teen years, Topanga (Danielle Fishel).
Mr. Matthews teaches history at a New York City middle school. He acts as a parental figure to his students, which include his own teenage daughter Riley (Rowan Blanchard). But Savage admits that Cory hasn't evolved too much from his early days. As he explained to People magazine, "Cory is the same. Still funny, still neurotic, still sweet . . . still likes cake." So sometimes the teacher isn't such a grown-up after all, at least in Cory's case.
FROM THE BIO ARCHIVES: This article was originally published in September 2015.