In a British Council poll, Professor Dumbledore has been voted the UK's favourite fictional teacher. Harry Potter fan and former English language assistant Kristen McNicoll explains why.
Who is Professor Dumbledore?
To give him his full name, Professor Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore is best known for being headmaster of Hogwarts – the magical school of witchcraft and wizardry created by author J.K. Rowling in her famed Harry Potter series of children's books. At first glance, Dumbledore seems every bit your typical wizard. The revered professor dresses in long, purple robes, wears half-moon spectacles, and his silver hair and beard are 'both long enough to tuck into his belt'.
But what is arguably much more out of this world is his incredible wisdom, and honourable outlook on life. He is moral and measured, insightful and enigmatic. For me, at least, it is the combination of these qualities that explain his enduring appeal. It gives him an unspoken power that commands respect in both the wizarding and non-wizarding worlds alike.
Why do readers like him so much?
We never really see Dumbledore teaching in a classroom, at least not while Harry Potter is at Hogwarts. So it seems to be the lessons that he imparts outside the classroom that make him so well-loved. J.K. Rowling herself has previously described the character as being ‘the epitome of goodness’. He acts as the moral compass for other characters, and is relied upon throughout the books for his generosity, experience and guidance.
How are these qualities manifested in the classroom?
Thinking back to my own school days, the teachers who had the greatest influence upon me share some qualities with Professor Dumbledore.
The first quality is perceptiveness. My favourite teachers were those who recognised our individual merits and encouraged us to build on them. They tried to really understand us, not just in terms of seeing who we were, but also seeing who we could become. In short, the best teachers pay attention to their students' potential, and help them to fulfil it. This perceptiveness is one of Professor Dumbledore's defining traits, as he sees Harry's abilities from the start.
The second quality is trustworthiness. To get the best from someone, you need to build a rapport, and to do that, they need to trust you. Professor Dumbledore exudes trustworthiness. Harry Potter sees his headmaster as a mentor throughout the series, and values his advice above that of all others. It is Dumbledore whom Harry relies on in some of his darkest moments, from the beginning of the books, when Dumbledore arrives at Harry's aunt and uncle's home in Little Whinging, Surrey, to the end, when Harry is struck by a Killing Curse and Dumbledore appears to him and offers advice.
The third quality is compassion. One of the professor’s most famous quotations is: 'Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and above all, those who live without love.' Dumbledore sees the best in other people, such as the complex antihero Severus Snape. He looks beyond appearances, saying that 'differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open.'
Finally, when I was at school, it was knowledge and passion that set apart the great teachers from the good ones. And I suppose in teaching, as in life, the people who inspire us most are those who have the most expertise and enthusiasm about what they do. Wizardry aside, that is something spellbinding.
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