Some of the Greatest Teachers Aren’t Nice (What Professor McGonagall Taught Me About Classroom Culture)

Professor McGonagall isn’t very nice. But that’s actually what makes her so great.

Confused?

Let me explain.

Being nice is about being pleasant and agreeable. Minerva McGonagall isn’t like that. She’s firm to a fault — like the way she refuses to let Harry go to Hogsmeade. She doesn’t suffer fools. She’s not interested in being her students’ friend or winning the school-wide popularity contest.

But she’s also kind, like when she secretly buys Harry a new broom and has Dumbledore write the card.

She’s steady and strong, as the only staff member able to stand up to Umbridge. She defends a student who clearly despises you when another professor has turned him into a ferret. She waits for the perfect moment to retake Hogwarts from the grips of the Death Eaters.

So, yeah, she’s strong.

But this also shapes her approach to teaching. McGonagall brings out the best in her students by holding them to a high standard.


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She’s that 11th grade English teacher who spent hours on a Friday evening marking up your paper, knowing that you would silently curse her and later thank her when you become a better writer.

She’s that 4th-grade teacher who called on you, the shyest kid in class, even when you were scared, because she knew you had something valuable to say to the world and she wouldn’t let fear silence your voice.

She’s that teacher who won’t let you have a first-period prep and sends you to potions class instead because she knows that you have potential but that laziness and complacency can ruin it.

She’s that teacher who scared you the first day of class but who later showed up to your soccer game and your graduation and who cried with you when your life situation was falling apart.

People are quick to point to Dumbledore as the one who mentored Harry. But McGonagall was such a strong, steady, faithful, and even kind, presence every day when Dumbledore could often be aloof. And I think that made Harry a better person.

See, Professor McGonagall has no interest in being nice. But that’s okay. She’s offering something much better: Love.

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John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something each day. Sometimes I make things. Sometimes I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.

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2 responses

  1. As a Professor McGonagall type, I would say, “So true!” My heart breaks for my students when I see them make bad choices, but I don’t tell them that. My favorite students become convinced that I like them the least because I hold them to the same high standards as everyone else. And I don’t indulge their weakest selves, and they think I am mean but I know that they will be better if they persevere. Talk about delayed gratification: it’s usually a thankless job…

  2. Great reminder that appeasing is not nearly the same as caring or loving. It is unfortunate that growth comes from getting people out of their comfort zone, and that trying to help people grow can often feel like an act of dislike towards them. However, the temporary misconception of this act as being something mean is well worth the results and rewards that come from this act, that is actually out love and care.

    It is also important to remember though, that, like Prof. McGonagall, one doesn’t need to be “firm to a fault” to help their students and push them to be the best they can be. Or, in other words, one does not have to seem like a mean teacher to get the same results as Prof. McGonagall.

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