End of Term Advice from the Hogwarts Faculty: Seven Magical Tips about Effective Teaching

As the fall semester comes to a close for college students and faculty across the country, this is a nice time to reflect on academic matters. Some of us here are not just Hogwarts Professors, but actual real-life professors at schools that are not reached via train from Platform 9 3/4 (though the name of my school is an acronym for a three-county area, not a specific place name, so it is sort of magical!). So we’ve been grading like mad people and trying to wrap up the ends of our terms. It is a good time, then, for us to reflect on the pedagogical strategies and teaching lessons we can all take from Harry’s professors. Even though they teach subjects that are largely fabricated, the faculty members of the fictional Hogwarts do provide some pearls of wisdom for those of us in the non-fictional teaching profession.


  1. Lessons from Snape and Umbridge: Nice people are not necessarily good, and good people are not necessarily nice.

Many students have some funny ideas about teachers. They sometimes think that the “best” teachers are “nice.” However, as we can tell from Snape, teachers, like the rest of the human race, can be good people, on the side of the angels, even, and not be terribly warm and cuddly. Likewise, as we can see with Umbridge, teachers can seem warm and cuddly but in fact be dreadful people. So when students ask if a teacher is nice, they are asking the wrong question. They should ask if a teacher is good: effective, knowledgeable, or perhaps just working for the downfall of evil. None of these things is the same as being nice. Even Into the Woods reminds us that “nice is different than good.” What students mean by a “nice” teacher is usually a teacher who is “easy” or has a pleasant demeanor , but neither of those things guarantees that a teacher is a good person or an effective instructor.

  1. Lessons from McGonagall: Hard work and high standards show respect for your subject and your students.

Professor McGonagall takes her work as a teacher seriously. She commands respect for both herself and her subject, and though she is not easy, she is definitely good, both as a person and as a teacher. Those good teachers are often so far from easy that they can be intimidating, or even scary. But being scary, if it is for the right reason, is a mark of a good teacher. When students say they think a teacher is “hard” or scary,” they don’t usually mean that the teacher may be a homicidal maniac or an evil monster bent on world domination. They mean that the teacher requires hard work and has high standards. But these are, in fact, hallmarks of a good teacher. I often get students who have managed to graduate high school with hardly any idea how to write anything. They sometimes say “I got As in high school English.” To which I respond that they were ill-served by their educational institution. A good teacher has high standards, not to be “mean,” but to prepare students and truly teach them. The teachers who taught me the most were often the most difficult and demanding.

  1. From Spout and Trelawny: Good teachers practice their discipline and support their schools.

When petrified people need a mandrake solution, Professor Sprout has mandrakes growing and ready. When an obstacle is needed to protect the Sorcerer’s Stone, she provides Devil’s Snare, and when the school is attacked by Voldemort’s forces, she marshals her botanical arsenal. Good teachers, like Sprout, don’t just teach out of a book; they practice what they teach. Unlike poor Trelawney, who really is not much of a Divinator, and thus has little success teaching her subject, the highly capable Sprout is useful both to her discipline and her students. At my college, we have wonderful nursing instructors who really do practice the nursing profession, fantastic welders who teach welding, and working biologists who teach biology (along with at least one author who teaches English). To be good enough to teach something, one should do it well. The old cliche about “those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach,” is totally wrong. Only those who do very well are ready to teach. And, if they teach well, they can also lend their skills to their institution.

4. Lessons from Lockhart: It’s not all about me.

No matter how good a teacher is, we have to remember that our classes are not cults of personality. If we become swept up in our own power and privilege as teachers, we become, like Lockhart, useless and subjects of ridicule. Instead of glorifying ourselves, teachers must strive to celebrate our subjects. Although we can be excused for sharing our experiences when they are relevant to the class, they must never, as in Lockhart’s case, become the only subject matter in which we have any expertise. If we are entertaining, but utterly inept, we are ineffective, and even dangerous, especially if there are pixies in the lesson.

 5. Lessons from Binns: Presentation is important.

Even though good teachers do not need to get wrapped up their performance, like Lockhart, they should think about presentation. Teaching does include performance, and good teachers use effective presentation to engage and interest a class while also effectively transmitting information. Poor Professor Binns, so dry he literally puts students to sleep every class, is as completely disconnected from his students as he is from his body. He manages o make thrilling events like wars and rebellions absolutely uninteresting. More than one student has told me, when I was doing a historical program, that “history is boring.” To which I generally respond that they had the wrong teachers, then. History is all about sex and violence; it can and should be riveting. But sadly, history is sometimes taught by people who neither know nor enjoy history (like coaches who just have to have a class to teach. I had that one and pretty much taught myself and my fellow ninth-graders world civ.), so they bore students to death without the excuse of being dead themselves.

 6. Lessons from Flitwick: Active learning is effective learning.

Though Harry and his friends sometimes use the noisy atmosphere of Flitwick’s classroom to converse about non-academics, the Charms teacher’s approach is excellent and effective. He gets his students actively participating and thus keeps them engaged and helps them learn. It’s amazing how many charms the students use at different points without really thinking about them. They are good at charms because they get practice in the classroom with an encouraging, supporting teacher who hardly ever loses his temper. Instead, he lets them make mistakes, corrects them, gives them practice, and helps them learn, truly effective teaching.

 7. Lessons from Lupin and Hagrid: adapt the teaching to fit the students’ needs.

Sometimes teachers are so keen to tell students what we know that we forget that our jobs are to tell students what they need to know. Those are not always the same. Poor Hagrid is so excited to share his knowledge of “interestin’ creatures” that he sometimes forgets his students need something different. Only when he gets more experience does he begin to better customize his classes to the needs and skills of his students. Sometimes, giving students what they need requires giving them extra help. Lupin is willing to meet with Harry outside class (and he is probably not getting any much-needed overtime pay for that) in order to help him learn. Good teachers are willing to take the extra time for students who want help, shaping for them an educational experience that really teaches them and provides them what they need.

Those are, of course, just a few lessons on effective teaching from the staff of Hogwarts. We hope you’ll share some of your own, and , if you are in the teaching profession yourself, we hope that you will enjoy a nice break, free of owls pestering you with notes that say things like “Why didn’t I pass? I know I only turned in one paper and it was a 37, but….”



  1. Brian Basore says

    It’s kind of scary, looking back on it, that Barty Crouch Jr., working under cover as “Mad Eye” Moody, was an excellent teacher at Hogwarts. His education at Hogwarts was cut short, but he must have been a very good student there, and under He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named’s tutelage in the Dark Arts. Is this an example of there being method in one’s madness? (Just kidding. I have a lot of respect for good teachers.)

  2. Slightly aside here I question the repeated adage that Dumbledore was a great Headmaster. I point out that most of his staff are either terrible or medicore teachers:


  3. waynestauffer says

    I’m always somewhat skeptical when students tell me I’m a “good” teacher because they each mean something a little different with that word “good.” After a little questioning, they usually mean that I’m nice or don’t hassle them if they come in late or leave early or don’t embarass them in class. They go by what they see on ratemyprofessordotcom, unfortunately.

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