RP 1: Harry Potter and the Order of Teaching

I re-watched Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix last night and my wife and I noticed something about teaching. Of course I mentioned that this would make a good blog post (and she may still post it on her blog, but I can't help myself). If you have not read the book or seen the movie, I don't think I will give away any serious spoilers - but who hasn't at least seen the movie? If you were going to see it (or read it) you would have done so by now - right?

The Order of the Phoenix shows at least three different examples of teachers and teachings in the movie. Here they are:

Dolores Umbridge


Here is the best line from Umbridge: (from IMDB)

"It is the view of the Ministry that a theoretical knowledge will be sufficient to get you through your examinations, which after all, is what school is all about."

Yes, even today, there are many that would agree with Umbridge. Exams and grades are the most important aspect of school. Of course that is not quite right. Could you even have a school without exams? Yes. Think about Aristotle and Plato? Or Luke and Yoda (well, I guess the cave was an exam and Luke failed). The exams are just a way of figuring out what students understand and telling it to others. The real point of school is learning.

Here is another quote from Umbridge: (this one wasn't in IMDB, so I will just make it up)

[Copy the following reading assignment four times. That will ensure maximum retention of material]

I am pretty sure I messed that quote up. But Umbridge's learning strategy is brute force memorization that will be used the pass the exams. (hint: exams = No Child Left Behind).

There is one final educational aspect about Umbridge - her ever increasing list of rules. Oh, a student did something unique? I will make a rule to prevent that. I am sure that you can see this in muggle education as well.

Harry Potter


Harry becomes an instructor (I like that term better than teacher) when the Hogwarts students form "Dumbledore's Army". I think there are some great educational points in the instruction of these students (as guided by Harry).

  • First, Harry claims he is not really that great and doesn't know everything. This is similar to muggle instructors. From a students perspective, I look awesome and infallible. If you read this blog, you know that is not quite true.
  • In the movie, do you see any lecturing during the students' meetings? No. What do they do to learn magic? They practice magic. They get in small groups. Harry walks around and gives pointers. This is the way I like to teach (but I'm no Harry Potter).



I am sure you are aware as Snape in his normal role as Hogwarts Professor. But let me look at his role in his private tutoring of Harry in mind stuff (I can't remember what that is called or how to spell it). This is likely open to lots of interpretations, but it seems like Snape is more interested in punishing Harry than helping him. Oh, sure. You could say, but torturing him, he is helping him. Who knows what Snape's real intentions were.

Snape is a good analogy for teachers who are focused on teaching through suffering. "How can you grow if you don't suffer through quantum mechanics? Or Latin?"

More like this

In the book it seemed more like Snape was not really intending to help Harry. Please remove my comment if you think it is too spoilerific :)

By Katherine (not verified) on 22 Dec 2009 #permalink

The relationship between Harry and Snape is much more complicated...partly because both Snape and Dumbledore are so duplicitous. I think...Snape agrees to train Harry because he has to, because Harry is a necessary tool, so he at one level intends Harry to learn Occlumency, but the fact that he hates Harry's guts gets in the way of his being effective. (The desire to teach Harry, as he must, wars with the desire to punish Harry, and it does greatly diminish his effectiveness as a teacher.) Why the other legilimens in the faculty (Dumbledore) doesn't take the job on himself is rather weakly justified...I thought quite a bit less of the character after that.

On a side note, legilimency is a much more attractive word than telepathy...I've never much cared for words that slam together Greek and Latin roots.


I guess this really depends on something we may not know - Snape's intentions. I guess I was going with the assumption that he was trying to help (which might completely be wrong).

Hmm... Best as I can untangle it... (SPOILERS)

Snape made himself vulnerable by removing himself (with Dumbledore's help) from the circle of the Death Eaters. Because he was extremely likely to draw Voldemort's powerful fire, he needed a powerful protector. The Ministry of Magic, as a potential protector, was seen as ineffectual, compromised, a foe of Dumbledore, or any combination of the foregoing. Dumbledore was able to keep a watchful eye on Snape both to protect him from the Dark forces and to use him as a mine canary to protect Hogwarts from Snape's erstwhile associates.

Snape is a teacher for two reasons; first, he's a brilliant and innovative potions scholar, and second, he's the only Slytherin former student in the milieu who is not only beholden to Dumbledore, but can be trusted by Dumbledore to reconcile, so far as possible, the interests of the Slytherin House and of Hogwarts as a whole. If Hogwarts had pure-research fellowships, Snape would be much happier in one, but as things seem to be arranged there, his staff position wouldn't be absolutely unimpeachable "cover" unless he was an instructor.

Work? I'm at work? Oh, OK, back to it then.

By speedwell (not verified) on 23 Dec 2009 #permalink

On another matter the woman's name immediately brought to mind:

Two Englishmen:

1. "The Americans have taken umbrage."

2. "The devil you say! Where's that?"

Sorry, just had to. Merry Christmas.

By Bob Church (not verified) on 23 Dec 2009 #permalink

I think the the actor they got for Dolores Umbridge was very good. The perfect blend of surface pleasantness, fake humility and authoritarian bully and she seemed to pull it off perfectly.

By Katkinkate (not verified) on 23 Dec 2009 #permalink

I wish this would post, but it probably won't. I did try to register, but it didn't take.

Voldemort can read Harry's mind. Harry tries to read Snape's mind in the lessons, Harry's emotional inlet lets him see things Voldemort can't.

Dumbledore is afraid to risk his own secrets by teaching Harry himself, and having Voldemort read Harry's mind. Snape's secrets are considered less important.

But Snape's life depends on his secrets.

It's SENSIBLE for him not to want to give these lessons, and understandable for him to be angry that Harry seems more interested in learning his secrets instead of developing shields.

By Samantha Vimes (not verified) on 23 Dec 2009 #permalink

Oops, forget what I said about not posting... I came here from another blog.

Anyhow, Snape isn't being a good teacher, but he and Harry are not analogous to a normal student-teacher relationship... rather, think of some kind of undercover operative trying to train someone who is emotionally unstable and possible a sleeper agent for the enemy. That's Snape's pov, and puts it in a very different place from just being asked to tutor the star pupil or give a jock some remedial lessons so he can keep his place on the team.

By Samantha Vimes (not verified) on 23 Dec 2009 #permalink

"How can you grow if you don't suffer through quantum mechanics? Or Latin?"

Or organic chemistry. Potions is a lot like organic chemistry (but more useful).

By Sven DiMilo (not verified) on 24 Dec 2009 #permalink

The Umbridge quote is:

"You will please copy the approved text four times ... to ensure maximum retention."

at around the 00:59:10 time point. It is also only usage of the phrases "approved text" and "maximum retention" I can find in any movie.


How could you forget Dumbldore's teaching style -- a combination of lecture, lab, and field work, balanced with a heavy dose of genuine compassion for the student?

Of the three styles you've listed, the Potter approach is the most attractive, but personally, I've never cared for it. I much prefer Dumbledore's approach.

By PlaydoPlato (not verified) on 27 Dec 2009 #permalink

[Copy the following reading assignment four times. That will ensure maximum retention of material]

Well, I didn't copy the text, but read it, read it again, read it till it's coming out your ears got me through many a history exam


Remember, Severus Snape loved Lilly Potter from the time they were small children. She was at least on speaking terms with him up until the OWLs in their fifth year. Being forced to deny her (calling her a mudblood) in front of everyone was the final straw that separated them. He believed that James Potter was the reason he called her a mudblood, and then Lilly married James. Imagine what that's like. Imagine being a bookish little nerd, seeing someone you love every day, but then being beaten up by the local football captain and insulting the girl you love when she tries to defend you, and then having that girl marry the same football captain. About fifteen years after that horrible day you see the kid of that marriage, who looks way too much like his arrogant dad, except for the eyes. He's been built up as this great savior, and you find out he's really only a very mediocre student. Harry reminds Severus of his lost love in an incredibly powerful way, and reminds him so much that it was his information (about the prophecy) that got his one true love killed.

Severus Snape was one of the (if not the) most accomplished occulemens on the planet, being able to fool the greatest legilimans the world had seen (Voldemort). His problem was that his hatred for Harry and his natural talent for the art made it impossible to be a good teacher. And being a spy for Dumbledore was incredibly dangerous, so being called a coward by someone whose greatest test (as far as he could see) was doing lines by a petty sadist (Umbridge) didn't help matters.

As was said earlier, Dumbledore realized long before Voldemort did that there was some kind of connection between Harry and Voldemort that would let them see through each others' eyes. Dumbledore didn't want to risk the chance of having Voldemort getting wind of his plans to destroy the horcruxes before he was ready.

By Shawn Smith (not verified) on 28 Dec 2009 #permalink