Recently, I wrote a paper for my Potter Saga class examining the pedagogical practices in Hogwarts School. It was fascinating to delve into the educational models and theories in the Hogwarts classroom. It inspired me to think of the different modes of learning that can be found in a fantasy classroom- is the mere subject/class fantasy, or can a fantasy author completely devise an alternative, magical method of teaching magical students?
As I continue to examine pedagogical practices in other fantastic literature, I will be posting “Teacher Features” on my blog and examining how they inspire learning, questioning, and practices in their classroom, whether physical or proverbial (for example, lessons by the fireside or in a deep, dark cave a la Gandalf and Frodo). I begin with one of the more fascinating teachers, one who every student can recognize and to whom every teacher can relate.
Professor Minerva McGonagall is the first of the many professors that come to mind when engaging in an active learning model. McGonagall, as the Head of Gryffindor House, has high expectations for Harry and his friends. She is a strict disciplinarian and expects nothing less than the best from all of her students. She starts her first lesson by transforming a desk into a pig (Rowling PS 134). This is magic that is far beyond the students’ abilities as first-year apprentices, but it gives the students something to aspire to in their magical practices (Conn 1177). It is a moment that says to them, “by the time I’m finished with you, you will be able to perform this complex piece of magic.” McGonagall also holds the fundamental belief that all of her students can learn. “Yes, you too, Longbottom,” [she says to a disbelieving Neville] “There is nothing wrong with your work except lack of confidence” (Rowling OOTP 257).
Like her namesake before her, Minerva McGonagall’s patience and strategic application of discipline and warmth are unmatched. The Roman Goddess Minerva was synonymous with wisdom, and the strategy and tactics of war, as opposed to the chaotic gore of war that belonged to Mars. Likewise, McGonagall’s demeanor is a strategy that she used in order to create the balance of fear and respect that her students owe her as their teacher. She is a strict disciplinarian, with an aura that commands respect from her students. Her tactic is to use her discipline style in order to make sure that the students know that she is “not someone to cross” (Rowling PS 113). but that she is there to hone the students into the best witches and wizards they can be. While she does have brief moments where she favors her Gryffindor students, particularly in House competitions such as Quidditch and the End of Year Feast, that is to be expected of a House leader, particularly when her competition does not exhibit the proper sportsmanship either.
McGonagall’s competitive nature and strategic finesse serve her in the classroom, and it serves her very well as a member of the Order of the Phoenix. During the Final Battle of Hogwarts, it is she who rallies the students and teachers together and crisply informs them of their tasks to distract the Death Eaters and Lord Voldemort while Harry finds the Horcruxes. She knows that Harry has a mission to fulfill, and instead of telling Harry to forget it and let the grownups do the work, she asserts her authority as Headmistress and battle general and lays out battle plans for the teachers and the Order. She does not demand anyone stay, but her crisp attitude lets Slughorn, in particular, know that she will respect him more if he does stay to fight (Rowling DH 601-602).
Conn, Jennifer. “What Can Clinical Teachers Learn from “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone?”.” Medical Education (2002): 1176-1181.
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Scholastic, 1997.
— Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Scholastic, 1999.
— Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2000.
— Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Scholastic, 2003.
— Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, 2005
— Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, 2007