Confirmation at Hogwarts: Teaching Skills

Gilderoy Lockhart

Part 3 of a series exploring practical applications of the Harry Potter series in a Christian youth formation context. Introduction here.

As much as I love the books, one of the things that drives me crazy about the Harry Potter series is that the teaching at Hogwarts is, by and large, terrible. Re-reading The Chamber of Secrets, I found myself critiquing a few of the professors, one of whom I didn’t even remember existed because he hadn’t made it into the movie. I have a few thoughts.

Professor Gilderoy Lockhart, Defense Against the Dark Arts Oh, Gilderoy. On the positive side, I commend you for using stories as a teaching method. If only you had been able to allow other people to be the heroes of those stories, telling them truly, and showing that people who were looked at as weak or ugly or unusual could also do great things. Think how powerful that could have been. 

I also commend you for wanting to incorporate both practical skills and hands on experience along with the academic (well, “academic”).  But if you’re going to teach the hands on skills, it would be a good idea to be sure you have them. Those Cornish Pixies aren’t going to round themselves up.

Professor Binns, History Dear Professor Binns: you are such a minor character that you don’t even have a first name. Professor McGonagall takes over your only important role in the movie, explaining the history of the Chamber of Secrets. You are shocked when a student (Hermione, of course) asks a question in your class, and then deride her question as asking about “myths and legends.” But she persists with the excellent point, “Please sir, don’t legends always have a basis in fact?” and you finally deign to answer. When more students have more questions, you cut them off to return to your established lesson, saying, “We will return, if you please, to history, to solid, believable, verifiable fact.

I have nothing against facts. But you seem to be missing something: how do those facts relate to and have an impact on your students’ current lives and experience?

I also wonder, Professor Binns, if there are other ways to engage the same energy that these students are bringing to what you see as myth. The good folks at HP-Lexicon offer you some suggestions about how you could improve your history class:

1. The use of a pensieve to explore a library of memories relating to important historical events;
2. Bringing magical artifacts and objects into the classroom to offer active and tactile learning opportunities;
3. Taking field trips around the Hogwarts grounds to discuss the many important events that actually occured at or near the castle;
4. Taking advantage of the presence of the ghosts of Hogwarts to glean insights about particular periods in history and/or events with which they may have been associated;
5. Inviting guest speakers to come into the class, such as other members of staff (Dumbledore...) and individuals like Bathilda Bagshot herself.
I'd also recommend considering that students asking questions is a good thing.

Professor Pomona Sprout, Herbology Professor Sprout: Your teaching skills are clear and it’s a joy to watch you work. In your very first lesson, you mixed teaching information about the Mandrake Root with giving students the practical experience of repotting them. You did not lecture, but added to the knowledge students came with. You clearly know your stuff, adding to the information Hermione could find in the textbook. The exercise was a stretch for students, but not one beyond their skills and abilities. And you had all the materials you needed ready to go at the start of class – no small thing with mandrakes, potting soil, and earmuffs needed for a full class. Herbology may not be the most flashy class at Hogwarts, but I think there’s a lot we could learn from you.