Television has no shortage of memorable full time teachers. From Mr. Kotter to the faculty on “Glee” anyone looking for information on TV teachers has a wealth of resources available. TV shows have not been so kind to the substitute teacher. Which really is kind of a surprisingly lapse in judgment. I mean, with a regular teacher, you’ve got the same kids and the same subject and the same school. A substitute teacher’s day may be completely different every week that a show airs. Until some smart network executive comes along–or is even invented–you will just have to make do with these memorable substitute teachers who, like the real life doppelgangers, never got their due.
Peggy Hill: King of the Hill
When it comes to memorable substitute teachers on TV, the undisputed queen is Peggy Hill. And that’s exactly the way she’d like it. Peggy Hill is the three-time winner of Tom Landry Middle School’s Substitute Teacher of the Year Award. And that streak includes the year she came back from breaking nearly every bone in her body after her parachutes failed to open on her first and only skydiving attempt. Peggy Hill is the kind of substitute teacher who shows up in a Ben Franklin wig to teach students about science. She is also, alas, the kind of sub who brings home a kid from Mexico after a field trip in which her significant lack of a grasp on Spanish is most wholly revealed. On the other hand, she was willing to flunk a football player during her stormy long-term subbing assignment at the high school. So, clearly, Peggy Hill is a prickly queen.
Dorothy Zbornak was a substitute teacher on “The Golden Girls.” Of course, since the whole reason for the existence of “The Golden Girls” was to prove that older women could still have a healthy interest in sex, there were not too many occasions when you got to see Dorothy at work. Then again, “The Golden Girls” did air smack in the middle of the heyday of the “Very Special Episode” so surely there must have been at least a few times during the run of the show when the show was used to teach a lesson about the hardship of minors in Miami.
Probably the single most memorable one-shot appearance by a substitute teacher in TV history took place on “The Simpsons.” How can anyone forget the arrival of Mr. Bergstrom at Springfield Elementary School? Voiced by Dustin Hoffman, this episode of “The Simpsons” puts the weirdness of the job of substitute teacher into its most lovingly mythic of consequences. Bergstrom is every substitute teacher who injected a little excitement and enticed with the lure of possibilities for students grown numb through exposure to teachers burned out by a system that holds them in such low esteem. You are Lisa Simpson.
When a TV show can’t really decide what to do with a character relative to a career, they often make him a substitute teacher. And usually this jobs occurs right on the spot without needing the character to meet any of the usual requirements for the job of substitute teacher. Deep into the run of “Modern Family” Cameron Tucker suddenly became a substitute teacher. First he got a job teaching music. Then he got a sub assignment teaching history. At last glance, he was now a gym teacher and football coach. Ain’t sitcom economics wonderful?