Podcast Question of the Week – Episode 92

We all love to hate Professor Umbridge, but if we take a step back, she does bring an important issue to light in her own way. So this week’s question asks you to consider the teaching practices at Hogwarts.

While Umbridge is unquestioningly horrible, does Hogwarts need a more rigorous method of evaluating teaching practices? What do you think is used now, if anything, and what should be the happy medium between previous practices and those that Umbridge brings with her new position?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments below and tune in to episode 92 to see if your ideas are discussed on the show!

  • Bill White

    This question comes down to who actually sets the curriculum. If the ministry is the one who sets it, then there should be an oversight committee or some entity that makes sure that the members of the staff are up to the grade. I don’t know if you could use the O.W.L.S. as a similar testing point because assuming the ministry sets the curriculum:
    A) if the teachers aren’t up to par and the kids take it upon themselves to learn the knowledge such as with Dumbledore’s army, then it might give the wrong impression.
    B) if the teachers are up to par and the students make less than stellar grades, then you have either the fact that the students aren’t motivated or are having trouble and don’t seek out tutors etc.

    If Dumbledore/head master sets the curriculum:
    A) if the teachers aren’t up to snuff then the head master either needs to be watched or replaced.
    B) if the teachers are up to snuff and but are not teaching the full curriculum(Lockhart) then the headmaster/mistress needs to have time to rectify the problem with probation or simply replacing the teachers.

    Regardless, if the world determines that hogwarts students aren’t learning the skills to become competent in post-hogwarts jobs then who ever is in control of the staff has to step in to rectify the issue. The other solution would be to have apprenticeships or technical schools to teach skills such as potion making etc.

  • loony_lauren

    I think that the students grades should reflect lot about the teachers, their abilities and how they run their classes. If every student is passing with flying colors, that could be an indication that the class is too easily graded, or on the other hand, that the teacher is exceptionally good at their job, and an inspection would be able to tell the difference and properly evaluate. On the other end of the spectrum, if all of the students are failing all of their tests, this could mean that they are not being taught as fairly or as well as they should be, and following an inspection by a fair source, they could be replaced or given a warning. If the majority of students score decently with a few outliers that score fantastically such as Hermione or on the other hand dismally, then it is probably a good indication that the teacher of the class is doing their job correctly as some students are just smarter than others. I believe that if the grades indicate unfair teachings, then and only then should there be inspections by someone who knows what they are doing and are not judgmental or evil such as Umbridge.

  • Marge Miller

    I don’t think the Ministry is setting the curriculum: these are witches and warlocks; the only grades needed are on the writing portion of the classes. The practical part, spells, charms, potions, either you do well or you don’t. you have to practice each spell, potion, charms, over and over until you do well. I think Umbridge just wanted to control everything going on at Hogwarts.

  • thegiantsquid

    I’m not sure who sets the general guidelines for what curriculum should be for each year (like first years needs to learn basic Transfiguration including ___, ___, and ___), but it seems like the teachers have a certain degree of autonomy in their classes (see Hagrid teaching Blast-Ended Skrewts, Little Crouch teaching Unforgivables, etc.) I think there are basic guidelines that the teachers have to follow, but how they get there is sort of up to them. Maybe the school governors (are they kind of like the board of education?) and Hogwarts teachers sit down every once and a while and go over what is relevant information for students to be taught and agree on curriculum. Or maybe the curriculum is based on the O.W.L.s as others have suggested.

    At any rate, I think there should be some kind of teacher observation system. Dumbledore (or the current headmaster) should perhaps sit in on classes once or twice a term and evaluate what is being taught, how it’s being taught, and so on. I think most of the teachers at Hogwarts are competent, but even competent people can benefit from evaluation and feedback. However, a High Inquisitor is not appropriate for this position. This should be the Headmaster’s job.

  • Hufflepug

    It doesn’t seem like Dumbledore does anything to evaluate teaching practices. I hate to say it, but Trelawney really had few qualifications for her job, yet somehow he let her stay on. He never told Lockhart that he couldn’t make his students buy all of his own books and he never reprimanded Snape for displaying favoritism in class. Most of Hogwarts’s teachers are very competent and therefore don’t need inspection but I feel like if Dumbledore hears word of any sort of questionable practices from students (and Dumbledore hears everything) then he should take action because a poor teacher could result in students failing OWLs even if they should have passed. He doesn’t have to do anything Umbridge-level for the most part – he could just ask the teacher to do some extra training with him, discuss problem areas, suggest different topics to teach, etc.

    • Dumbledore let Trelawney stay on because she was responsible for the prophecy, and therefore vulnerable out in the world. I don’t think he cared very much how good a teacher she was, as (if I remember correctly) he didn’t exactly subscribe to Divination. With the other teachers, you’re right, obviously, but then there wouldn’t be much plot, would there.

  • WizardorWhat

    I think that Dumbledore’s Hogwarts needs to be evaluated in the context of the magical world, and that it is too easy to make close comparisons to the Muggle schooling system. There are two core differences between Muggle schools and Hogwarts:

    a. Firstly, Hogwarts serves core functions separate from teaching – it is the safest place on earth to protect something, and it is Dumbledore’s headquarters. Dumbledore’s choice of teacher therefore reflects these other functions as well as their merits as teachers: e.g. Trelawney seems to have been hired as a teacher for her own protection; and Slughorn seems to have been hired so that Dumbledore can get access to his memories, and possibly protect him. In my view, these are legitimate functions for Dumbledore to pursue. He’s working for the greater good, and knows that if Voldemort is successful he’ll turn it into a school for the dark arts and or convert the ministry into an apparatus for genocide.

    b. Secondly, Hogwarts is being run by Dumbledore, who is as close to omniscient as wizards get. That this is recognised in the Wizarding world is reflected the numerous attempts to make him Minister, as well as the fact that he has been appointed as a Wizangamot judge. As well as being omniscient, he is as close to benevolent as wizards get (except maybe Mrs Weasley) – always acting ‘for the greater good’ to stop the rise of Dark Wizards and promoting tolerance and education.

    The problem with attempting to regulate Dumbledore’s teacher selection is that the monitors won’t be able to effectively assess the appointments. This is for two reasons. Firstly, they simply won’t have the information to do so – to understand why Trelawney and Slughorn are at Hogwarts, you have to know the entire Voldemort-Harry back story, and it is imperative that this is not made public, or the information will be used by the Death Eaters. Secondly, there are likely to be vested interests behind the inspection – see in particular the Umbridge saga.

    Dumbledore does a good job at Hogwarts which ensures that it fulfils all of its functions, including that of educating young wizards. He sometimes makes compromises on education to fulfil other functions, but these are generally justifiable as means of keeping Voldemort at bay. It’s also worth remembering that Dumbledore was actually considering abolishing Divination before he appointed Trelawney, and that, according to Hagrid in CoS, Lockhart was the only candidate for the DADA position, so he had to be appointed. As is apparent from the previous chapter in OOTP, it’s also notable that Hagrid has actually (somehow) done a decent job of teaching the kids care of magical creatures. These appointments possibly weren’t the big teaching blunders that they’re sometimes portrayed as.

  • SpectacularlyHypothetical

    In muggle Britain, schools are graded by a government body called Ofsted. (Office for Standards in Education)
    Over the course of two days, there will be an inspection visit from a team of qualified inspectors who will make judgement on 1. The attainment of pupils. 2 The quality of teaching 3. The behavior and safety of pupils and 4. Leadership and management of the school. These judgement are got by observing lessons, seeing the functioning of the school, and interviews with senior staff. They are then aggregated and the school is given an overall grading. A grade 1 is “Outstanding” and grade 2 is “Good” and grade 3 is “Requires improvement” and a grade 4 is “Inadequate”

    I wonder what grade Hogwarts would get

  • Dan Sharp

    I have issue with this weeks PQOTW. The way you worded it in the podcast suggested that Hogwarts has substandard professors. Let’s be honest here, you were thinking of Hagrid and Trelawney. The truth is that Hagrid is a good teacher with lots of knowledge and is only let down by his lack of confidence. This is only his 3rd year of teaching and his confidence will grow over the years. I’m sure that by the time James, Albus and Rose attend Hogwarts he is one of the best teachers there. As for Trelawney, well, we all know why she is really there. Dumbledore was going to drop Divination from the curriculum before that fatefull night in the Hog’s Head which shows it’s not an important subject anyway. All the other teachers are great at their subjects with the exception of Binns but students seem to pass his subject dispite his style.

    • GinnyWeasley002

      Thank you! Especially for what you said about Hagrid!

  • Clare

    I’m a middle school teacher in West Virginia, so I love thinking about this question! We don’t see any kind of teacher evaluations from Dumbledoore, but I can see the teachers being evaluated based on the end of the year exams, such as O.W.L.S. These seem similar to the state standardized testing in the U.S. Unfortunately, this is still how many teachers and schools are being evaluated in the muggle world. At Hogwarts, students have had a few poor teachers, such as Lockhart (little content knowledge) and Snape (bullying students). For these reasons, I think there should be yearly evaluations put in place similar to my school. Depending on years of teaching experience, teachers are observed 1-3 times throughout the school year. At the end of the year, both teachers and principals evaluate the teacher’s performance based on professionalism, community activism, lessons, collaboration, etc. If the professors at Hogwarts receive a poor evaluation, Dumbledoore could put them on an improvement plan the following year with supports put in place to help them become a better teacher.

  • We have something called OFSTED in the UK. their purpose is to evaluate the school, and make or suggest changes they see fit. Umbridges methods of madness are the somewhat more extreme versions of this.

    From what we know about the canon it seems apparent that inspection of the teachers is non existent.
    I’d imagine though that the teachers would be observed on a yearly basis. Through observations and the students test results. After all, teaching ability needs to be assessed along with end of year grades. If the students meet the required or expected test percentage according to what the teachers predict, then is there really a call for anything much more than a standard routine classroom inspection?

    • WizardorWhat

      Something missing from the discussion, because it is isn’t covered in the question, is what JKR is saying about teacher inspections. I think it’s pretty clear that Umbridge’s approach to education is a satire on the UK government’s regulation of schools, which is often condemned as placing too much pressure on teachers, overemphasising exam performance, and being to prescriptive. We see this both in her inspections (when she undermines the teaching performances of both Hagrid and Trelawney), her speeches (‘examinations… are what school is all about’), and her determination to remove control from teachers (‘the High Inquisitor has to have the power to strip pupils of privileges, or she – that is to say, I – would have less authority than common teachers!’).

      • Clare

        I never thought about it from that perspective! Because Rowling was a teacher, I can see how this could be used as a satire for the government’s role in education.

  • QuibbleQuaffle

    Well I think we know that the Ministry sets the OWL and NEWT exams, the teachers set the regular end of year tests (if I remember rightly Lockhart did one about himself?) and sets the textbook/lesson plans etc, and Dumbledore chooses the teachers (until the Ministry jumps in in this book). So that’s already a really disjointed system even before you take into account the actual teachers themselves. For me going to school in England the school would offer certain courses/modules and they would have a set textbook set by whichever exam board you were doing. I guess since there’s only one magic school in Britain they don’t have the same need to make sure everyone who’s sitting the same exam is learning from the same book, but it’d be good if there was something to stop Umbridge choosing to teach OWL students her Basics for Beginners and Lockhart to just teach the students about himself. But hey- on the plus side being exposed to a wide range of lovable (and not so lovable) eccentrics (and murderers) probably gave the students a well rounded social education if nothing else.

  • Ravenclawesome

    The best option that I can think of would be to have the school Prefects and the Head Boy and Girl do some sort of evaluation on their teachers. The prefects could fill out papers about each of their teachers monthly or just a few times a year and submit them to Dumbledore or even directly to the teacher. This could definitely bring in biased results (Draco would have horrible things to say about anyone he or his father didn’t like, and I can even see Ron reviewing teachers just based on how interesting he found them), but there are other prefects who would take this responsibility more seriously and actually bring in good insights (Hermione, Cedric, Lupin back in his day, and maybe even Percy). Despite the potential unfairness in some prefects’ reports, I think it would gather a balanced and well-rounded view of the teachers’ competence because there are 24 prefects at a time, and teachers who stay continuous years would gather more prefect reviews each year.

    I suppose observing teachers could be Dumbledore’s role as the headmaster and as the person who is responsible for hiring. McGonagall would also be an option since she is Deputy Headmistress, or maybe even the heads of houses could all have some sort of responsibility in this. But teachers would obviously be on their best behavior if the headmaster sat in on their class one day, while having a student giving constant feedback would give a more accurate picture about what a teacher is really like.
    I wish there was some sort of good school board system, (because thanks to Lucius Malfoy, what we’ve seen of the Hogwarts Board of Governors does not give an image of fairness or competence). But they could create some sort of board that has a say in hiring teachers or provide training for teachers who have a few things to work on.
    I would imagine there are pretty limited options for qualified teachers since JKR said there are about 3,000 wizards in Britain. That means it would be even more difficult to find a teacher who is not only qualified, but skilled at teaching children as well. I guess teachers could be brought in from other countries, but I don’t think we ever see that in the series.
    As the only wizarding school in Britain, Hogwarts students definitely deserve an education that will sufficiently equip them, and I do think that Hogwarts should take it a bit more seriously.

  • madame_lestrange

    I feel like it would be the headmaster’s responsibility to ensure that teaching standards are up to par, but I think Dumbledore would adopt a more laissez-faire attitude towards this task. That is to say, I think that Dumbledore puts a lot of effort in hiring his professors and then trusts in his decision and in his staff to execute their jobs properly. This is even true for someone like Lockhart — Dumbledore’s decision to hire him was a calculated one and what the students were able to learn from that buffoon outweighed what he was unable to teach them. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if Dumbledore has some sort of system in place where he is able to conduct random & infrequent “spot checks” on teachers, without the knowledge of the teacher or the students, and would step in only if things have really gotten out of hand.

  • suprememugwump

    Clearly, the Ministry has some sort of “required” curriculum (Umbridge says Quirrell was the only one who actually followed it), but I doubt Dumbledore cares about following it closely. He doesn’t do any kind of teacher evaluations, except when he interviews people while hiring. I think that as long as most of the kids do decently well in their exams, particularly the OWLs and NEWTs (and there are always going to be outstanding Hermiones and awful Crabbes and Goyles), Dumbledore is okay with the teachers. This brings up the question, though, of whether he is following a less strict version of Umbridge’s “school is about getting through exams” policy… I’m inclined to think he is, though I also believe that the OWLs do prepare students quite well for what is ahead of them, so it’s not really a bad thing.
    I think Dumbledore’s current evaluation method isn’t bad. Most of the Hogwarts teachers are eccentric, but they really do prepare students pretty well. Flitwick, McGonagall and Sprout are probably the best. No one listens to Binns, but the kids do somehow manage to pass their exams. Even Hagrid, with his predilection for strange and dangerous creatures, has taught them reasonably well because they can answer all of Umbridge’s questions, which are probably based on the Ministry curriculum.

  • SheFlooLikeAMadman

    I think Umbridge’s hateful officiousness (with her little *hemhem* “inspections”) is meant to be a very deliberate swipe by Jo at the idea of government interference in schools, and the demoralising effect it can have on teachers.

    I don’t think we’re supposed to come away from OotP thinking, ‘gosh, what this shows is that Hogwarts needs MORE MINISTRY INTERFERENCE.’ ^_^

    I imagine Hogwarts regulates its own standards of education to a certain extent, because no teacher is going to bungle educating their pupils when those SAME PUPILS could accidentally blow them up, if mistaught! (Ditto for angry parents, since a lot of them are going to be wand-wielders too.)

    And since there IS only one school for magic in Britain, which educates EVERYONE, people would soon notice if there was something up with the standards there.

    I think Hogwarts is fine as it is, guys.

    If it ain’t broke, don’t Reparo it… ^_~

  • BlibberingHumdinger

    There are some major points that could be improved within the Hogwarts teaching system. Take, for instance, the fact that Snape will not take on N.E.W.T. Potions students who do not receive an ‘Oustanding’ in their Potions O.W.L. examination, yet Slughorn will happily take Harry on with an ‘Exceeds Expectations’. While to some degree it is up to teachers to accept or reject students from their classes in the Muggle world, these are major standardised tests and perhaps anything above an A or even a P should be the level which people can enter into classes. I don’t believe it should be up to one teacher to determine whether a student should be able to pursue their chosen career. If Slughorn hadn’t become Potions Master in Sixth Year, Harry would not (theoretically) have been able to become an auror, just because Snape had higher standards.

    Secondly, is there any standardised Divination curriculum? It seems that Firenze and Trelawney have very different teaching styles. I just wonder if the students in each class have comparable knowledge to each other, as Trelawney would probably focus more on things like crystal balls and tea leaves, while Firenze condemns these acts as foolish acts of human ‘seers’ rather than real divination?

    Ultimately I think the inconsistencies and quirks of the system just reflects the ‘magic’ of the Wizarding World, as nothing really follows the rules there. Regulations and conformity are something that we are taught to struggle against for the whole series, right from the Dursleys to Voldemort and his attempt to homogenise the Wizarding World by ‘purification’ of blood. If Hogwarts was like any Muggle school, would we really care about it?