With the school year winding down, lots of TV's high schoolers are looking forward to the end of the year. Over the years, student/teacher relationships and classroom dynamic have changed a bit, as have approaches to teaching. Let's take a look at six of our favorite high school-set shows and what sets them apart from the rest.
Welcome Back Kotter (1975-1979)
Gabe Kaplan starred in this '70s sitcom as Gabe Kotter, a teacher returning to his alma mater in Brooklyn, NY. He's assigned to teach the notorious "Sweathogs," a group of remedial students of which he was once a part. This comedy was the first to address a more involved teacher, something pretty new in those days. Kotter realized that many of the administration had given up on these kids, and that he may be their last chance to prepare them for life outside of high school. With Kotter's teaching methods often called 'Nutsy" or "Cuckoo" by the Vice-Principal, Welcome Back Kotter was revolutionary not only regarding high school dynamics, but TV sitcoms as well.
Head of the Class (1986-1991)
One the other side of the spectrum, Head of the Class focused on gifted students in an honor's program. Teacher Charlie Moore (Howard Hesseman) had a classroom full of your typical exceptional students (the nerd, the ultra-conservative preppy kid, the spoiled little rich girl, the computer whiz) but his classrooms also featured some unconventional honor's students like Eric (Brian Robbins), the leather-clad motorcycle rider, and Simone (Khrystyne Haje), the new age artist. Moor's task was to take a bunch of kids who already had the knowledge and teach them how to think. It was sort of the opposite of Welcome Back Kotter which took a bunch of street savvy kids and gave them an education. Here, Moore taught the intelligent and privileged how the real world worked.
Saved by the Bell (1989-1993)
On the lighter side of things was this much beloved Saturday morning sitcom which made stars out of the likes of Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Tiffani-Amber Thiessen and Mario Lopez. Much like our first two entries, this show originated as a sitcom focusing on the teacher character and was called Good Morning, Miss Bliss. But network execs reworked the show to focus on the kids instead -- something pretty new for a high school-set TV show. The only mainstay adult character was the bumbling Mr. Belding (Dennis Haskins), Bayside High's principal who was portrayed as foolish and uncool. The involved teacher scenario seemed to be drifting away, and was especially absent in our next entry...
My So Called Life (1994-1995)
Though this drama only ran for one measly season, it sure packed enough punch to make a lasting effect. Following the home and school life of Angela Chase (Claire Danes), My So Called Life was one of the first high school shows to portray teenagers as their true melancholy and anxiety-ridden selves. The show dealt with serious issues like homophobia, domestic abuse, school violence and drug use. Saved by the Bell addressed these issues as well, but in a much lighter, 22-minute sitcom style. Teens loved My So Called Life because it depicted what they knew all along: that high school isn't just fun-filled, but can be an isolating and difficult experience.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003)
Embracing the newfound isolation of the '90s that My So Called Life highlighted was dark and angsty Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar). Her name might be bright and bubbly, but the show was anything but. Focused on a suburban California town that just so happens to sit atop of the mouth of Hell, Buffy is the fateful "Slayer" chosen to battle vampires, demons and anything else that made its way out of the Hellmouth. A brand new student/teacher dynamic was born here with Giles (Anthony Stewart Head), the school librarian and Buffy's "Watcher" tasked with her training and education. Heck, if we would've had our own specific, fate-assigned badass teacher, maybe we would have done better in school!
Love it or hate it, Glee is making a point. With modern day cutbacks and the constant attack on the arts in schools, Glee and Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison) are making a strong case for a well-rounded education that includes music, dance, theater and the arts in general. Glee has particularly opened up the world of television to more gay characters on TV, paving the way for tolerance. It's in the Glee club that the students find acceptance, companionship, support and inspiration not just from one another, but from teachers who go the extra mile. Hey, it's just like Welcome Back Kotter, except with singing!