IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Severus Snape: One teacher’s hero

This ‘Harry Potter’ professor has a smirk and a withering glare for students. By Mary Beth Ellis
/ Source: contributor

The most terrifying moments in any professor’s semester arrive at the end of it, when we are required to place instructor evaluation sheets before our pupils. Then the administration makes us leave the room while the pupils tear us into little tiny bits, which means we’re not allowed to smile encouragingly from behind the Podium of Power, or pace the desks to see what the students are writing, or brandish cupcakes, or for that matter small firearms. I usually go out in the hallway and drink.

I wish I could handle the situation more like Severus Snape might. There would be none of this smiley-smiley “I’ve enjoyed teaching all of you” business for Snape, who would deliver unto all one final glare before retiring to his dungeon for a relaxing evening of poking baby kittens with a stick. 

And when the evaluations were compiled, Professor Snape wouldn’t open the horrible manila envelope with anything approaching the nausea I do (although at Hogwarts, such documents are probably delivered via — I don’t know — a four-headed panda with a rooster tail that explodes on human contact.)  Instead, there would be Bach on the stereo, red-pen corrections of all abused grammar in the “turn this paper over to make additional comments” section, and in general a great deal of smirking.

Yes, I must apply mad props to Snape, who is a far snappier dresser than your average professor. I don’t know what Dumbledore was paying Severus, but it was apparently enough to keep him in the latest offerings of the Johnny Cash Collection. I myself often fling open the classroom door looking like a person who just fell out of an episode of “Little House on the Prairie” or a Cyndi Lauper video or both.  But Snape, here’s a man who dressed for occult success; you can’t swing an appointment as an instructor in Defence Against Dark Arts when you’re trolling the halls in a teal cardigan and loafers. It’s all black, all the time, which must have made laundry day a simple affair.  (“I’m doing another load of darks — anybody want to throw in a cape? No? Turtleneck?”)

Snape of the Super Sized withering glareSnape does not suffer student excuses lightly. As opposed to me, who last semester nodded in sympathy when a student called to announce that he could not turn in his final paper because, quote, “there was a homicide at my apartment complex and the police aren’t letting anybody in or out.”  Snape would not nod. Snape would want the crime scene photos for the yearbook.

My students receive a happy, free-of-charge smile face sticker on exams scoring 95 percent or above, whereas if you scored an A with Snape, you might be rewarded with merely a medium-sized withering glare rather than the usual Super Sized one. I have much to learn from his methods, as I doubt that Snape is often besieged with students screeching at him that of course they should have gotten an A on this essay, as they have gotten As on every single possible evaluation since gaining the ability to breathe independently. Their mothers scored 100 percent in Lamaze classes! Thanks to their own excellence as a fetus! None of this would work on Snape, who majored in Being Sinister and seems to fear the sun and all its evil, melanin-producing properties. 

Then again, a Potions Master can manage things likely out of the reach of your average English teacher; for one, it has not yet occurred to me to settle disputes with my department chair via jets of deadly green light. The whole episode — this business of killing off the headmaster — cannot look good on the Professor’s resume. Who’s he going to use for a reference now? Voldemort? And how might one reach a person who cannot be named?  Does he also have a daytime phone number that cannot be named?

I imagine Hogwarts had some sort of COBRA arrangement for this type of situation.  I have no idea what kind of benefits Snape was pulling down before he likely voided his HMO’s teleportation rider by vanishing midair, but good luck filing a claim, sport. 

So Blue Cross and Blue Shield might not want to have much to do with Snape, and I suspect he prefers it that way. Snape is not what you would call a “people person”; he is more of a That Guy At the End Of the Bar who sinks into the same Scotch on the rocks for four hours and won’t smile and won’t dance and won’t play pool or even boo at the refs screwing up the Notre Dame game. The man is a brooder, and more power to him. Teachers who brood rarely receive repeat customers on Parent-Teacher Conference night (“Your Billy is a full-blown moron, I’m afraid, and deserves nothing less than spontaneous combustion … are you crying?  Fifty points from Gryffindor!”) I doubt Snape has many visitors during office hours, and that … is totally okay with him. More time to sharpen the kitten-poking sticks.

This is not to say that Snape doesn’t care about his students’ education, in a sarcastic, uncheerful, I-hate-you fashion. He’ll even save a life here and there, as long as you don’t try to hug him or talk to him or walk within a five-mile radius of him afterwards. 

But why all the hatin’, Snape?  Fan speculation includes the usual psychological analysis: Bad childhood, massive crush on Harry Potter’s mother, massive hatred for Harry Potter’s father, wound up with Brett Favre as his starting quarterback in the Hogwarts office fantasy league.

I say it’s something far more painful and obvious: The poor man has greasy hair. You just can’t live happily like that. Invest in some Pantene Pro-V,Severus. You’ll feel better in the morning, sun or no sun.

Freelance writer and teacher Mary Beth Ellis runs , which is crammed with examples of what a fantastic teacher she is, including the time she informed an entire roomful of students that if people did not start bringing their textbooks to class, they would fail her course and out of the university and never get a job and wander the Earth licking Tootsie Pop wrappers for sustenance, forever.