There can be no doubt that Albus Dumbledore was one of the most respected characters in the world of Harry Potter. The wise, wizened old wizard gave The Lord of The Rings’ legendary Gandalf a run for his money in all kinds of ways: as a mentor, as a world-renowned warlock of great power, as a purveyor of brilliantly pithy life advice and inspirational quotes… there’s little to choose between the two of them.
When Harry first enters the magical world (and through most of his life, in fact), he idolises Dumbledore, and he’s far from the only one. As J.K. Rowling took care to point out, though, the only one Voldemort ever feared was far from perfect. Let’s take a look at some of his best and worst moments as a teacher/headteacher.
10 BEST: He Was A True Mentor To Harry
Of course, we don’t really get to see Dumbledore do any teaching in the conventional sense. He was known to be the Transfiguration professor at Hogwarts during Tom Riddle’s time as a student, but we don’t get to see him in action. The closest we’ve actually come is seeing a brief glimpse of Jude Law’s Dumbledore teaching in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes Of Grindelwald.
However, as a mentor, he taught Harry a great deal. Not only about the terrible mission he faced to destroy the dastardly Voldemort, but simply about life and growing up. Through the course of the series (especially in the books), it always tended to be Dumbledore’s advice that Harry wanted and valued the most.
9 WORST: He Showed Clear Favoritism
Well, yes, this entry was all but inevitable. Even today, the snarky memes about Dumbledore’s partiality continue to circulate. Harry sneezed? 7,000 points to Gryffindor!
One thing that truly great teachers and headteachers should never be seen to do is have favorites. Harry’s situation, of course, was different to that of every other student at the school, and he required particular attention at times as a result, but still. When you’re as goodly, kind and gentle as Dumbledore is known to be, that sort of thing doesn’t reflect well on you.
8 BEST: He Could Empathize
Many teachers are so caught up in their source material, delivering their lesson plan and the great number of students they teach that they fail to see each pupil as individuals, to understand them and their struggles.
Dumbledore, despite the fact that he was super old, understood the students on their own level. This isn’t to say that he was down with the kids and rollerbladed through the corridors with a backwards cap on, blasting out M.C. Hammer on a boombox (Hogwarts is a bit behind the times, after all), but he was never a great one for discipline. Presumably, this stems back to his own youth, when he made his own grave mistakes and errors of judgment.
7 WORST: The Whole ‘Detention In The Forbidden Forest’ Thing
When it comes to the aforementioned Dumbledore logic memes, here’s another popular topic of debate. How was it responsible to send students into the Forbidden Forest to serve detention? As the headmaster himself stated at the start of the year, the Forest is forbidden, and for good reason: there are all kinds of creatures in there that first-years absolutely shouldn’t be tangling with.
Yes, they went into the forest under Hagrid’s protection, with the intent of actually doing something useful for the school rather than writing lines. All the same, though, this whole episode seems totally negligent.
6 BEST: He Knew His Students So Well
As we’ve stated, it can be tough to provide that personal touch for the students in your charge. There are often so many of them, after all. Even so, his great age notwithstanding, Dumbledore’s keen sense of humanity and his kindly nature allowed him to see things in people that even they couldn’t themselves.
In the books, J.K. Rowling (through Harry) muses that acts like giving Ron Weasley the Deluminator (which allowed him to find Harry and Hermione again) proved just how well the headmaster knew the students. He tried to carefully manage Draco Malfoy’s behavior during the events of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, too, knowing that Draco was really no true Death Eater or killer at all.
5 WORST: He Didn’t Give Harry All Of The Information
Later in the series, we gain a little insight into Dumbledore’s past life and regrettable acts. This was J.K. Rowling’s way of emphasising the fact that, as great and powerful as he was, the wizard was a flawed, complicated human being just like everybody else. He was no untouchable hero.
One of his greatest strengths, his caring nature, proved to be a bit of a flaw sometimes. When it came to the prophecy and the Horcrux mission Harry would face in later life, Dumbledore wouldn’t give the young man the full story. “I didn’t want to cause you any more pain. I cared too much about you,” he explained in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. As noble as this was, Harry was relying on his headteacher here and the fate of the world was at stake. After Dumbledore’s death, Harry resented the fact that he hadn’t better prepared him.
4 BEST: He Was The Only One Who Saw Through Tom Riddle
As we’ve already mentioned, one of the traits that defines Dumbledore is his perceptiveness. This comes into play several times in his dealings with Harry, his classmates and the headmaster’s own staff, but it was also evident in his earlier career as a Transfiguration teacher. While Tom Riddle was a student, he managed to charm the rest of Hogwarts’ staff, but Dumbledore saw through his charming charade.
The memory of the teenage Riddle that emerges from the diary in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets complains about this fact. Dumbledore kept close tabs on the troubled student, clearly seeing something there that his colleagues didn’t.
3 WORST: Always Letting Things Slide At Hogwarts
While it’s true that Dumbledore always took care to empathize his students and didn’t judge or punish them too harshly, it’s clear that he was a little too lax at times.
In the books, Fleur Delacour is horrified by Peeves’ behavior, stating that a troublesome poltergeist would been expelled from Beauxbatons immediately. Hogwarts’ headmaster simply allows the sinister specter to cause trouble, with just an occasional reprimand. Trelawney and Lockhart’s ineptitude, Snape’s outright bullying of the students… Dumbledore doesn’t really take steps to combat any of this. Whether teacher or headteacher, he really shouldn’t have stood for this.
2 BEST: He Put Trust In The Students To Build Their Confidence
When Professor Lupin resigns at the end of Harry’s third year, he and his classmates say that he was the best Defense Against The Dark Arts teacher they’d ever had. Why? A combination of factors, but acts like allowing Neville Longbottom to take charge of the Boggart lesson (when Snape had just warned Lupin about Neville’s lack of ability) were a big part of it.
The best teachers, arguably, are those who allow their students to act more independently, to show what they can do and so boost their confidence. Again, we may never have really seen Dumbledore teach standard lessons, but this was a real speciality of his. Before inviting Harry along to the doomed quest to retrieve the locket, he explained how dangerous the mission would be and placed his trust in the young man.
1 WORST: The Teachers He Appointed
Here’s one final bone of contention when it comes to Dumbledore logic. While the headmaster had very limited options when it came to Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers, he made terrible appointment after terrible appointment.
The magical world really needed more stringent anti-Polyjuice measures (before the real Moody enforced them later), especially among prospective teachers. When you get into the gigantic dog on the third-floor corridor thing, you start to see just what a dangerous place Hogwarts was under Dumbledore’s control.
NEXT: Harry Potter: 5 Times Dumbledore Was A Great Parental Figure (& 5 He Went Too Far)
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