Glee’s Mr. Schue is framed as the prototypical ‘teacher who cares,’ but if we look at his behavior, he’s actually NOT the best person to be molding impressionable young minds. He uses the glee club to relive his own high school glory days, favors the white kids, and makes everything about him. So when it came to Mr. Schue’s bad choices, what weird messages did Glee ultimately send about what it means to be a good teacher?
Glee‘s Mr. Schue is framed as the prototypical ‘teacher who cares’ — but if we look at his behavior, he’s actually not the best person to be molding impressionable young minds. Mr. Schue frequently oversteps the boundary of teacher-student relations, showing dangerously poor judgment as an educator.
Will Schuester: “So I planted the pot in your locker and blackmailed you into joining the Glee Club.” - Glee
He uses the Glee Club to relive his own high-school glory days, favors the white kids, and makes everything about him. His behavior is sometimes so wildly inappropriate that the show’s supposed “villain” and Mr. Schue’s number one critic, cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester, can come across as the voice of reason. So when it came to Mr. Schue’s bad choices, what weird messages did Glee ultimately send about what it means to be a good teacher?
Here’s our Take on why Will Schuester is actually the “bad teacher” of Glee.
Mr. Schue Needs to Learn Boundaries
Even from the show’s pilot, there are signs that Mr. Schue is kind of creepy. He thinks it’s completely okay to watch a student take a shower just because he admires his undiscovered singing talent. A lot of what Mr. Schue understands as being “one with the youth” feels totally inappropriate by today’s standards, regularly crossing over what most would consider healthy boundaries of how teachers should act with their students.
When Rachel Berry develops a small crush on Mr. Schue in season one, he believes that the best response is to perform a mashup of “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” and “Young Girl”. The pretty raunchy lyrics refer to an older figure wanting to get closer to a younger girl, despite knowing it’s wrong. Noteworthy lines include “temptation frustration, so bad it makes him cry, beneath your perfume and makeup you’re just a baby in disguise.”
His questionable decision-making is also not a one-off problem. He allows two of his teenage students to join his personal acapella group of older adults, which leads to a situation where the teens perform sexually charged songs with their teachers.
In the Britney Spears tribute episode, he initially rejects the idea of performing Britney’s songs as too “adult” for the students, only to end up performing “Toxic” onstage alongside his students, complete with provocative dance moves. The performance not only arouses multiple students but also encourages some students to direct sexual feelings towards him.
The “moral panic” reaction at the end of the episode (and Mr. Schue learning his “lesson” that they’re not going to perform any more Britney) is arguably misguided by today’s values. The episode follows how the students feel empowered by Spears’s music because it allows them to confidently express their sensuality — which helps them to navigate their personal relationships with more self-assurance and open communication.
But there’s something clearly unnerving about an adult teacher joining in and expressing his sexuality with his students, gyrating next to heavy-breathing teens. Moreover, Will’s motivation isn’t really what’s good for the kids — he just wanted to do a sexy dance to impress his love interest, Emma.
After the chaos that follows, Schue claims that he understands the errors of his ways, and we’re invited to see Schue as a brilliant Britney-type himself through this somewhat confusing analogy:
Emma Pillsbury: “She can’t just swallow a grenade and let her talent explode all over the wall. She’s gotta rein it in, just like you do.” - Glee
But three episodes later, he chooses even more sexually charged material, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It’s another selection some could hail as boundary-pushing in a positive, liberating sense, except again he only does it to get closer to Emma. He casts himself as Rocky (stealing the role from a student) so he can practice the “Touch Me” number with his crush (even though this means he’ll eventually perform this wildly sexual number with a student!)
And the musical sequence of “Touch Me,” with Brittany and Santana watching them, features a series of disorienting dissolves between shots of Will and his students all standing over Emma who’s lying on her back — making us feel just how blurred the boundaries are between Will’s and his student’s intimate lives.
In the fifth season, he leads a rendition of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” — a song that had already been widely deemed problematic for promoting rape culture — while his students twerk around him.
In yet another example of poor boundaries, Mr. Schue allows his former classmate April, a struggling addict with a disturbing interest in high school boys, to enroll in Glee Club, even after his students and co-workers express concern. April arrives drunk to performances and even gives alcohol to students, but Mr. Schue allows her to go on stage while intoxicated because he puts the club’s success above individuals’ well-being.
In another incident, when one student expresses her discomfort about a risqué outfit, not only does Mr. Schue punish her for refusing to wear it, but he guilts her into thinking that her unease is an attack on the entire Glee Club.
Sam Evans: “What happened to the seashell bikini?”
Marley Rose: “I was uncomfortable.”
Will Schuester: “Marley, we’re all trying to win a championship here, as a team, but you put your personal agenda above that. I’m sorry, but you’re suspended for the rest of the week.” - Glee
It’s relatable, honest storytelling that Will sometimes stumbles because he’s a human being and his role as a teacher isn’t his whole identity, but it’s also odd that someone who can’t separate his responsibilities as an educator from his personal desires and impulses is framed as such a “wonderful teacher.”
Will makes a lot of his bad decisions in order to impress a girl, which leads us into the observation that he can be pretty toxic in his romantic relationships, too. The first season frames Will’s partner Terri in a very critical (if not misogynistic) light, her major sin being “trapping” him by pretending to be pregnant after she learns she’s having a “hysterical pregnancy”.
Her deceit is undoubtedly shocking and upsetting, but Will’s reaction here is aggressive, almost violent, as he villainizes her and refuses to listen to her about the false pregnancy that drove her behavior. If we do listen, we can also catch fragments that explain how she was acting out of insecurity because (like so much of Will’s life) their relationship is based on looking back to his high-school glory days instead of him attending to the real person in front of him.
When his main love interest, and later wife, Emma Pillsbury, starts dating Carl, it becomes evident that he’s helping her overcome a lot of the triggers of her OCD. But Will takes it upon himself to sabotage their relationship and try to win her back at the expense of Emma’s mental wellbeing. When Emma ends things with Carl, she regresses back to old habits — which Will encourages.
The Pitfalls of the Teacher who Cares
The Teacher Who Cares is a beacon of motivation for the angsty, struggling student with untapped potential, swooping in to change students’ lives forever.
Despite some iconic and beloved examples in cinema like Dead Poets’ Society’s Mr. Keating, it’s a trope with clear limitations. Community’s Professor Whitman is a parody of this trope, hyperinflating its DNA to reveal how performative these teachers can be.
The Teacher who Cares is looking for a sense of purpose and more explosive sense of “meaning” from their job than is actually realistic — and they put pressure on students to perform how deeply their teacher has transformed them. Mr. Schue falls into a lot of this trope’s pitfalls. A chronic narrative theme within Glee is that Mr. Schue lives vicariously through his students as he tries to relive his days of his high-school Glee Club.
The feeling that he uses Glee Club to fill a void in his adult life is exacerbated when Will becomes bored of his job after the Glee kids win the national championship, and he’s finally achieved his teen dream.
All this isn’t to say that the Glee kids don’t matter to him, but that his “altruistic” framing is false, because a huge driver for Mr. Schue is self-fulfillment. Mr. Schue, and Teachers who Care in general, can border on narcissistic — more preoccupied with their magical ability to inspire through dramatic moments and earth-shattering revelations, than with truly providing students with a good education, a process that requires consistent attention to monotonous, sometimes boring details.
Will’s self-involved view of “his” Glee Club is also apparent in his tendency to reject his students’ suggestions. He tries to make the Glee Club into a nostalgic mold of the one he remembers or always longed for, and his setlists are full of songs that he wants to personally perform.
He also regularly chooses to give the spotlight to his white students. Although it’s never made apparent that Schue is doing this consciously from a place of racism, his choices ultimately lead to POC characters feeling disrespected.
Mercedes Jones: “Everyone knows that Rachel is your favorite.
Will Schuester: “That’s not true.”
Mercedes: “You give that skinny, Garanimal-wearing ass-kisser everything.” - Glee
Throughout the first season, Matt Rutherford, a Black member of the Glee Club, never has any solos or even speaking lines. His nature as the ultimate background character eventually becomes a point of satire that the series uses to awkwardly criticize itself.
Mr. Schue’s mishandling of racial differences is uncomfortably clear in his Spanish classes, where he covers over his poor grasp of the actual subject that he’s supposed to be primarily teaching, by relying on stereotypes When Santana, who is Latina, criticizes his Mariachi performance for being offensive, Schue’s tone-deafness points to his overall ignorance.
It’s this (sometimes willful) ignorance that makes Mr. Schue think it’s okay to invade his student’s privacy, perform songs about sex with them and in front of them, dictate his partner’s behavior, and be racially insensitive.
There is one character who is always quick to call Will on his damaging behavior. So is it time to revisit if she ever had a point?
A Case for Sue Sylvester
The set-up of Sue as Will’s rival and polar opposite makes sense — she’s the sports mindset to his arts one, a more “conservative, family values” pushback to his liberal, self-expression, champion of the “cool kids” versus the “creative underdogs”. Her villainous disdain for the Glee Club and dirty antics to sabotage it are comic relief and plot obstacles, but they’re also an interesting contrast to the way she, in practice, actually empowers many of her students.
And despite her surface absurdities and crassness, her criticisms of Mr. Schue sometimes sound strikingly reasonable. She repeatedly confronts Mr. Schue about all of the lines he’s crossing, and the importance of boundaries when it comes to the students’ artistic expression and sexualized content.
After the “Blurred Lines’’ incident, Sue not only highlights the song’s problematic nature, but also the harmful message that Mr. Schue sends by taking part in the performance. She also schools him on his treatment of disabled students when he inadvertently ostracizes Becky, a student with Down syndrome, by treating her differently than her classmates.
In the final season, we see Sue delivering a fierce monologue that dictates every way in which Will has messed up as a teacher, from his favoritism within the Glee Club to his incompetence as a Spanish teacher.
Sue Sylvester: “You have befouled the profession of teaching by accepting not only one, but two Teacher of the Year Awards despite not speaking a word of the foreign language you purport to teach.” - Glee
Her brutal lecture is indicative of the writers’ awareness of how has fallen short, while Sue (who consistently outperforms our expectations) has evolved into a nuanced antihero. Moreover, her role as a third-party perspective calling out the self-important absurdity of Mr. Schue’s Glee Club drama is vital to the narrative’s digestibility. Isobel Lewis, writer for The Guardian, states that “the self-referential jokes and witty one-liners, mostly from[...] Sue Sylvester, made the bizarre storylines easier to swallow, and a cast of arguably unlikable characters easier to root for.”
Without Sue, all we’d have is a cast of characters that think it’s okay to perform the “Cell Block Tango” as domestic violence awareness. It’s going too far to call Sue any kind of model teacher — she does questionable things, and bullies the students. But she’s an illuminating mirror of what Mr. Schue lacks, underlining that some of the most important things a teacher does can be counterintuitive, hard and unglamorous.
Despite all this evidence that he’s far from an ideal teacher, Mr. Schue undeniably inspires many students. He does his best to help them with their problems when they have no one else, connects to them as equals, and introduces the power of artistic expression as a means of self-discovery. As much as the show does see and call out his mistakes, it ultimately believes in how much talented, generous creative types have to give, even when they get a lot wrong. And, together with all the other teachers on Glee, Mr. Schue reminds us just how huge a responsibility and gift being a teacher is — it’s a power like no other to guide young people’s paths toward figuring out who they want (and don’t want) to be.