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“I was safer at Hogwarts. I think I was a good teacher —”
You were the best —”
(Deathly Hallows, Chapter 35, "King's Cross")

That seems like a completely inappropriate statement, coming out of Harry, seeing how:

  • Harry never took a single class with Dumbledore (his "instruction" on How-To-Get-Rid-Of-Voldemort wasn't really "teaching").
    • Anyone thinking otherwise, please reflect on how Harry thought about what Dumbledore "taught" him (answer: nothing useful) during the hunt for the Horcruxes in DH.
  • Harry never discussed Dumbledore as a teacher with anyone who was taught by him.
  • Harry had truly excellent teachers. Lockhart, Lupin, McGonagall. So it's not like he couldn't imagine Dumbledore being not best no matter how bad he was.

What was the basis for Harry to claim this?

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  • 13
    re point #1 - He tutored Harry. That surely counts as teaching.
    – Valorum
    Jun 25, 2015 at 23:58
  • 30
    +1 for strikethrough of "Lockhart" Jun 26, 2015 at 0:03
  • 9
    @N_Soong - He learned a lot from Lockhart. His lessons about the price of fame were especially useful.
    – Valorum
    Jun 26, 2015 at 0:09
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    Harry probably meant the Richard Harris version. He was all about peace, love, and happiness. The second Dumbledore was an angry nutter. Jun 26, 2015 at 0:21
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    id say dumbledore taught by actions, being a strong figure to look up too, a role model. sometimes role models can be the best influence on our lives.
    – user36770
    Jun 26, 2015 at 0:21

5 Answers 5

29

I think Harry himself explains why Dumbledore is the greatest teacher at the end of Sorcerer's/Philosopher's Stone (emphasis is my own):

"No, it isn't," said Harry thoughtfully. "He's a funny man, Dumbledore. I think he knows more or less everything that goes on here, you know. I reckon he had a pretty good idea we were going to try, and instead of stopping us, he just taught us enough to help. I don't think it was an accident he let me find out how the mirror worked. It's almost like he thought I had the right to face Voldemort if I could...."

Harry potter and the Sorcerer's Stone - US Paperback Edition - Page 302

This is the most perfect description we see (in the books) of Dumbledore as a teacher, and it holds true for all great teachers: They teach you what you need to know, let you try your strengths, and let you learn from your mistakes, without holding said mistakes against you. For instance, in The Half-Blood Prince, Harry (unknowingly) uses dark magic, in the form of the Sectumsempra curse, against Malfoy. He and Dumbledore briefly discuss the incident, but Dumbledore never scolds or lectures Harry on the subject, because he knows that Harry realizes that he made a huge mistake, has learned from it, and will never make that same mistake again.

1
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    damn you that's a good answer. Great job.
    – AugustoQ
    Jun 29, 2015 at 22:27
59

First, I think that it's crucial to recognise that Harry is a 17 year old that was in the middle of a war, had just died, and met again with someone very dear to him who he had painfully lost. If you think about it, it makes a lot of sense that he would be a little extra affectionate towards Dumbledore, and maybe exaggerate a little bit on the whole "best teacher".

But maybe Harry actually had a reason to say that. You see, in seven years Harry went from a little kid who was weak and bullied, had no idea about what had really happened to his parents, and could never hope to be anything special, to becoming... Well, Harry Potter. And while you might (maybe correctly) argue that Dumbledore was not the most important element behind that transformation, you cannot deny that he was an important one, and a very visible one. The kind of element he would cling to, meaning he would be the person Harry would remember as being the key element on the transformation. The way Harry sees it, Dumbledore took him (even if not directly) from not knowing that there was a wizarding world, to not only knowing it, but being an important part of it.

Finally, if you want a full-on "Harry knew what he was saying", well, throughout the series we see Dumbledore giving Harry advice, and teachings that go beyond the classroom (the kind of thing a private school would be falsely advertising) like not to

"Dwell in dreams and forget to live"

or that

"It is our choices[...] that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities."

Also, in the "Voldemort Classes" Harry does learn about Voldemort, even if little. He learns about Voldemort's history, who he is, what he values, what "hurts him". Things that might seem like we all knew them before hand, but I think we all learned a lot about Voldemort on those classes, and so did Harry. Many strategists will agree that a key point in war is knowing your enemy.

Now, I think anyone of those could explain why Harry would refer to Dumbledore as "the best teacher", but in my opinion (not that it matters), it's a little bit of all of them that lead Harry to make that choice of words.

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    @WadCheber Thanks =D
    – AugustoQ
    Jun 26, 2015 at 1:41
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    Don't forget Dumbledore was also incredibly skilled and clever. Subject knowledge is a key part of the teacher role and he was surely "the best" in that aspect.
    – ThruGog
    Jun 26, 2015 at 5:35
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    Nitpick - And while you might (correctly) argue that Dumbledore was not the most important element behind that transformation - I'd argue that, hands down, Dumbledore was THE most important part. Without his constant meddling - starting from the enabling protection only family can give (Dursleys) through guiding him through the key parts to win the final battle (up to, and including, self sacrifice) - Harry wouldn't have made it through his childhood... He taught Harry to not fear, believe and never give up... Best teacher and most important/influential, hands down IMO.
    – WernerCD
    Jun 26, 2015 at 13:48
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    @WernerCD i should have put "maybe correctly", because there are actually too many factors behind it. His friends, the other professors, Sirius. Imo, Dumbledore is top in the list, but I wouldn't go as far as saying the most important without some further "study" first.
    – AugustoQ
    Jun 26, 2015 at 13:57
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    @AugustoQ I'd agree that "Most Important" or "Best" could be a topic of discussion at the least. Opinion based top to bottom (Although, my opinion is obviously right :) I should have highlighted the "correctly" part and done a bit more to emphasize the opinion parts - yours (that he's "correctly" not the most important) and Harry's (that he's the best teacher). You have reasons for believing Dumbledore isn't... Harry has reasons for believing Dumbledore is.
    – WernerCD
    Jun 26, 2015 at 14:15
22

Dumbledore actually taught Harry a great deal, not just the usual "importance of friendship" rubbish but genuine hard facts;

  • How to use a pensieve
  • That memory can be edited (Slughorn)
  • How the "love protection" spell works
  • That magic can be detected indirectly
  • The lifecycle of the phoenix
  • Tom Riddle's personal history
  • Some Hogwarts history about Salazar Slytherin
  • What the Mirror of Erised does
  • A whole bunch of stuff about wizard politics

That being said, Harry is more likely referring to the intangible lessons he got from Dumbledore's own actions;

  • That a leader leads from the front
  • The importance of surrounding yourself with a circle of friends
  • That love conquers evil (quite literally)

etc

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    He also trusted Harry with responsibility, at varying levels throughout the series. Showing that trust, and preparing him for greater responsibility was, IMO, key. If not for Dumbledore, would Harry and company been able to bear the burden of hunting the Horcuxes? Without Dumbledore's lessons, would he have made the same choices in the woods at the end? I don't think so.
    – user31178
    Jun 26, 2015 at 8:20
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    Snape (in his pre-Princes-tale persona) taught Harry a whole awful lot more than that - by a factor of 1000. I think we can all agree that this wouldn't make Harry call him "best teacher" or ever "Good teacher" Jun 26, 2015 at 16:46
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    @DVK Did Snape teach Harry more than Occlumency? Harry didn't seem to do well in Snape's classes. Instruction doesn't equal learning. Snape's methods weren't pedagogically sound, and seemed to focus on rote memorization, humiliation of poor performers, and little engagement with his students. Very typical of universities where experts in fields are hired because they know the material, but they have no idea how to teach it well. In such cases, the learning is upon the student and their study habits and the instructor can be largely interchangeable. Dumbledore, however, wasn't interchangeable.
    – user31178
    Jun 27, 2015 at 19:52
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    @CreationEdge - 1 word: Bezoar. Jun 29, 2015 at 15:16
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    @CreationEdge - it wasn't Slughorn's teaching. It was the Half-Blood Prince's instructions in the textbook... ergo... Snape :) Jun 29, 2015 at 18:05
16

Harry is having a conversation with a man that he admires and misses greatly.

Harry saying that Dumbledore "was the best" is a statement of admiration, and doesn't imply any true evaluation of Dumbledore's abilities.

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    Not only having a conversation with someone he admires and dearly considers, he is also in a very emotional state, considering the battle of Hogwarts, his death, his meeting people who were very important to him, and the fact that Dumbledore's death had been very painful to him.
    – AugustoQ
    Jun 26, 2015 at 2:06
5

The basis is that of all the people that Harry knew, that happen to be teachers, he considered Dumbledore to be the best person.

While the way Dumbledore spoke implied he was speaking purely about his instructional quality, we don't need to assume Harry's response was meant to be a remark on the same.

It's common, in my experience, for people to refer to teachers as good or great because of their impact on the lives of their students, rather than purely academic criteria. In this case, we know Dumbledore had a huge impact on not only Harry, but many of the students at Howarts. He cared deeply for their safety and well-being, to the point of making one of his oldest friends kill him so that one of their wayward students wouldn't have to suffer the consequences of murder.

There are many measures of quality that Harry could have used to determine Dumbledore was the best teacher. The level academic instruction to Harry or the other students was not necessarily anywhere near the top of the list.

(Also, how many other teachers were on Chocolate Frog cards?)

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