In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week 2018, we’re taking a moment to look at one of Marvel comics’ most overlooked teachers: Emma Frost. While she may not be your first guess, the former White Queen has a long history of teaching and is one of only a handful of Xavier’s Institute professors who find real enjoyment in teaching. We don’t condone all of her teaching methods (killing a student’s horse to teach a lesson is definitely not okay) but we have to give credit where it’s due. As ruthless as she can be, Emma Frost cares deeply about her students and about the teaching profession in general. In a world full of super-powered heroes, something as seemingly simple as Emma’s commitment to education is uniquely sincere.

emma frost
X-MEN ORIGINS: EMMA FROST. Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

When I Grow Up…

Unlike most of the X-Men, Emma didn’t become a teacher at Xavier’s when she got too old to be a student. Emma’s dreams of teaching can be traced back to childhood, as seen in X-MEN ORIGINS: EMMA FROST. As a kid, Emma would play teacher, treating her dolls and stuffed animals as diligent students and making her bedroom into a classroom. If allowed to mature and grow on its own, Emma’s dream of becoming a teacher might have naturally come true and she might have been a very kind and nurturing teacher.

Jean Grey Kills a Queen in VENOMIZED #5

But, unfortunately, Emma’s father routinely abused her. This abuse forced Emma to associate pain and anger with love. While it’s never directly connected in the comics, I think Emma’s cold demeanor in and outside the classroom has to do with her father’s actions. As hard as it is to imagine, Emma might’ve ended up teaching kindergartners if her father hadn’t been such an ass. Because of him, the only way Emma knows how to show affection towards her students is through harsh discipline.

emma frost
X-MEN ORIGINS: EMMA FROST. Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Learning Curve

Emma’s first teaching job came in the form of the Massachusetts Academy — a fancy private school with ties to the Hellfire Club (which is how Emma wound up being headmistress of the school). While there, Emma trained a special group of mutants who she called the Hellions. Like Xavier, Emma helped the Hellions develop their mutant powers. Some of her time at the Massachusetts Academy can be seen in UNCANNY X-MEN #152, NEW MUTANTS #16 and 17, and the miniseries FIRESTAR.

While teaching the Hellions and working at the Massachusetts Academy, Emma became known as a harsh but dedicated teacher. While she helped the Hellions immensely, she proved to be a strict instructor who could be extremely cruel. Empath — one of the more gifted Hellions — became a constant target for Emma, who saw him as talented but reckless. A young Firestar faced similar treatment from Emma, who groomed her to be calloused and cruel by killing her childhood pet and separating her from friends and family.

emma frost
FIRESTAR #1. Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

It’s All About Balance

After Trevor Fitzroy and his army of Sentinels killed most of the Hellions during an attack on the Hellfire Club, Emma’s demeanor changed. While not necessarily a drastic change, Emma did become less cruel and more concerned with her students’ wellbeing. As seen in the 1994 series GENERATION X, Emma is quick to train and teach a new team of mutants. While her personality is never syrupy sweet, Emma is dedicated to teaching the young mutants everything she knows. Because of that, most of the students respect her.

A Closer Look at the Members of NEW MUTANTS

The best thing Emma learns during her time training the Generation X mutants is the concept of balance. When teaching the Hellions, Emma let her desire for a perfect team blind her. Instead of paying attention to the students’ mental and emotional wellbeing, she focused on forcing as much knowledge into them as possible. With Generation X, Emma still wants to create a capable team, but she’s more open to study breaks. Having fun and relaxing for a little while becomes a part of the lesson.

In GENERATION X #42, Emma and her co-teacher Banshee bring the kids to putt-putt for some fun in between lessons. Pre-Hellion Emma probably would’ve found the excursion to be a waste of time. But, the “new” Emma realizes that to be a good teacher, you need students who are willing to learn.

emma frost
NEW X-MEN #115. Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Beyond Tragedy

After the end of Generation X, Emma eventually moved to Genosha and began teaching mutant children there, as seen in NEW X-MEN #115. She had her own classroom, a bunch of talented kids, and the freedom to teach in a mutant-dominated society. And then Sentinels came in and killed every living thing on Genosha. Emma only survived by the manifestation of her diamond mutation. The X-Men found her days after the tragedy, clutching the dead body of one of her students.

Episode 92: X-Men, “The Dream” Part 3: Was Emma Right?

This second tragedy in Emma’s life did leave a lasting impact on her. Fortunately, it didn’t cause her to leave the teaching profession for good. Emma began working at the Xavier Institute as an ethics teacher (as seen in Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s ASTONISHING X-MEN). During this time, Emma really matured and learned how to control the anger that defined her earlier teaching days. In UNCANNY X-MEN #452, Emma defeats Rachel Grey in a psychic battle but, afterward, she’s eager to extend a hand. Rachel clearly hates Emma, just as Rachel’s mom, Jean Grey, hated Emma. Still, Emma is willing to look past Rachel’s bad attitude and focus on teaching the young mutant important lessons. For a woman who used to purposefully make her students cry to instill cruelty, that’s a pretty big change.

emma frost
UNCANNY X-MEN #452. Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Emma Frost: What Makes a Good Teacher?

Emma Frost is probably not the first comic character you think of when you hear the word “teacher” but maybe she should be. At the beginning of her educational career, Emma struggled with anger and cruelty thanks to an abusive past. She treated her students like her father treated her. But, as time went on, she began to learn the importance of balancing discipline and fun. With every series where she’s a teacher, Emma becomes better at it because teaching is what she loves to do. She’s not perfect, but she’s extremely dedicated; and although she may not always show it, she cares for her students.

Emma isn’t teaching at the moment (check out the recent “Cry Havok” arc in X-MEN BLUE to see Emma’s criminal adventures) but hopefully we’ll see the former White Queen back in the classroom soon. I’d love to see a series that focuses solely on Emma’s ability and love for teaching instead of on her villainous past. Sure, she was the White Queen of the Hellfire Club for a while but she’s also a kickass teacher who’s helped countless young mutants. That should mean something too.

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