To celebrate the release of Giant-Size X-Men: Jean Grey and Emma Frost, AIPT proudly presents JEAN GREY + EMMA FROST WEEK – seven days of original articles and interviews about two X-Women so eXtraordinary, they don’t need codenames!
I want you to think about the best teacher you had as a child. Were they warm, nurturing and attentive, or do you remember them because of how much they taught you about yourself? The greatest educators aren’t necessarily the softest individuals. It’s the reason why teachers today have metrics around child development and not conversational pleasantries. It’s also the reason why Emma Frost is terribly underrated as one of mutantkind’s premier educators.
The suggestion that Emma is anything other than a villain or homewrecker will enrage some. She has a pretty unpleasant reputation among X-Men characters and fans alike which, in all fairness, she’s earned. Still, I think there are more dimensions to this diamond.
I wanted to take an atypical approach to evaluating Emma Frost’s effectiveness as an educator. It’s such an important element of her character and as of late it’s fallen off. So, I connected with current and former educators, including my father and Christi Eddleman of Chrises On Infinite Earths, to get a better sense of real-life measures. Dad mostly complained about helicopter parents and the teacher’s union. Christi, thankfully, gave me a legitimate sense of how different states in the U.S. evaluate and she also provided metrics from the Network for Educator Effectiveness.
In the vein of NEE evaluations, I dug through Emma Frost’s many appearances (over 800 comic issues!) to pull the instances where she demonstrated six educator competencies:
- The teacher cognitively engages students in the content;
- The teacher builds on students’ prior experiences, learning strengths and needs;
- The teacher uses instructional strategies that lead students to problem-solving and critical thinking;
- The teacher effectively uses appropriate instructional resources to enhance student learning;
- The teacher uses technology and media tools to communicate with students and parents when available and appropriate; and
- The teacher monitors the effect of instruction on the whole class and individual learning.
Given how polarizing a character Emma Frost is, I’m thinking these measures can hold her up to scrutiny that’s a bit divorced from her reputation. It’s basically a performance review, right?
Just go with it.
Emma’s approach to cognitively engaging mutant students in their learning can be seen across a number of X-Men comics, usually featuring rigorous training and condescending conversation. A great example is her approach in the Firestar solo series. Angelica (Firestar) has no idea how to use her mutant abilities upon her arrival at Emma Frost’s Massachusetts Academy. She was a doe-eyed, vulnerable teenager directly in the sights of the Hellfire Club.
Frost was the White Queen of the club at the time and conspired with its Black King, Sebastian Shaw, to train Angelica so she could become an assassin. Horrible, I know, but intentions aside, Frost effectively engaged her students and Firestar, in particular, in both training and understanding themselves as mutants. She would leverage her telepathy to communicate with Angelica during her training sessions, pushing the student to focus her microwaves into concentrated blasts and even flight abilities. Her effectiveness with Angelica as a teacher was compromised by her ethically horrific actions throughout the Firestar comic series, but I think that’s still worth mentioning.
In a somewhat similar fashion, an older, reformed Emma Frost would stage impromptu physical training sessions with Penance in Generation X to get over the inherent communication issues. Kinda like she was meeting the student on her level, in her terms. Likewise, she would use her abilities to connect with Monet and push her out of her box. Teaching mutants was never just about the use of powers, though.
On a number of occasions, Frost has preached to the mutant student body on the importance of being conscious of human-mutant relationships, the most notable being when she, mid-speech, used the Danger Room to simulate a Sentinel attack to teach a lesson about using control and non-violence in Astonishing X-Men. Lecturing that mutants may always be feared and humans need to see mutants as a peaceful people. Frost is practical to the point.
When you look past the cold exterior to her actions as an educator, you see a much warmer side. One of my favorite Emma Frost moments takes place during the “Generation Next” story in “The Phalanx Covenant.” A new team of young mutants is being formed and Jubilee is the first to be taken under Frost’s wing. In a period of time she assessed what emotions had been driving Jubilee’s subdued use of her powers: trauma.
A horrible past made Jubilee fear her powers and limit their development. When Emma Frost sees Jubilee bust up a Phalanx, she is impressed. She tells the mall babe her powers are “rather formidable” and takes the time to engage with her student. To understand her.
Jubilee had been a punchline for years. The annoying kid X-Man with the weak-ass firecrackers. Nothing to write home about next to Wolverine, Storm or the Phoenix. Emma Frost was the first person in X-Men to look at Jubilee and ask why. Under Emma’s tutelage, Jubilee would go from the kid that nobody took seriously to a genuinely capable X-Man.
Emma Frost has a history of taking a special interest in underappreciated mutants. She created a special education program for Artie and Leach in Generation X, being the first adult superhero in the room to say, “Hey, maybe these two kids need some goddamn structure in their lives.” In a similar fashion, she later helped track down Wither with Dani Moonstar in New X-Men Vol. 2 and suggested the isolated student start using his “death touch” on wood for practice, before setting him up with a psychological counselor. An unengaged educator would not do these things.
What about her instructional strategy? As mentioned, Frost trained Firestar in her solo series to use her powers. More than that, though, she wanted Angelica to work off of instinct and be able to defend herself or kill in the heat of the moment. You know, like a good assassin. Angelica’s fighting instincts were later proven at an airport where she diffused a violent situation and again later on when she foiled the Hellfire Club’s plans for her. Firestar’s education was too good for her to be a controlled asset.
In a very different way, Emma Frost taught Iceman about the potential he was squandering up until the mid-90s. Her mind had ended up in Bobby’s body for a while and her use of his ice powers was beyond anything he had been able to do since the X-Men were formed. When he confronted her over the possession she used her telepathic abilities to give him a taste of his spikey-iced future, before taunting him over his tendencies of being the class clown. The final push was telling him, “I showed you a glimpse of your full potential. It’s up to you to do something with that information.”
Real-world educators have to lean on technology to enhance learning, and while the Danger Room (or Grotto) has been used by Emma Frost, her greatest asset is her brain. As a telepath, she can use her mental gifts to bring out the best in her students. When Frost identifies mental blocks stopping Prodigy from retaining all of the knowledge he absorbs, she is asked to remove them. Knowledge being a dangerous thing, she opts to create a mental illusion with Moonstar of how life for Prodigy would play out without those blocks. This turns Prodigy away from the idea for the betterment of himself and those around him.
In another instance, Rachel Grey takes a break from constantly berating Emma Frost for being Emma Frost to pick up some new abilities. Rachel may not have formally been Frost’s student but the White Queen makes it clear to the former Phoenix host that when it comes to telepathy, there is a difference between raw power and finesse. She even transmits to Rachel’s brain the ability to mentally hide her presence to those around her.
As far as using technology and media tools to communicate with students and parents, Frost unsurprisingly prefers telepathic messages and astral plane encounters to emails. Still, there are times where a softer approach is necessary. Such was the case after two of her students, Laurie Collins and Jay Guthrie, were murdered by Purifiers in New X-Men Vol. 2. In both cases, Emma was tasked with putting aside her repeated trauma of student loss to comfort the parents whose lives would never be the same.
Emma has always been invested in the lives of her students but it’s interesting how she goes about balancing instruction on the whole class with individual learning. When the New Mutants first went to the Massachusetts Academy after Secret Wars II, Emma notices how impacted they have become from exposure to the Beyonder. She telepathically modified the mental landscape of these students to help them deal with the trauma, going from room to room each night. It could have cost Emma her life and certainly took a toll on her but this act brought her closer to each individual student as well as entire group.
That’s all six of the competencies broken down and it still feels like there’s more to say. Probably because of all the context outside of these NEE measures. Emma Frost chose this profession for a reason. Some might point to a heartthrob mentor when she was a teen or defiance toward her waspy, horrible father, but I think being an educator was a calling for her. Something she felt she had to return to again and again, even after making horrible decisions.
There will be many who cringe at the suggestion that Emma is a great teacher given her many past failings. The manipulative way she attempted to recruit Kitty Pryde and the New Mutants in Uncanny X-Men. The sanctioning of Empath’s powers to manipulate Xavier’s mutants into being under her thumb. The nightmares and machinations she thrust on Firestar to turn her into a coldblooded killer. She killed Butterrum!
There is a lot Emma did wrong as an educator in her more villainous days. Hell, even reformed from villainy she tried to trade Penance for the safety of the rest of Generation X, before placing the safety of the Gen X kids in jeopardy by attracting her sister Adrienne. Adrienne would make changes as co-headmistress like bringing a class of human students to the academy to tax her sister’s telepathic powers and later placed bombs around the school, resulting in the death of Generation X member Synch.
You can’t take any of these events away from Emma. She survived them. A living diamond formed under intense pressure. The horrific deaths of the original Hellions at the hands of Trevor Fitzroy. Everette’s death in Generation X. Genosha’s annihilation and the eradication of mutantkind during M Day. She has seen horrors no educator or person should have had to. The deaths of her students number in the dozens and this has undoubtedly hardened her.
So, can you really call Professor Frost flawless? I guess it depends on how literal your definition of the word might be. In my opinion, flawlessness isn’t reality–it’s mentality. One that Emma Frost carries with her to every class. She expects perfection of herself and leads her students by example. Moreover, she has frequently demonstrated dedication and tenacity in the development of her students despite a, frankly, horrible past.
Leave it to a living diamond to be this multi-dimensional.