When Miss Hunter must take a family emergency leave, the class at Waltons Mountain School gets a substitute, Miss Pollard, an aloof, pedantic woman who’s as intellectually brilliant as she is emotionally repressed. When she offers to critique John-Boy’s rejected manuscript, she derides it for being mawkish and not following the rigid rules of formal writing (I think she wrote that boring textbook introduction that Robin Williams rips out in Dead Poet’s Society.) After heavy student absenteeism and parent complaints, the school board calls together a meeting about her; frustrated, she resigns the position, but when Olivia has a heart to heart talk with her (or, more accurately, therapy session) she reconsiders, and finishes out the remainder of her assignment.
As a teacher, and former substitute, I definitely enjoyed this one, especially seeing how Miss Pollard did everything wrong when she takes over. (I was even tsk-tsking when she is heedless of a hard-of-hearing girl’s request to sit up front; thank God for accommodation plans!) But as it turns out, it’s not her teaching skills that are problematic, it’s unresolved issues with her deceased father, who was also a cold fish. Now as we all know, no cold fish are allowed in the Waltons’ household, so you could bet the Baldwin sisters recipe that Miss Pollard will not only warm up to everyone by the end but also become the best teacher ever this side of Mr. Chips.
Great performance by Catherine Burns as Miss Pollard; she earned an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Last Summer (1969).