10 of the Most Famous Teachers Ever

I know most of us have had some incredible teachers in our time, but most of them will never be well-known by people other than those they have had direct contact with. Sure you may have the occasional teacher that was so inspiring a movie will be made about them, a la Dangerous Minds, but even then, the real educator won’t even be featured in the movie and his or her actions will probably be over dramatized for the sake of the audience. That’s why when talking about famous teachers, it’s much more realistic to talk about those who have been teachers at one point of their life, but are much better known for their roles outside the classroom. Here are 10 individuals that you almost certainly know of, but you probably didn’t know they also served as teachers.

Maya Angelou

Education has been an important part of Angelou’s life ever since a teacher helped her recover from becoming voluntarily mute. When Maya was eight, she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend, who was beaten to death shortly after by some of her relatives. Because she believed her confession of the act was responsible for his murder, she felt that her voice was directly to blame for his death. It wasn’t until she was 13 that she learned to speak again with the help of a dedicated teacher and family friend who introduced her to classic authors such as Shakespeare, Poe and Dickens as well as black female artists like Frances Harper and Anne Spencer. Naturally, it was only fitting that Angelou repay her gratitude by working to educate others. While writing has remained her main passion, she has also taught at a number of colleges, including the University of Kansas, Wichita State University and California State University of Sacramento. For over 20 years though, she’s remained a professor at Wake Forest University in North Carolina.

Gene Simmons

You might know him best for his epic tongue-flicking rock concerts and terrible reality shows, but long before he was the legendary make-up sporting rocker, he was Mr. Simmons, a sixth-grade teacher in Harlem. While most celebrities who used to be teachers quit to follow their dreams, Gene was fired before Kiss started taking off. As it turns out, school administrators don’t particularly like it when a teacher decides to teach Spiderman comics in place of Shakespearean plays. In Gene’s defense, he’s right that the students were probably more likely to read the comic books than the plays, but I doubt they’d get as much out of them as they would the bard’s classic works. Image via Lokomotive74 [Wikipedia]

Sir William Golding

If you thought Lord of the Flies did an excellent job depicting the attitudes and mannerisms of preteen boys, there’s a good reason for that –Sir William Golding served as a teacher before and after his stint in WWII. He often allowed the boy’s free reign of the classroom during debate sessions, which provided him with ample inspiration for the very novel that allowed him the financial freedom to leave the teaching profession.


Before joining The Police, Sting worked as a teacher during the week, heading out to the jazz clubs during the weekends. In his own words, he claimed to be a terrible teacher, only bothering to teach the students about subjects he enjoyed. This meant they pretty much only learned poetry and soccer from the future rock star.

Image via David Shankbone [Wikipedia]

Greg Graffin

While the name might not be immediately familiar to you, punk music fans will be familiar with his band Bad Religion. But Greg isn’t your typical punk rocker, he holds a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and geology, a master’s degree in geology, and a Ph.D. in zoology. He’s also published two books. Although he started in Bad Religion when he was only 15 and has hardly needed a second job since the band struck it big, Graffin has also spent much of his adult life as a professor, teaching Life Sciences at UCLA. He even shot a pilot for a reality show called “Punk Professor,” but nothing seemed to come of it. Image via Ricapar [Wikipedia]

Art Garfunkel

Simon & Garfunkel went on hiatus in 1970 and during that time, Art Garfunkel took advantage of his math skills by heading into the teaching field and taking a position at Litchfield Private School. Of course, a few years later, the group released their Greatest Hits album, and he retired from his teaching position after only a two years.

Andy Griffith

The man best known as Matlock wasn’t ever actually a lawyer, but he was a teacher. One of Andy’s first jobs after graduating from the University of North Carolina was as a music teacher at Goldsboro High School. He only taught for about three years before he decided to venture into entertainment, starting out doing comedy monologues at night clubs.

Stephen King

After graduating from The University of Maine with a Bachelor’s degree in English, Stephen earned a teaching certificate and immediately started seeking a job in the teaching field. Fortunately for his writing career, he couldn’t find a job right away, so he had to work at an industrial laundry facility and started writing short stories to supplement his income. Eventually in 1971, he did find a position at the Hampden Academy in Maine. He continued to write short stories in the evening during this point in his career and started developing ideas for his novels. In 1973, Carrie was accepted by Doubleday Publishing and he was able to retire from teaching and focus on his writing career. Image via Pinguino [Flickr]

Leonard Maltin

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to take a film class from one of the world’s most respected film historians/critics, then you’d probably enjoy enrolling in some film classes at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. Leonard Maltin previously taught at the New School for Social Research in New York for almost 10 years, but since he has become a resident of Los Angeles long ago, it’s only fitting that his teaching career follow suit. Image via Alan Light [Flickr]

Madeleine Albright

She might be better known for her role as the first female Secretary of State, serving under Bill Clinton‘s second term, but students at Georgetown University now know her as a professor of international relations at the college’s Walsh School of Foreign Service. With her job record, along with her Ph.D from Columbia University in public law and government, I’d say she’s pretty well qualified for the job.

Bonus: Tony Danza

To be fair, Tony only taught school for the sake of an A&E reality television show called, "Teach," so he might not really count as an authentic teacher since he didn't go through any effort to get the position and since everyone knew it would only be a one year stint. Surprisingly, the administrators and students of the school he taught at were actually quite impressed with his performance. In fact, one of the assistant principals noted that he wished all of the new teachers on staff would grow as much as Mr. Danza did. Have any of you ever had a teacher that was famous for something else? I had a math teacher who was on The Gong Show back in the 70’s and one of my journalism professors co-founded Guitar Player Magazine, but that’s about as big as any of my teachers ever seemed to make it. Sources: Mental Floss, Wikipedia #1, #2, #3, #4, East Buchanan School District, The Times, Contactmusic, Yahoo Movies, AZ Central

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It is crazy tg pick ten recent people as the most famous teachers when all kinds of people have been teacheres, including Aristotle, Jesus of Nazereth, amd tons more like that.
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Teller, of Penn & Teller fame, taught English and Latin at Lawrence High School in NJ, thereby lending a small amount of irony to the fact that he doesn't speak in his stage personna.
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