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Ten People You’d Never Believe Were Teachers

posted by Maggie Milstein on May 11th, 2011

As a child of the 80s and 90s, I had a lot of teachers who wore spandex and frightening amounts of makeup. Unfortunately, none of them were the rock stars mentioned in my list of legendary people who once sprinkled sawdust on hurl and confiscated Pogs. Get ready to rock out with your chalk out as we countdown ten famous people who were once teachers.

10) Billy Crystal

Before he witnessed Meg Ryan fake a mind-blowing orgasm in When Harry Met Sally, Billy “The Face” Crystal was a substitute gym teacher at an all-girls middle school in Long Island. He learned how to actively engage an audience that was catty, self conscious, and desperate for attention. This skill eventually carried over to a successful Oscar hosting career. If only Anne Hathaway had taken his class…

9) Art Garfunkel

In middle school, I had a curmudgeonly physics teacher named Mr. Enis; naturally, his name provided a lot of material for our budding poetic minds.  Our next famous teacher followed in the grand tradition of tragically rhyming teacher names and certainly inspired a lot of back-row snickers. After college, Art Garfunkel taught at Litchfield Preparatory School in Connecticut, during which time “Bridge Over Troubled Water” became a hit.* The rest is rock history.  So congratulations Mr. Fart Barfunkel, you will always have the last laugh.

*I wonder if Clay Aiken’s students reacted the same way when “I Was Invisible” dropped?

8)    Mr. T

A “hip” teacher will allow students to abbreviate his or her last name to a simple one-letter moniker.  For example, Boy Meet World’s avuncular Mr. George Feeny (everyone’s favorite neighbor, high school teacher, college professor, principal, mentor, friend, and co-dependent) let the occasional F-word slip. However, our next famous teacher took his abbreviation very seriously.* In the mid-1970s, long before he pitied fools, Laurence Turead taught  gym in the south side of Chicago. He also worked as a nightclub bouncer, where he cultivated his alter-ego “Mr. T.” Even after reaching fame and fortune, Mr. T continued teaching, producing self-help videos aimed at high-risk youth.**He left his original teaching job when Sylvester Stallone discovered and cast him in Rocky III. Which brings me to my next point:

*When someone asks him what his real name is, he responds “My first name is ‘Mr,’ my middle name is ‘period,’ last name is ‘T’.”
**Rent Mr. T’s Be Somebody or Be Somebody’s Fool. Just trust me on this one.

7)    Sylvester Stallone

Was also a gym teacher. At least he didn’t teach rhetoric.

6)    Sting

Before his lyrics romanced Generation X, Gordon “Sting” Sumner taught English, music, and soccer at St. Katherine Convent School in England. He recalls, “I was the only man on the faculty. In fact, I was the only teacher not in a habit.”  Does that mean he went naked?*

*Please, God…

5)    Sir William Golding

Now, Sir William Golding might seem out of place among the pop-culture icons listed above. However, his story is both haunting and incredibly badass. After earning his degree from Oxford University in 1935, Golding taught English and Greek literature in translation at Bishop Wordsworth’s School in Salisbury, UK. When WWII broke out, he joined the Royal Navy and became a commander of a small rocket-launching ship that helped sink the German ship Bismark as well as advance British forces on D-Day.  He returned to his teaching position after the war, but maintained a “dark view of people’s ability to destroy one another.” He once allowed a class of boys complete freedom in a debate, but had to intervene as mayhem and violence broke out. He drew inspiration from his students and his grizzly war experience to write The Lord of the Flies. If only the ubiquitous “Edward vs. Jacob” debate inspired the next great American novel…

4)    JK Rowling

Long before Quidditch became a respectable sport in American colleges, JK Rowling was a struggling writer and English teacher. She taught abroad for a year in Portugal, where she wrote the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Philsopher’s Stone (Sorcerer’s Stone in America). She came back to England, where she taught full-time, stayed up at night writing, and took care of her infant daughter without any help. Bloomsbury Publishers eventually picked up Philosopher’s Stone, and now Rowling is one of the highest-paid women in history.

I wonder: if Sir William Golding got ideas for the characters in Lord of the Flies from his students, did Rowling do the same? Are her Hogwarts students direct reflections of her muggle students? If I had been her student, what character would I have inspired? Hermoine Ganga?

3)    Stephen King

Before he made me piss my pants, Stephen King taught at the Hampden Academy in Hampden, Maine. He used is spare time to write short stories, but developed a heavy drinking problem during his teaching station. We’ve all had that teacher who hid a flask somewhere in his desk and smelled a little like a distant uncle. However, the unholy trinity of alcoholism, Maine, and elementary school teaching eventually worked out for King, who became the third-highest paid writer in history (just behind James Patterson and JK Rowling).

2)    Barack Obama

Although his words were deemed “too professorial” for the American public, Barack Obama was one of the most lauded instructors in Constitutional Law in the history of the University of Chicago. At the 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner, He remarked, “Some people now suggest that I’m too professorial, and I would like to address that head-on: by assigning all of you some reading that will help you draw your own conclusions.” Burn. He would be my top pick of the week.*

*He also very much deserves a “chili pepper.”

1)    Gene Simmons

Carrying on the rabbinic scholarly tradition, Chaim Witz devoted himself to his studies, becoming fluent in English, German, Hungarian, Spanish, and Hebrew. He considered becoming a rabbi, but decided to explore other careers and focus on his music. He ended up teaching sixth grade at PS 75 in Spanish Harlem, where he was reportedly fired for, among other things, replacing the Shakespearean play in the curriculum with a Spiderman comic (what a shanda!) This might have been the greatest thing to ever happen to Chaim; he changed his name to Gene Simmons and become the Jew with the second-most amount of sex partners in history (right after King David). I would like to take a moment to thank Chaim for all he has done for my tribe, giving hope to pre-adolescent Bar Mitzvahs with cracking voices and no game. What a mensch!

There we have it: ten famous people who once immersed themselves in academia. Next time you see a teacher, thank them for living the dream.

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