Growing up, your teachers might not have seemed entirely real. They existed in the classroom, and… that’s it. (For a walk down memory lane, just recall how awkward it was whenever you bumped into Mr. Porto in the coffee shop.) But for these celebrities, it’s practically the opposite scenario: You can’t possibly imagine they ever existed in a classroom.
Well, you better start imagining. From red carpet royalty to stadium-booking rock stars to iconic authors (some of whom are now back in English classrooms around the world, albeit in name only), the teacher’s desk seems to be a launching pad for many celebrity careers. Here are the ones you’ll be most surprised about. And for more hidden secrets from the classroom, don’t miss these 20 Shocking Confessions from Public School Teachers.
The bassist of Kiss taught 6th grade in Harlem for 6 months as the band was forming. Eventually, however, Gene Simmons quit to pursue fame. “The reason I quit after six months is that I discovered the real reason I became a teacher. It was because I wanted to get up on stage and have people notice me. I had to quit because the stage was too small. Forty people wasn’t enough. I wanted 40,000,” he told The Ledger. And for more public school hilarity, check out these 20 Hilarious Assignments Kids Have Turned in to Their Teachers.
Before Gordon Matthew Sumner (whom you may know as Sting) crooned his way to success as the leading member of the Police, he was a certified primary school teacher and soccer coach in England. He quit after his solo career began to gain traction. Decades after his stint as a teacher, Sting is still adamant about raising teacher’s salaries, as he acknowledges that teaching is one of the most important (and underpaid) jobs in the world. And for more celebs whose names you might not know, These Are the Real Names of Your Favorite Mega-Stars.
Prior to writing the iconic Harry Potter series, author J.K. Rowling followed an advertisement in The Guardian to teach English as a foreign language in Porto, Portugal. For the next few years, Rowling taught English at night and wrote chapters of the first novel in the series during the day.
Back in the 1960s, when Sylvester Stallone was attending the American College in Switzerland, he taught gym class on the side to earn extra cash for spending money while overseas. And for more surprising celebrity facts, check out these 30 Celebrities with Surprising College Degrees.
Alexander Graham Bell
As it turns out, Alexander Graham Bell was inspired to create the telephone through his work as a teacher for the deaf in London, Boston, and Hartford, Connecticut. In fact, even after he officially created the telephone in 1876, he still insisted on tutoring individual students—including Helen Keller. And for more facts about the world’s greatest inventors, check out these 30 Life-Changing Inventions That Were Totally Accidental.
In the beginning part of his literary career, Robert Frost was a teacher at the Pinkerton Academy in Derry, New Hampshire. The students he taught affectionately called him “The Hen Man” because he was incredibly afraid of chickens.
Though Liam Neeson trained to be a teacher while attending St. Mary’s College in Newcastle, England, he decided against the profession after punching a student in the face. As Neeson told ESPN: “This particular kid did not want to settle down, he wanted to disrupt the whole class. So I went over to him and asked him to leave the classroom and stand outside. The next thing he pulled a knife on me. My reaction was to punch him, which I shouldn’t have done but I felt threatened.”
Before Mr. T found success as a professional wrestler and actor in the 1980s, he worked as a gym teacher at the Paul Lawrence Dubar Vocational Career Academy in Chicago. After his stint as a teacher, he earned a scholarship to attend Prairie View A&M Univeristy.
Prior to becoming a household name, actor Andy Griffith, upon earning a Bachelor of Music degree at the University of North Carolina, taught music and drama at Goldsboro High School in North Carolina.
After moving to New York City to pursue acting, Billy Crystal formed a comedy trio with two other friends and spent his time performing in colleges and coffee houses with them. To earn money, Crystal worked as a substitute teacher on Long Island.
Before writing about killer clowns, novelist Stephen King was a teacher at Hampden Academy in Hampden, Maine. At the same time, King was busy submitting short stories to several magazines in an attempt to achieve success as a writer. After his first novel, Carrie, found great success, he quit teaching, and 58 novels later, is one of the greatest novelists of all time.
As it turns out, Wolverine has always been a fit icon. He began his path to physical perfection in the most humble way possible: as a gym teacher at England’s Uppingham School. In fact, just five years ago, he actually recognized one of his old students, interrupting an interview with entertainment reporter Rollo Ross, stating that he just wanted to “know how your physical education is progressing. It’s very important to me.”
After majoring in music education at the University of Missouri at Columbia, musician Sheryl Crow tried her hand at teaching music at an elementary school in St. Louis. This gig ended when Crow moved to Los Angeles to pursue a solo career in 1986.
Mad Men star Jon Hamm, upon graduating from the University of Missouri, took his first job as a drama teacher at his high school alma mater, the John Burroughs School. While at the school, he taught the likes of Ellie Kemper (with whom he co-starred on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) and formed a close friendship with fellow actor Paul Rudd.
Eric Arthur Blair—who you may know by his pen name, George Orwell—was a teacher at The Hawthorns High School in Hayes, West London, where he worked on A Scullion’s Diary, a novel detailing a time when he attempted to have himself arrested.
When Hillary Clinton moved to Arkansas in 1974 to be with her husband, Bill Clinton, she secured a job at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, teaching criminal law as one of only two female faculty members on staff.
Prior to finding success in politics, former President Barack Obama spent 12 years teaching constitutional law and race theory at the University of Chicago Law School. According to his previous students, Obama was an equally diplomatic and challenging lecturer, pushing both liberals and conservatives to assess their own moral views and political leanings.
Lyndon B. Johnson
In order to pay for his education at Southwest Texas State College, former President Lyndon B. Johnson accepted a teaching position in 1928 at Welhausen School in Cotulla, Texas, a town on the border of Mexico and the United States. Despite the language barrier between himself and the students who only spoke Spanish, Johnson proved to be an enthusiastic and inspiring teacher, holding speech and debate tournaments to increase their knowledge of the English language. His work as a teacher inspired his later dealings as president, leading him to pass the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 1965, which granted federal aid to younger grades in an effort to ensure that every child receives a quality education.
Prior to becoming a lawyer (and then, eventually, the second President of the United States), John Adams, fresh out of Harvard University, was a teacher at the Central School of Worcester. However, unlike his fellow future statesman, Lyndon B. Johnson, Adams found the job to be incredibly boring and unfulfilling, leaving his post only a year later, in 1756, to pursue law.
Yes, teachers seem to be well-groomed for the Oval. Jimmy Carter also has tried his hand at teaching—only this time, he did so after his presidency ended. To this day (at age 94, no less) Carter teaches Sunday school at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia. In fact, his Sunday school teachings have become so popular, that people travel thousands of miles to see his infamous lectures.
Before this Irish soap star made it big—thanks to roles in popular shows like The Riordans and Bracken—he taught Spanish and History at Ardscoil Éanna in Dublin, Ireland.
Perhaps one of the most prolific guitarists of all time, Brian May of Queen, taught math at Stockwell Manor School in Brixton, London ,before finding success as a musician. (“We will…. we will… teach you!”)
Before writing mind-bending riddles in novels like The Da Vinci Code, author Dan Brown was actually interested in becoming a musician. So, he pursued this interest in Hollywood, and to support himself, he taught classes at Beverly Hills Preparatory School. Then, later, as he was pursuing a writing career, he taught English and Spanish at the esteemed Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire.
After graduating from Temple University, Grey’s Anatomy actor Jesse Williams taught American Studies, African Studies, and English for six years in the Philadelphia public school system. In fact, before finding fame as an actor, it wasn’t even a career path that he considered a viable option, believing that teaching would be his life.
Prior to earning a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, critically acclaimed singer and songwriter Roberta Flack taught music and English in Farmville, North Carolina, after graduating from Howard University at the young age of 19.
Ezra Koenig, lead singer of alternative band Vampire Weekend, didn’t immediately jump into writing irresistibly catchy ditties. Right after graduating from Columbia University, Koenig, through the Teach for America program—which places teachers in some of the toughest schools in the country—scored a job as an eighth-grade teacher in Brooklyn.
Country star Kris Kristofferson had a very promising career in the army, accepting a job teaching English at West Point, before turning it down to pursue a music career in Nashville in 1965.
Sir William Golding
The Lord of the Flies author taught English and philosophy in Salisbury, England, but left in 1940 to join the Royal Navy. Then, 14 years later, he would publish his first novel—one that would ultimately win him the Nobel Prize for Literature.
During the beginning of his incredibly prolific career, Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda worked as an English teacher at his old high school, Hunter College High School. While doing this, he was writing and crafting In the Heights, among many other projects.
Besides being a prolific musician and one part of the successful duo Simon & Garfunkel, Art Garfunkel was an incredibly talented mathematician. He was teaching math at the Litchfield Preparatory School in Connecticut just as “Bridge Over Troubled Water” found success on the charts.
After achieving national acclaim for her work I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, author Maya Angelou taught at Wake Forest University from 1982 to 2011, where she emphasized that she was not a “writer who teaches,” but a “teacher who writes.” She claims that her experience at the university made her come to this realization.
Upon leaving Apple in the early 1980s, co-founder Steve Wozniak decided that he wanted to teach elementary school students about computers. He eventually ended up doing just that—teaching computer classes to fifth through ninth graders.
Raymond Joseph Teller—better known by his stage name, Teller, serving as one part of the comedy illusions duo, Penn & Teller—was a Greek and Latin teacher at Lawrence High School in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, prior to receiving a star on Hollywood Walk of Fame. And for more interesting celebrity facts, check out these 30 Celebrities with Amazing Hidden Talents.
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