15 Famous People Who Used to Be Teachers

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5th October is National Teacher’s Day, an annual event to celebrate and honour Teachers for their contribution to education. Teachers do more than just instruct us, they inspire enthusiasm and equip students for life beyond school. 

We all remember our favourite Teacher, the one who had the greatest impact on us. Well what if your English Teacher was a Hollywood actor, multi-platinum selling singer or even a leading figure in politics?

Celebrities sometimes have to take odd jobs to support themselves in their journey to their dream role or while they figure out their future plans. Believe it or not, there are quite a few former Teachers in the celebrity world. Before they were stars, these famous faces were teaching students English, Maths and PE.

Now this blog isn’t to say that you should go off and become the next Oscar winner or superstar, but it can teach you a few things!

To celebrate National Teacher Day, we look at 15 famous faces from the world of music, literature, politics and even royalty that started off as Teachers.


Hugh Jackman

Best known for playing Wolverine in the X-men film series, Hugh Jackman wasn’t always one of Hollywood’s biggest stars. After finishing secondary school, the Australian actor decided to take a gap year to travel and work. 

At the age of 18, Jackman ended up in England and was hired to be an Assistant Housemaster at Uppingham School in the East Midlands. He spent most of his time as a Physical Education Teacher, coaching sports teams and tutoring students in English and drama. When the year ended, Jackman returned to Australia and later graduated from the University of Technology in 1991. He enrolled on a drama course and the rest, as they say, is history! According to retired Housemaster Richard Boston, Jackman was a great communicator and had the skills to be a brilliant school master. As we know, Jackman’s career as an actor took off and soon he was starring in Hollywood blockbuster movies like The Greatest Showman and Les Miserables.

Had things turned out differently, there might have been a very different Wolverine!


Sting

Prior to finding fame as rockstar Sting (also known as Gordon Sumner) taught English at St Paul’s Middle School, Cramlington. For 2 years in the 1970s, Sting was an English teacher and sports coach. He has spoken fondly of his teaching days and still values the job and the importance of educating children.

In his autobiography, Sting mentioned a pupil who played truant and put on a high-pitched voice in a phone call to explain his absence. Sting was also a football coach and ditch digger before becoming a full time musician in his twenties. With 16 Grammy wins and 5 UK number ones, he hasn’t looked back since.


Brian May

Brian May is probably one of the smartest rock stars there is, so there's little surprise that he features on this list. Best known for being the guitarist of rock band Queen - one of the biggest selling music artists - May wasn’t always a rocker, but he was an excellent student. 

May studied mathematics and physics at Imperial College London and earned his Bachelor’s degree, with honours, in 1968. At the end of 1971, May was appointed as a substitute teacher at Stockwell Manor Comprehensive School in London. He briefly worked as a Maths and Science Teacher, a role he found to be challenging but made easier because he was young and could speak to the pupils on their level. However, one lesson ended in disaster when May gave a second form class scissors and paper to cut into shapes, and the children started attacking each other! 

Within a year, Queen’s band members were on wages of £20 a week and rising, and May handed in his notice, against the wishes of one of his senior colleagues. In 1973, Queen released their debut single followed by their debut album. Before long their careers took off and Queen enjoyed great success and are widely considered to be icons of popular culture

In 2007, he completed the requirements for his Ph.D. in Astrophysics which he had begun in 1971. His doctorate is also from Imperial College. At 76, May still tours with Queen, he must have preferred the sound of screaming fans to screaming pupils!


J.K Rowling

Best selling author of the Harry Potter book series, J.K Rowling has had a massive impact on education and childhood reading. She paints education and learning for children as an opportunity to grow, and has created characters and stories that have inspired children to read.

Some of Rowling’s Teachers at school were the inspiration behind characters in Harry Potter including the centaur Firenze who was based on her English Teacher Mr Eddy.

Rowling herself was inspired by her favourite Teacher to write and she was a struggling Teacher before she became a famous writer. She had already conceived the idea of Harry Potter when she moved to northern Portugal to teach English as a foreign language. Rowling taught classes at night and wrote Harry Potter during the day. 

After a couple of years, she moved to Edinburgh, and trained as a Teacher. Rowling began a teacher training course in August 1995 at Moray House School of Education after completing her first novel. She earned her teaching certificate in July 1996 and began teaching at Leith Academy. 

Rowling continued to write and often wrote in cafes. She completed the first Harry Potter book while working full time as a Teacher! The success of Harry Potter meant Rowling could quit teaching and write full time, creating 6 more Harry Potter books.


Romesh Ranganathan

Romesh Ranganathan is a household name as an actor, radio host and stand-up comedian. Known for his deadpan, often self-deprecating sense of humour and more recently as the host of The Weakest Link, Ranganathan wasn’t always the funny host we’ve come to know. 

He studied Mathematics at university and completed his Masters in Economics at Birkbeck University of London.

Ranganathan saw an advert for a graduate teaching scheme and ended up a trainee at his former secondary school where he then became a full time Maths Teacher. Ranganathan taught maths at his former secondary school Hazelwick School in Crawley and was Head of Sixth Form. He also taught maths at The Beacon School in Banstead, Surrey.

Ranganathan was a Teacher for 9 years and enjoyed it for the most part but always wanted to pursue stand-up. He began performing as a comedian whilst he was employed as a Teacher and decided to do comedy full time in 2011.

Since quitting his career as a Maths Teacher more than 12 years ago, Ranganathan has still had his foot in the education sector today. During lockdown, Ranganathan offered some of his wisdom and experience to the public, by discussing homeschooling in his weekly topical show The Ranganation and contributed to the BBC Bitesize’s Homeschooling Hacks.


Princess Diana

Even royalty has made the list! Before she became the nation's beloved Princess of Wales, Diana worked in a London nursery. Diana wasn’t a Teacher, but she was a Teaching Assistant.

Diana was educated first at a preparatory school Riddlesworth Hall, Norfolk and then in 1973, she joined West Heath Girls’ School in Sevenoaks, Kent, but failed her O-Levels twice. 

She became Lady Diana Spencer in 1975 when her father inherited the Spencer earldom. Diana left public school in 1977 and completed her formal education at age 16 within a few months at a finishing school in Switzerland.

In 1980, Diana received her first teaching job at the Young England Kindergarten in Pimlico, London. Originally Diana had always wanted to be a ballerina, but later set her sights on teaching because she loved children.

Diana worked as a nursery Teacher's Assistant in the years before she became a full-time working royal. In fact, she became engaged to Prince Charles while she was still working as a nursery Teacher’s Assistant. They became engaged in 1981 when she was just 19 years old. It was Diana’s last job before she joined the royal family and became Princess of Wales.


Barack Obama

Before he was president of the United States of America, Barack Obama taught at the University of Chicago Law School. Former US president, Obama wasn’t just a Teacher, he was a Senior Lecturer. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from Columbia University and graduated from Harvard Law School in 1991. One year later, he began teaching.

For more than 10 years, Obama taught Constitutional Law and Race Theory and became known for encouraging discussions and asking difficult questions in his classes rather than lecturing students. 

While lecturing part-time, Obama was also a practising civil rights lawyer and writing his memoir. Lecturing no doubt played a major role in making him a great public speaker and challenging others to assess their own moral views and political leanings.

Obama actually returned to his former place of work in 2016 during his presidential residency to talk with law students about the benefits of an impartial Supreme Court.


Liam Neeson

Liam Neeson, action movie star who has made films such as Schindler’s List, Star Wars and the Taken series, was once a Teacher before it all ended badly. 

Neeson comes from a teaching family, with 2 of his sisters recently retiring as Teachers. In 1971, he joined a physics and computer science course at Queen’s University Belfast before leaving work in a variety of casual jobs such as forklift operator and lorry driver. Neeson returned to his hometown in Newcastle to become a Teacher. 

Neeson trained as a Teacher at the now-closed St Mary's College, in Fenham, Newcastle for two years, before joining the Lyric Players' Theatre in Belfast in 1976, where he performed for 2 years. He was fired from teaching for punching a student who threatened him with a knife in the classroom. Even though Neeson has worked in physically demanding roles in action movies, he still says teaching was the hardest and most demanding job. 

In 2015, he sent a special message and words of encouragement to Co Antrim Primary School. He presented them pupils with a personal ‘Oscar’ after hearing how they had staged two fundraising Christmas concerts for the Simon Community.

It’s probably for the best that Neeson left teaching behind and found his calling in Hollywood.


Sylvester Stallone

Before he was Rocky Balboa, Sylvester Stallone was a Teacher! 

One of the most recognisable names in the movie business, actor, writer and director, Sylvester Stallone was destined for Hollywood. Before he found fame, Stallone was a rebellious teenager and sent to a boarding school in Switzerland.

He attended American College in Switzerland for two years and during this time, he worked as a PE teacher, dorm bouncer and sold burgers on campus. He was just 18 when he began working as a PE Teacher at a Swiss boarding school for girls to earn extra money. This allowed him time to think about what kind of career he wanted and it was there he became interested in theatre.

Stallone returned to America to study drama in 1967. Not ten years later, Stallone had written and starred in the movie Rocky which won 3 Academy Awards, spawned 5 sequels and 3 spin-offs, igniting his long and successful career.

In 1998, Stallone was granted a Bachelor of Fine Arts by the University of Miami in order to graduate university.

If his training scenes in Rocky are anything to go by, Stallone must have been a dedicated, hard working PE Teacher.


Gene Simmons

It’s hard to imagine Gene Simmons teaching children at schools, but there's more to this international rock legend than the makeup and the screen persona. For a time, bassist and co-lead singer of the hard rock band KISS, Simmons worked odd jobs to get by. He had a Bachelors degree in Education and was a Teacher, cashier, office temp and an assistant at the Puerto Rican Interagency Council. 

Briefly in the 1970s, Simmons took a job teaching 11 year olds in Spanish Harlem. The teaching career didn’t last long, just 6 months into teaching, he realised he would rather be on a stage performing to a crowd of thousands rather than teaching a crowd of children. Simmons started to take music more seriously and as we know his career took off, and is still going strong today.

It was quite the career switch from rocker to Teacher, but Simmons’s talent has certainly stood the test of time as 50 years on, Kiss still performs to sold out audiences.

Gene still supports education. In 2005, he filmed a British reality television show called Rock School in which he formed a rock band from a group of classically-trained children at a prestigious English boarding school.


Stephen King

For a time, The King of Horror was a Teacher.

American author of horror, supernatural fiction, suspense and crime, Stephen King is one of the world’s most successful and highly regarded writers. He is the author of more than seventy books, all of them worldwide bestsellers, including Carrie, The Shining and It. 

In 1970, King graduated from University of Maine in Orono with a BA in English and qualified to teach at secondary school level.

King sold short stories to men’s magazines until he got a teaching job. He began teaching English at public high school Hampden Academy in Maine in 1971. He continued to write in the evenings and on the weekends, continuing to produce short stories and work on novels. King wrote Salem’s Lot during this time and in 1973, his novel Carrie was accepted for publication.

After he published Carrie, Salem’s Lot, The Shining and The Stand, King became a creative writing teacher at the University of Maine in 1977. As a teacher, King has received praise for encouraging enthusiasm and excellent grammar in students' work.

King has long been too famous to go back to teaching, but he continued to share an enthusiasm for education. Along with his wife, King provides scholarships for local high school students and contributes to many other local and national charities.


Mr T

Better known as Mr T, Laurence Tureaud had a massively varied career before landing his iconic role as B.A. Baracus in the 1980s TV series The A-Team. Before he found success as a professional wrestler and actor, Mr T worked as a PE Teacher. 

Mr T worked as a gym instructor for a government program in his home town in Chicago. He worked as a Teacher at the Paul Lawrence Dubar Vocational Career Academy and it was here that Mr T discovered he had a gift for helping children.

After teaching PE, Mr T earned a football scholarship at Prairie View A&M University in Texas. He studied mathematics for one year before being expelled.

In 1975, he enlisted in the United States Army and became the top trainee in his recruiting class. He went on to join the Military Police Corps and had a successful stint as a nightclub bouncer and bodyguard where he protected the likes of Muhammed Ali and Diana Ross. 

He then went into boxing and acting and the rest is history. So, when Stallone’s Rocky took on Mr. T’s Clubber Lang in Rocky III, it was a battle between two former PE Teachers!


Hillary Clinton

Another politician on our list, Former United States Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, was also a teacher for a brief time. 

In the 1960s, Clinton studied at Wellesley College and was president of the student government, committing herself to working within the system. Clinton moved to Arkansas in 1974 to be with her husband, Bill Clinton and secured a job at the University of Arkansas, teaching law. 

In fact both Clinton’s were Teachers at the same University before they became politicians! They were both law students, with Bill’s speciality in constitutional law and Hillary teaching criminal law.

Clinton was one of only two female faculty members on staff at the University of Arkansas. She was extremely fond of her teaching job and always encouraged her students to try, work hard and set high goals.

Later, Clinton went on to become the Secretary of State but has continued to keep her foot in the education door and is actually going back into teaching! She will join Columbia University as a professor and presidential fellow in global affairs, teaching students in the 2023-2024 academic year.


Greg Davies

British actor, comedian and writer, Greg Davies doesn’t just play Teachers, he was one! BAFTA nominated Davies has famously played Teachers on television in the 2 sitcoms Inbetweeners and Man Down, and he does it with experience.

After studying English and drama at Brunel University, Davies wanted to pursue a career as a stand-up comedian. His father - a lecturer - urged him to go into teaching, so Davies spent his 20s and early 30s teaching drama and English at various secondary schools. He taught for over 13 years and was even Head of Drama in 2002-2003.

The teaching experience has served him well, providing most of the material for Davies’ stand-up comedy routines and portrayal as a teacher on television. Teaching inspired him to write Man Down, a sitcom about a Drama Teacher undergoing a midlife crisis. 

Davies often calls himself the world’s worst/best teacher and is happy to retell shocking and embarrassing stories from his teaching days and relive them in his comedy shows. As a big kid himself, Davies found that he could interact with students and meet them on their level and he was funny and silly. One of his pupils nominated him for the prestigious Teacher of the Year award, because he made them laugh and do no work!

Maybe he is better playing a Teacher on TV, rather than in real life!


George Orwell

George Orwell is well known in English literature and his novels are a big part of education. Best known for his works Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm, Orwell became a famous novelist before he got his start as a Teacher. 

Orwell attended Eton College from 1917 to 1921. In April 1932, he became a Teacher at The Hawthorns Boys School in Hayes, West London. Orwell applied for the role despite having had no training or experience in teaching. 

His previous jobs were as a hotel dishwasher in Paris and 5 years in the police in Burma. The school only had over a dozen pupils aged between ten and sixteen, and one other master. Orwell taught until July 1933 and it is believed it was because of a change in ownership of the school.

Orwell went on to a teaching post at Frays College in Uxbridge, but was only there for a term before he fell seriously ill with pneumonia, and didn't return to teaching when he recovered. Orwell continued writing and in 1945 he published his most famous novel Animal Farm. 

78 years later, Animal Farm is still an important part of learning in schools, particularly for GCSE English Literature students up and down the UK. Orwell’s novels are still taught to pupils in secondary school and college and are analysed and studied by pupils and Teachers across England. 


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