The Most Famous Teachers in History You Need to Know on World Teachers’ Day

Teachers deserve our respect and praise every day for the hard work they perform, but they’re guaranteed recognition at least one day every year when World Teachers’ Day rolls around.

Every October 5, the world acknowledges the vital role teachers have in every society in the world. In the United States, teachers have it tough with low salaries, indifferent school boards, and prison sentences (sometimes).

Asian female teacher teaching mixed race kids reading book in classroom,Kindergarten pre school concept.

Teachers don’t have it easy, which is why World Teachers’ Day is so important. | Weedezign/iStock/Getty Images

Teaching can be a thankless job, but some educators break through and make it big. On this World Teachers’ Day, let’s discuss some of the most famous teachers in history.

Meet some of the most famous teachers in history

Frederick Douglass

The onetime slave and future author, civil rights activist, and government official also helped fellow slaves to read and write. Douglass learned to read and write from a slaveholder’s wife.

Jaime Escalante

You know you’re a famous teacher when they make a movie about it. Stand and Deliver is based on Escalante’s work teaching math to troubled students in East Los Angeles.

Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein

Einstein taught at Princeton while he developed his innovative theories. | General Photographic Agency/Getty Images

The world’s most famous physicist is also one of its most famous teachers. Einstein taught at Princeton after immigrating to the United States from Europe.

Pope Francis

The current leader of the Catholic church, Pope Francis avoids taking too much time off work. That work ethic must have come in handy when he taught literature and psychology in Argentina in the 1960s.

Bart Giamatti

Before he was the Commissioner of Major League Baseball who banned Pete Rose, he was a literature professor at and president of Yale.

Erin Grunwell

She encouraged her students to express themselves through writing. She founded the Freedom Writers Foundation, and her story was turned into a movie starring Hilary Swank.

Spike Lee

Spike Lee

Spike Lee is a director and a professor at New York University. | Valery Hache/AFP/Getty Images

The acclaimed movie director doesn’t only work behind the camera. He also works in front of a classroom as a professor at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

Christa McAuliffe

A onetime high school teacher in Maryland and New Hampshire, McAuliffe was the first civilian to go into space. She died in the Space Shuttle Challenger tragedy in 1986.

Maria Montessori

You know you’re one of the most famous teachers in history when the educational system you developed is still used today. Almost as impressive? She was the first female doctor in Italy, in 1896.

Toni Morrison

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Beloved is also a well-known teacher. Before becoming a full-time writer, Toni Morrison was a professor at Texas Southern University and Howard University.

J.K. Rowling

J.K. Rowling in a purple dress smirking at the camera. She's one of the most famous teachers out there.

J.K. Rowling  was a teacher before she wrote the Harry Potter books. | John Phillips/Getty Images

Before she made a fortune for writing the Harry Potter books and becoming the queen of shutting down haters on Twitter, Rowling was as an English teacher in Portugal.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

These days, Archbishop Desmond Tutu is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning church leader, but he started in the classroom. He graduated from the University of South Africa in 1954 and immediately returned to Johannesburg Bantu High School to teach English and history.

Anne Sullivan

An eye disease effectively rendered Anne Sullivan blind, but it didn’t sap her determination. She taught the blind and deaf Helen Keller how to read braille. With Sullivan’s help, Keller eventually earned a college degree.

Saint Mother Teresa

Before she was a humanitarian and Catholic saint, Mother Teresa a teacher and principal in India.

When did World Teachers’ Day start, and why?

World Teachers’ Day helps bring attention to how crucial teachers are. | J Pat Carter/Getty Images

Education is as old as humanity itself, but World Teachers’ Day didn’t start until October 5, 1994. That’s when UNESCO officially added it to the calendar to commemorate the adoption of an education measure in 1966.

Having an annual day to honor teachers brings attention to the fact that everyone on Earth deserves a quality education and that a quality education starts with qualified teachers. However, finding teachers is tough.

The United States has severe teacher shortages, and the problem is worse in developing countries. Several countries in Africa, including Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, and the Central African Republic have classrooms with more than 50 students for every teacher, according to UNESCO data.

All biographical information courtesy of Biography.

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