Top 5 Famous Former Teachers

Teaching is a noble profession so it’s no surprise that royalty has at times graced the presence of classrooms around the world. While their teaching careers may have been short, their impact was significant, and it also helped inform their emerging new careers.

The ThinkFives Chief Archivist searched through the tons of many famous Americans and discovered these Top 5 luminaries who once were teachers.

Maya Angelou

Dr. Maya Angelou, the poet, actress, author and civil rights activist known around the world, discovered her passion for teaching at Wake Forest University. And, in the four decades that passed since then, she has inspired generations of students to become better writers, thinkers and citizens.

“She devoted her life at Wake Forest to creating a love of language and a keen awareness of the power of literature and learning, and generations of Wake Forest students have lived richer lives for her teaching and guidance,” said Wake Forest President Nathan Hatch.

Dr. Angelou is the author of more than 30 books of fiction and poetry, including her autobiographical account of growing up as a black girl in Arkansas, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (nominated for a National Book Award) and six other autobiographical books. Her volume of poetry, Just Give me a Cool Drink of Water ‘Fore I Die (1971) was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.


Walt Whitman

Whitman worked as a printer in New York City until a devastating fire in the printing district demolished the industry. In 1836, at the age of seventeen, he began his career as a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse on Long Island. He continued to teach until 1841, when he turned to journalism as a full-time career.

“A humanist, he was a part of the transition between transcendentalism and realism, incorporating both views in his works. Whitman is among the most influential poets in the American canon, often called the father of free verse. His work was controversial in its time, particularly his poetry collection Leaves of Grass, which was described as obscene for its overt sensuality. Whitman’s own life came under scrutiny for his presumed homosexuality.” (Wikipedia)

Modernist poet Ezra Pound called Whitman “America’s poet … He is America.”


George Orwell

Eric Arthur Blair, most commonly known as George Orwell, was born June 25th 1903 in Bengal, India. In April 1932, Orwell took up a teaching post at The Hawthorns High School, a small school for boys with only 14 to 16 pupils, in West London. While teaching, he continued his writing career and later moved schools to teach at Frays College, Middlesex, a larger school.

George Orwell continued to write after leaving teaching, with a well-received novel coming in 1945, Animal Farm.  With characters such as Old Major, Napoleon, Snowball, Boxer and Muriel, Animal Farm was a reflection on the time of the Russian Revolution. This was followed by his perhaps most famous work, the dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)

A world-renowned writer, essayist, novelist and journalist to name but a few, he was known for novels such as Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four.

George Orwell’s work remains influential in popular culture and the adjective “Orwellian”—describing totalitarian and authoritarian social practices—is part of the English language. Other terms such as “Big Brother” and  “Thought Police” are equally embedded in our political discourse. (Wikipedia)


John Adams 

John Adams, a leader of the American Revolution who also served as our 2nd U.S. president, Adams graduated from Harvard College in 1755. Following his graduation from Harvard, John Adams took a position as a schoolmaster in Worcester.

According to writings, “as a teacher, Adams considered himself ill prepared for the daily routine, and even his students remarked how he would constantly be seen at his desk writing, taking little notice of his pupils. At times, Adams would drift off into a daydream and imagine his position to be more important than it actually was.”

Destiny soon followed and John Adams became a critic of Great Britain’s authority in colonial America and viewed the British imposition of high taxes and tariffs as a tool of oppression. During the 1770s, he was a delegate to the Continental Congress. In the 1780s, Adams served as a diplomat in Europe and helped negotiate the Treaty of Paris (1783), which officially ended the American Revolutionary War (1775-83). From 1789 to 1797, Adams was America’s first vice president before becoming the first former teacher to become a U.S. President.


Albert Einstein

It may not be surprising that one of the world’s most noted minds, spent years in academia learning, teaching and ultimately spreading his universal theories.

Albert Einstein was a German mathematician and physicist who developed the special and general theories of relativity. In 1921, he won the Nobel Prize for physics for his explanation of the photoelectric effect. His work also had a major impact on the development of atomic energy and he is generally considered the most influential physicist of the 20th century.

As an educator,  Einstein started as a lecturer at the University of Bern before being associate professor of physics at the University of Zurich. He then became a full professor at the University of Prague in 1911 and, a year later, returned to Zurich as a full professor. His academic life reached its peak when he became a professor at the University of Berlin and a member of the Prussian Academy of Sciences. Einstein would remain at the University of Berlin until the early 1930s. 

While Einstein seldom taught, imagine getting your class scheduled and seeing Albert Einstein as your professor.



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