Discover 10 iconic educators who transformed lives worldwide.

A teacher is one of the most admirable and respected jobs out there. They help to shape young minds, build the confidence of kids, and help children to tap into their skills. Pretty much everyone can name at least one teacher they had in their school years that they still remember for the positive difference they made. Not many jobs have that kind of life-changing impact on people.

This is exactly why National Teacher Day, which takes place May 7, was created. It’s a chance to recognize all the hardworking teachers out there and give them thanks. That could mean your child’s teacher, or even connecting with one of your past teachers.

Another way to recognize the day is to highlight 10 of the most famous teachers ever, so let’s take a closer look.

Maria Montessori

Postage stamp issued for the centenary of the birth of the pedagogist Maria Montessori.
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If you’re familiar with Montessori schools and have some in your area, you have Maria Montessori to thank. Montessori began as an Italian educator, and physician, and saw herself as an innovator. She believed in a different approach to teaching kids, one that hinged on how kids learn more naturally.

The first school that she opened was in January 1907 in Rome and was called the Casa dei Bambini. Thankfully she didn’t stop there, as she started to travel the world to tell others of her school’s unique approach to teaching. In just a few short years Montessori schools were popping up all over Western Europe, and then in 1911, the first one in the United States was opened in Tarrytown, NY.

Christa McAuliffe

The Space Shuttle Challenger Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery.
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For those who were alive to watch the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger back on Jan. 28, 1986, you are likely familiar with Christa McAullife. Sure, she was an astronaut who perished along with six other NASA crew members, but she was also a high school teacher who won a contest to be aboard the shuttle. This was the first time a civilian passenger was allowed on a shuttle.

J.K. Rowling

J.K. Rowling attends "Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore" World Premiere at The Royal Festival Hall in London, England.
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Calling all fans of the Harry Potter book and movie series, there’s no doubt you’re familiar with the author J.K. Rowling, but did you know she started as a teacher? It was in the early 1990s that Rowling was working on her Harry Potter series but needed a job to sustain her. She decided to move to Portugal where she could teach English as a foreign language. She eventually went back to the U.K. where she worked on and off as a French teacher.

So while it’s pretty cool to think some people had Rowling as their teacher, it’s clear that she was on a different career path. In 2020 she became the second highest-paid author in the entire world. The only one making more than Rowling is James Patterson.

Friedrich Froebel

A postage stamp from Germany, GDR showing a portrait of the pedagogue Friedrich Froebel in front of children playing
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If you have school-aged kids then there’s no doubt kindergarten was a monumental year. This is their first real taste of school, a chance to get used to what will be their new routine and many years of education to come. Of course, kindergarten is the time for making friends and creating a strong foundation. But have you ever stopped and wondered how kindergarten was started?

We all have Friedrich Froebel to thank for the concept of kindergarten. Froebel was an educator in Germany and he started the concept of kindergarten back in 1840. In German, “Kinder” means children, and then “Garten” translates to garden.

Anne Sullivan

Stamp printed by Brazil, shows Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan
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Anne Sullivan isn’t just known as a famous teacher, she is known for revolutionizing the way people teach those with disabilities. She had a very famous student, who was none other than Helen Keller, who was blind, deaf, and mute. She is credited with helping Keller to learn communication skills by associating objects with a language.

What’s even more remarkable is that Sullivan was only 20 years old when she started teaching Keller, and she had very limited vision. This allowed her to better understand what Keller was going through.

Sullivan had such a positive impact on Keller’s life that they remained friends until 1936 when Sullivan passed away. Sullivan taught at the Perkins Institution for the Blind in Boston, whose director was the son-in-law of Alexander Graham Bell.

Bill Nye

Bill Nye walks Blue Jacket runway in support of mens health and prostate cancer awareness at Pier 59 Studios , Manhattan
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Bill Nye is more famously known as “Bill Nye the Science Guy”, and there’s a good reason he is so captivating, he’s had 30 years to perfect his art. While he’s not a certified instructor, he has spent several decades educating people on the topic of science. He is a mechanical engineer who has found ways to take complex topics and make them approachable and interesting for all.

Nye made science accessible and cool for all, especially kids.

Albert Einstein

Wax figure of world-famous scientist, theoretical physicist, Nobel laureate, creator of theory of relativity Albert Einstein
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Everyone knows the name Albert Einstein but did you know he got his start as a teacher? He was a trained educator who taught theoretical physics in such places as Berlin, Zurich, and Prague. Then in 1933, he moved to the United States to work at Princeton University.

His teachings and discoveries were so prolific that he became a Nobel Prize winner for physics in 1921 thanks to his creation of the mathematical equation E=mc2 and the theory of relativity. Many believe that so much of what astronomers know and study today wouldn’t be the same if it were not for him.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Desmond Tutu attends the Archbishop Desmond Tutu's 75th Birthday Celebration held at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, California
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Then we’ve got Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who most people probably are familiar with. He is a Nobel Peace Prize winner from South Africa whose illustrious career includes being an author, activist, Anglican cleric, and a teacher at the high school level.

During his three years as a teacher, he taught history and English. Once he left teaching he got his degree in theology which opened a whole new door and world for him.

Jaime Escalante

A stamp printed in USA shows Jaime Alfonso Escalante Gutierrez (1930-2010).
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Olga Popova

Troubled students can have a very tough time with their studies and this is something that educator Jaime Escalante recognized. Escalante was a teacher in a high school in East Los Angeles, teaching math to troubled kids.

The kids were deemed “unteachable”, but Escalante didn’t let that stop him or the students. In the end, he was able to help them successfully pass the AP calculus exam. You can learn more by watching the biographical movie about him called Stand and Deliver.

C.S. Lewis

The Chronicles of Narnia book by C. S. Lewis.
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If you’ve ever read the novels The Screwtape Letters or the Chronicles of Narnia then you know who esteemed author C.S. Lewis is. But besides being a popular author, he was a professor of literature. Lewis first began teaching at Magdalen College at Oxford University in 1925. Lewis then moved on to Cambridge University in 1954 and stayed there until he resigned in 1963.

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