The Education Hall of Fame: 10 Teachers Who Made History

You don’t have to be in the middle of a Master’s in Teaching degree, to have been influenced by one or several teachers in your education. These unsung heroes have more impact on their students than even they are aware of. Whether interested in becoming a teacher or just want to learn from one, there are many ways students can learn from them even if they have never set foot in one of their classrooms.

Below, we have gathered 10 teachers who made history, and many of them have published works, lectures, and even videos still roaming the web to be viewed at a click. From the dawn of educational time to teachers who are still going strong, you might find a few of your favorites, as well as a few lesser known ones on the list.

  1. Socrates
    One of the first teachers in Western history is also one of the best. Socrates taught students in Athens and posed some of the most challenging questions of past and modern day society. In addition to being teacher to one of the fathers of philosophy, Plato, Socrates was also known to refuse payment for his teachings. In this blog for “The Washington Post,” Valerie Strauss takes a look at how Socrates would be evaluated in today’s teaching standards.
  2. Confucius
    Both a Chinese philosopher and teacher, he was born in 551 B.C. to poverty. Although having to labor as a servant, he still managed to educate himself and became a teacher as a young man. Seeing the disarray of the society around him, Confucius entered politics. After being forced to resign his position, he took to restoring the classics of his society to teach his country, and eventually the world, about the noble Chinese roots.
  3. Anne Sullivan
    Enduring a rough family life, she overcame her obstacles to graduate from the Perkins School for the Blind in Boston. In 1887, she accepted the offer of a family who had a special needs child whose name was Helen Keller. Although many know that Helen Keller was both blind and deaf, few people knew that Anne Sullivan also had visual problems but was able to learn how to read and write. With Sullivan’s help, Helen was taught how to do the same and ended up graduating from college and becoming a respected lecturer. For being one of the first special needs teachers, Anne Sullivan easily makes the list.
  4. Elizabeth Blackwell
    Born in England, she came to the United States when she was a girl. Along with her sisters and mother, she opened a private school in Cincinnati, but that is just part of why she makes the list. After being rejected by every leading medical school she applied to, she was let into the Geneva Medical College into New York as a sort of joke. She would later go onto graduate, becoming the first woman to hold a medical degree and then continue to open the doors for other women and medical students. She even opened a medical school for women with the help of Florence Nightingale.
  5. Randy Pausch
    A teacher at Carnegie Mellon University, Randy Pausch and the other professors there were challenged to give a lecture as if it would be their last. Little did they know that he was a pancreatic cancer patient, and it would be a literal request. The lecture about living life that followed would become a sensation, leading to millions of views, a book, and an entire generation that was inspired by a single lecture.
  6. Allan Bloom
    When education goes wrong, fewer teachers have been as courageous to criticize as Allan Bloom. A professor at Yale, Cornell, and the University of Chicago, he championed the cause of great books as the basis for a great education. Twenty years later, his book “The Closing of the American Mind” is still a standard of education for educators and is still discussed and debated.
  7. Christa McAuliffe
    She holds the prestigious title of being the “first teacher in space.” A dedicated junior high history teacher, she also volunteered with the Girl Scouts, YMCA, and her local church. In 1986, she was scheduled to teach two lessons from the Challenger Space Shuttle, winning out over 11,500 applicants for the position. She was tragically killed with the rest of the crew when the shuttle exploded 73 seconds after launch.
  8. Jaime Escalante
    He is the teacher most famous for being played by Edward James Olmos in the film “Stand and Deliver.” In the 1980’s Jaime challenged the entire educational system by proving that kids from the other side of the tracks in East L.A. could learn and do complex mathematics just as well as the prep crowd. In his first year as a teacher, 14 of his underprivileged high school students passed the Advanced Placement calculus exam. Other classes would follow and grow the number, until Jaime Escalante resigned and became a leading advocate of educational issues before his death in 2010.
  9. Erin Gruwell
    In another teacher who made history through film, she was the true life subject of “Freedom Writers.” After being assigned to the poorest performing students in the high school, Erin used her own money to buy the students learning materials and teaching them all about how to use their struggles to find a voice as Anne Frank did. She even requested to move up a grade in the high school so that she could stay with her students.
  10. Mary Duncan
    You may not recognize the teacher, but her student is a household name as well as an inspiration to students everywhere. Oprah Winfrey made headlines many times, but is often remembered for citing her fourth grade teacher for inspiring her with a love of books and learning. She actually inspired Oprah to become a teacher and the Crazy Classroom Blog even has a link to pictures of the reunion.

And the above 10 teachers who made history are just some of the few to make the list. There are literally thousands more worthy of being mentioned and many places to find them on the web. The National Teachers Hall of Fame inducts a new class of teachers every year and has records dating back to 1992. Another great place to find great teachers is The Pearson Teaching Awards, which also rewards outstanding teachers on a regular basis.