Great Teachers From History

Apr 22, 2011

Do you remember your favorite teacher? It might be one who inspired you to pursue your career or maybe one who encouraged you to keep trying when you were struggling. History is full of these teachers, people who have worked with one student or many thousands. Keep reading to learn more about a small handful of history's greatest teachers.

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By Jeff Calareso

historical teachers great teachers famous teachers

Confucius (551-479 B.C.E.)

Confucius was a Chinese teacher and philosopher who preached the values of formal learning. He taught thousands of students during his lifetime, focusing on what he termed the Six Arts; these include music, archery, mathematics, ritual, chariot-riding and calligraphy. Additionally, Confucius placed a strong emphasis on morals and integrity. His influence as a teacher shaped Chinese education for several millennia and has impacted education and philosophy throughout the world.

Socrates (469-399 B.C.E.)

Socrates is considered one of Western Civilization's most significant teachers and philosophers. He led discussions with the people of Athens in which he posed challenging and profound questions. Though he refused payment for his teaching, Socrates engendered fierce loyalty among his students. One of his students, Plato, would go on to become another major figure in the history of Western philosophy. His style of stimulating thought through question asking has been adopted by many modern teachers and is known as the Socratic method.

Roger Bacon (c. 1214-1292)

A native of England, Roger Bacon was a friar and scholar in many academic areas, including mathematics, early chemistry and optics. He conducted experiments that greatly advanced the understanding of philosophy and science in his day. His advocacy of Aristotle, as well as many of his other academic pursuits, caused conflict with some religious leaders. His outspoken teaching and writing style led to an imprisonment of nearly 15 years and later accusations of occultism.

Nathan Hale (1755-1766)

Nathan Hale is best known as an American soldier in the Revolutionary War who was captured by the British while acting as a spy. He was hanged at the age of 21, famously saying as his final words, 'I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.'

Prior to his death, however, he had been a teacher in Connecticut since age 18. Though his career was brief, he made advances in the cause of providing higher education to women. While women were still largely prevented from seeking advanced education, Hale devoted early morning hours to a class of young women. He taught them the same material he would teach their brothers later in the day.

Annie Sullivan (1866-1936)

By the age of four, Annie Sullivan was legally blind due to a disease called trachoma. At age nine, upon the death of her mother and abandonment by her father, she was sent to an orphanage that lacked formal education opportunities. However, she pleaded with an administrator to be allowed to learn and eventually graduated as valedictorian of the Perkins School for the Blind in 1886.

After several operations resulted in a return of her partial eyesight, she used her gifts and uncommon perspective to begin teaching a young deaf and mute girl named Helen Keller. Sullivan was the first teacher to find success with a deaf and mute child. She helped her student transition from an undisciplined seven year old to a graduate of Radcliffe College.

Allan Bloom (1930-1992)

Allan Bloom was a teacher at many schools, including Yale University, Cornell University and the University of Chicago. He was a leading proponent of the use of the literary canon in education and he worked for many years to influence which books were considered the 'great books' from throughout history. Only through study of these books, Bloom theorized, could an individual contribute to society and understand life in a meaningful way. The books he recommended included ancient texts, such as Gilgamesh and Homer's Iliad, as well as more modern ones, such as John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath and Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God.

Jaime Escalante (1930-2010)

Born in Bolivia, Jaime Escalante is best known for teaching mathematics at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles, California. Though they had generally been poor performers, Escalante pushed his students towards success through his dedication, passionate style and expertise in the material. In the early 1980s, was able to get most of his Advanced Placement (A.P.) calculus students to pass the A.P. exam. His tremendous success was significant enough to bring accusations of cheating, though retesting of students proved their capabilities. Escalante was memorably portrayed by Edward James Olmos in the 1988 film Stand and Deliver.

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