Before they were actors, singers and, in some cases, U.S. presidents, many now-famous faces were teachers and professors. Although they might not have normal jobs now, many of these stars were once working in a totally normal career.
From J.K. Rowling to Jon Hamm, find out the famous people who were teachers before hitting it big and the celebrities who were teachers after already being famous — because even though they might have successful careers, it doesn’t hurt to try out a new job.
Last updated: Oct. 29, 2020
Hugh Jackman has taken on the iconic roles of Wolverine and Jean Valjean, but before he played any of those characters, he was a gym teacher at England’s Uppingham School, CBS reported. Maybe that’s where he got all his action-movie moves from?
Before making a name for herself in the singing world, Crow got her start by recording jingles for advertising clients. Her first gig was providing the vocals for a McDonald’s spot, which she landed while working as a teacher in Missouri.
“I was playing in a band and this guy who was doing session work in town came in and said, ‘Will you come in and sing this commercial?'” she told Howard Stern on his radio show. “I made $42,000, which was more than [I made in] two years of teaching.”
In 2009, Tony Danza took a break from his acting career to pursue teaching, a profession he had always wanted to be a part of. He worked as a 10th grade English teacher for a year in Philadelphia, and filmed his experience for the A&E reality show, “Teach: Tony Danza.” As for why he decided to teach at this point in his life, the “Taxi” star told the Philly Voice, “The impetus and the desire to go do it was because I could smell 60 — I better do this before I can’t do it anymore.”
The “Mad Men” star taught drama at his alma mater, John Burroughs School in St. Louis after graduating college.
“I think teaching is one of the great professions on the planet, and I had the good fortune to do it for a year,” Jon Hamm told the “Sunday Today” show. “I would definitely go back to it, and I might still.”
J.K. Rowling was in the middle of mapping out what would one day be the “Harry Potter” series when she decided to take a job teaching English as a foreign language in Portugal. She also taught at city schools in Edinburgh when she moved back to the U.K. and worked on her books in her downtime.
While attending school at the American College of Switzerland, Sylvester Stallone worked part-time as a gym teacher to earn spending money, Sports Illustrated reported.
The comedian worked as a substitute teacher before hitting it big, and would sometimes use the gig to practice his standup routines.
“I was a per diem floater in the same junior high school I went to,” he told Oprah Winfrey in an O, The Oprah Magazine interview. “I sat in the office and made $42.50 a day, and whenever a teacher was absent, I’d substitute. I taught everything from English to auto shop. I’d be at the front of a class saying, ‘Listen, I don’t know anything about science, but these two guys walk into a bar…'”
The Broadway star and playwright was working as a substitute teacher at Hunter College High School in New York when he reached a crossroads in his career. He had to decide between taking a more regular gig at the school or pursuing writing full time, so he asked his father for advice. He recalled the experience in an interview alongside his dad for Playbill.
“Hunter had asked me to stay on to continue to teach part time, and, I asked you, ‘What should I do? Should I keep teaching or should I just kind of sub and do gigs to pay the rent and really throw myself into writing full time?'” said Miranda. “And, you wrote me a very thoughtful letter, in which you said, ‘I really want to tell you to keep the job — that’s the smart ‘parent thing’ to do — but when I was 17, I was a manager at the Sears in Puerto Rico, and I basically threw it all away to go to New York, [and] I didn’t speak a lot of English. It made no sense, but it was what I needed to do.’ So you were like, ‘It makes no sense to leave your job to be a writer, but I have to tell you to do it. You have to pursue that if you want.’ That was very opposite advice from, ‘Be a lawyer,’ and I’m glad I took it.”
Political commentator and ousted Fox News host Bill O’Reilly was once a teacher, and the experience made him passionate about supporting literacy programs like Barbara Bush’s Celebration of Reading, he told the Naples Daily News in 2013.
“I used to teach high school in Florida in a suburb near Miami,” he said. “You have to have a fundamental skill with reading, and it all starts there. Too many parents don’t pay attention to this, so then the schools have to take over, and if you don’t have any reading in the home it’s very difficult for teachers. In my classes I could see the difference between kids that … had that encouragement. So anything I can do now to help the system, the state of Florida, or any other state, to rescue these kids who aren’t getting this chance, I’m going to do.”
Mr. T was a physical education teacher in Chicago during the 1970s, according to the NY Daily News. “The A-Team” star also worked as a bodyguard before making it as an actor, protecting many famous faces including Muhammad Ali, Steve McQueen, Michael Jackson and Diana Ross, USA Today reported.
The former president taught constitutional law at the University of Arkansas in the 1970s. According to school records obtained by CNN, Clinton made $16,182 during the 1973-74 academic year, though he took a leave of absence during the fall semester to run for Congress. When he lost, he returned to teach at the university.
Like her husband, Hillary Clinton also taught law at the University of Arkansas, but her specialty was criminal law.
“She loved teaching,” Bill Clinton said during a speech at the Democratic National Convention, according to CNN. “She got frustrated when one of her students said, ‘What do you expect from me? I am just from Arkansas.’ She said, ‘Don’t tell me that, you’re as smart as anybody. You just got to believe in yourself and work for it and set high goals.’ She believed anybody could make it.”
Before he was Sting, Gordon Sumner was a teacher playing music on the side. When he met drummer Stewart Copeland, he left his teaching job and decided to pursue music full time. Seems like that gamble paid off.
“Grey’s Anatomy” star Jesse Williams was a high school teacher before making the switch to acting and has said that both jobs put him in the role of a storyteller.
“I’ve always been obsessed with history and taught history,” he told Essense. “I thought there are ways that we could tell stories that could have a lot of value in communities that are constantly being told that they’ve come from nothing. I decided to participate in the storytelling process and learned that you can actually do a lot of good on camera, by really giving voice to characters and storylines.”
The KISS frontman was a sixth-grade teacher before becoming a rock ‘n’ roll legend. In an interview with Parade, Simmons compared the two careers, noting they’re both well-suited for people who like attention — but he prefers being a singer.
“In one, you’re in front of an audience who may not want to be there,” he said. “In the other, you’re in front of an audience who worships at your feet.”
The legendary actor taught high school music and phonetics, but he admittedly was not very good at his teaching job.
“First day, I’d tell the class all I knew, and there was nothing left to say for the rest of the semester,” The New York Times reported he once told The Saturday Evening Post.
The Times added that he quit teaching after three years.
One-half of the famed duo Simon & Garfunkel, Art Garfunkel actually took a teaching job after he had achieved success in the music world.
“I’d just got married and moved to Connecticut, and there was a nearby preparatory school and so I taught math there,” he told The Telegraph. “It was a weird stage of my life, to leave Simon & Garfunkel at the height of our success and become a math teacher. I would talk them through a math problem and ask if anyone had any questions, and they would say: ‘What were the Beatles like?'”
Acclaimed vocalist Roberta Flack worked as a teacher in her home state of North Carolina, and though she taught English, she was always sure to sneak in a music lesson, too.
“My first teaching job […] was in Farmville, North Carolina. I was 19, almost 20, when I got that job,” she told NPR. “I was hired as an English teacher. I taught 12th grade English literature but […] I had kids from preschool all the way through 12th grade, and I taught every one of them something musical.”
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