Happy National Teacher Appreciation Day! Celebs Who Were Teachers Before They Were Stars

May 6, 2014  |  
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Teachers have one of the hardest jobs out there. We should always honor educators who chose to shape the minds of our youth but on this Teacher’s Appreciation Day, we take a look at some celebs who were teachers before they became stars.


Craig Robinson

He has starred in some of the funniest comedies released in the last several years. Craig Robinson cut his teeth as a stand-up comedian and took classes in acting and improv but before he went out west to Hollywood, the Chicago native was a music teacher at Horace Mann Elementary School. Robinson’s second career took off after he became a regular on “The Office” as Darryl Philbin. Robinson is currently reprising his role as Nick for the follow up to 2010’s Hot Tub Time Machine.

Joy Behar

Joy Behar was a staple on ABC’s “The View” for 17 years but before she decided on a career in showbiz, the New York native was a high school teacher. She taught English at Lindenhurst Senior High School from the late 60’s to the early 70’s. But then Behar decided on a change in career and started out as a stand-up comedian. It wasn’t until Barbara Walters came up with the daytime talk show in 1997 and added Behar to the original cast that she became a national star. Behar left her spot on “The View” in 2013 to pursue other projects.

Gene Simmons

Millions knew his voice and his infamously long tongue before they became accustomed to the face. Gene Simmons shot to fame as the bass guitarist and lead singer of the rock band KISS in the 80s. Before he sold over 100 million albums worldwide, Simmons, who was born as Chaim Witz, was a sixth grade teacher at P.S. 75 located in Manhattan’s Spanish Harlem. He also worked as an assistant to an editor of Vogue magazine.

Jesse Williams

In 2009, Jesse Williams joined the cast of “Grey’s Anatomy” as the young yet hunky Dr. Jackson Avery. Before he started receiving a regular check from Hollywood, Williams followed in the footsteps of his parents and was a teacher. After graduating from Temple University, the “Brooklyn’s Finest” actor taught American studies, African studies and English at a Philadelphia public high school. Williams also modeled while in college and has starred in music videos for Rihanna and Estelle.


Sting sang lead for The Police before striking out on his own with a solo career. Selling over 100 million records worldwide both as a group and a solo artist, Sting is internationally known but to his class at St. Paul’s First School he was Mr. Sumner. Sting taught English for two years and although he’s made millions of dollars, he is in favor of increasing the salary of a teacher because of how important the job is: “One of the most important jobs in the planet is to teach children. Our entire future depends on children being educated.”

Sheryl Crow

Music has always flowed through Sheryl Crow’s blood. The musician’s debut album didn’t take off until the smash single “All I Wanna Do” was released. Her debut album went on to sell seven million copies and helped Crow win three Grammy Awards. Before she made it big as an artist, Crow worked as an elementary school music teacher in Missouri. The job allowed her to take on weekend gigs singing in bands. Crow also wrote commercial jingles before she landed her big break singing back up to Michael Jackson.

Mr. T

He had the entire nation saying, “I pity the fool!” For four years Mr. T was B.A. Baracus on the hit show “The A-Team” in the mid 80’s and the catchphrase was so iconic, it was the name of Mr. T’s reality show 20 years later. In the mid-70’s, Mr. T’s Chicago gym class students called him Mr. Tureaud. He also found work as a bouncer and then bodyguard for famous people including Diana Ross, Michael Jackson and Muhammad Ali before becoming famous himself. Mr. T also encouraged children to stay in school and even did an educational video before dropping two albums to drive his point home.

Sylvester Stallone

His nemesis in Rocky III was Mr. T’s Clubber Lang but Sylvester Stallone and Mr. T have something more in common than being action stars. While he was over in Switzerland attending the American College, Stallone earned some extra money by working as a gym teacher. Stallone first got into the soft porn industry before switching over to mainstream films and starring in numerous blockbuster hits.

Jon Hamm

Fans know him as the boozing dark and complex character Don Draper on AMC’s hit show “Mad Men.” But before he became Hollywood’s “it” man, Hamm was a struggling actor. To help make ends meet, Hamm worked as a drama teacher at John Burroughs School, which happened to be his alma mater. His most famous student turned out to be Ellie Kemper who starred as Erin on “The Office.” Coincidentally, Hamm and Kemper both starred in the comedy film “Bridesmaids.”

Barack Obama

He currently holds the highest office in the land but before he took on the very demanding and stressful job as the Commander-in-Chief, Obama was a lecturer teaching constitutional law at the University of Chicago. He was a professor for 12 years and was offered tenure several times but he declined and ran for a seat in Congress representing Illinois. Soon after that, he made history by becoming the first Black president.

Billy Crystal

Before Harry met Sally, Billy Crystal met a lot of pre-teens while working as a substitute teacher. Although he graduated from New York University with a BFA from its Tisch School of the Arts, Crystal earned a living as a substitute at a junior high school. But he always knew he’d soon be performing in front of a much bigger audience. “I taught everything from English to auto shop,” he said in an interview with The Oprah Magazine. “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…’

J.K. Rowling

J.K. Rowling’s rags to riches story is an inspiration for anyone that’s been down on their luck and in need of convincing to believe in themselves. Before she became an author and sold over 400 million copies of her novels, Rowling lived in Portugal and taught English as a foreign language. But she still found herself contemplating suicide after leaving her abusive husband. Diagnosed with clinical depression, Rowling has said she found her failures liberating because it was at rock bottom when she started believing in herself and released her first Harry Potter book.

Hugh Jackman

Hugh Jackman plays probably the sexiest Wolverine we’ll ever see but before he became a Hollywood star, Jackman struggled to find himself in college. Between high school and college, Jackman spent a gap year working as a teaching assistant at the prestigious Uppingham School in England. After graduating with a BA in communications, Jackman decided to turn his hobby into a full-time job by taking a yearlong course at the Actors’ Centre in Sydney, Australia and then pursued a career in Hollywood.

Roberta Flack

Roberta Flack comes from a musical family and grew up in the church. She started playing the piano at the age of nine and became so good at playing classical music, by the time she was 15, Flack earned a full music scholarship to attend Howard University. Changing her major from piano to voice, the “Killing Me Softly” singer graduated at 19 and began her graduate studies in music before she was forced to quit and take on a job teaching music and English after her father’s sudden death. Flack was later discovered singing and playing jazz at a Washington, DC nightclub.

Kris Kristofferson

Whoever said country music singers can’t be Rhodes scholars, probably never heard of Kris Kristofferson. The Texas native studied literature at Oxford University before joining the Army. Towards the end of his tour of duty, Kristofferson, who rose to the rank of captain, taught English at West Point. But ready to become a country singer, he resigned and headed to Nashville. Before his career took off, the “Me and Bobby McGee” singer took on odd jobs including working as a janitor and commercial helicopter pilot.

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