5 of History's Most Remarkable Teachers


You've likely met at least one teacher who changed your life for the better. And whether that person was an understanding elementary teacher, a high school teacher who pushed you to pursue your passions, or a college professor who spent extra hours helping you shape your thesis, in honor of these beloved figures (and to mark Teacher Appreciation Week, which runs this year from May 2-5), here are five historic educators whose strength, dedication, and creativity deserve extra gold stars.


The 1988 movie Stand and Deliver is based on the true story of Jaime Escalante, a Bolivian immigrant who taught math at Garfield High School, a rough inner-city school in East Los Angeles.

Escalante was a rigorous teacher. His students came in an hour before school started, stayed long after classes were over, and attended mandatory summer school. However, the teacher's intensity paid off: In 1982, all 18 of Escalante’s advanced math students passed the calculus AP test.

Escalante’s students were accused of cheating, a claim they proved false when they re-took (and passed) the test a second time. Their academic achievements spurred a school-wide trend: By 1991, 600 Garfield students were taking AP courses—and not just in math. 

Escalante retired in 1991, and returned to his native Bolivia. He died in 2010 from cancer, at the age of 79.


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The Montessori Method is an education approach for children that emphasizes exploration, choice of practical activities, independence, and learning through the senses. It’s named after Dr. Maria Montessori (1870-1952), an Italian physician and educator who pioneered the unique form of pedagogy.

Montessori was a trained doctor, but she was also interested in educational theory—particularly methods used to teach children with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Montessori eventually became co-director of a new training institute for special education teachers, where she observed various teaching styles to see which ones were most effective.

In 1907, Montessori opened a childcare center called the Casa dei Bambini, or Children’s House, in Rome. Noting that the children learned best when they freely interacted with their environment, Montessori designed a special classroom environment and learning materials. Her style was so successful that “Montessori” schools began popping up across Italy. Today, they're common across the globe. 


Anne Sullivan (1866-1936) was only 21 years old when she taught the deaf, blind, and mute Helen Keller to communicate with the outside world. Sullivan, whose own vision was impaired, had attended the Perkins School for the Blind. There, she learned the manual alphabet—hand signs for the deaf that can also be communicated via touch. Sullivan used these signs to teach Keller that everything has a name.

In 1877, Sullivan achieved a pivotal breakthrough with her young pupil. She described the moment in a letter to a friend:

...I wrote you that "mug" and "milk" had given Helen more trouble than all the rest. She confused the nouns with the verb "drink." She didn't know the word for "drink," but went through the pantomime of drinking whenever she spelled "mug" or "milk." This morning, while she was washing, she wanted to know the name for "water." When she wants to know the name of anything, she points to it and pats my hand. I spelled "w-a-t-e-r" and thought no more about it until after breakfast. Then it occurred to me that with the help of this new word I might succeed in straightening out the "milk-mug" difficulty. We went out to the pump-house, and I made Helen hold her mug under the spout while I pumped. As the cold water gushed forth, filling the mug, I spelled "w-a-t-e-r" in Helen's free hand. The word coming so close upon the sensation of cold water rushing over her hand seemed to startle her. She dropped the mug and stood as one transfixed. A new light came into her face.


Dr. Richard Feynman (1918-1988) was an American theoretical physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project and co-won the 1965 Nobel Prize for work on particle physics. He was also a skilled science instructor who had a knack for delivering intelligent yet approachable physics talks.

As a young man, Bill Gates watched a video of one of Feynman’s talks. He loved it so much that in 2009, he bought the rights to Feynman’s lectures, and collaborated with Microsoft to make them free and accessible online. Recently, Gates paid homage to Feynman’s teaching prowess in a blog post and accompanying video, "The Best Teacher I Never Had."


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Mary Jane Patterson (1840-1894), a daughter of fugitive slaves, became the first African-American woman to receive a college degree when she graduated from Oberlin College in 1862. However, she was also a noted educator.

Patterson briefly taught in Chillicothe, Ohio, before relocating to Philadelphia to work at the Institute for Colored Youth, a college preparatory school for African Americans. In 1869, Patterson moved to Washington, D.C. There, she eventually became principal of the Preparatory High School for Colored Youth (later renamed M Street High School, now called Dunbar High School).

Patterson was the city’s first African-American high school principal, and she is still remembered for her “strong, forceful personality,” and for increasing school enrollment from fewer than 50 students to 172.

Tulane University Offers Free Semester to Students Affected by Hurricane Maria
Infrogmation, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

As Puerto Rico continues to assess the damage left by Hurricane Maria last month, one American institution is offering displaced residents some long-term hope. Tulane University in New Orleans is waiving next semester’s tuition fees for students enrolled at Puerto Rican colleges prior to the storm, Forbes reports.

From now until November 1, students whose studies were disrupted by Maria can apply for one of the limited spots still open for Tulane’s spring semester. And while guests won’t be required to pay Tulane's fees, they will still be asked to pay tuition to their home universities as Puerto Rico rebuilds. Students from other islands recovering from this year’s hurricane season, like St. Martin and the U.S. Virgin Islands, are also welcome to submit applications.

Tulane knows all too well the importance of community support in the wake of disaster. The campus was closed for all of the 2005 fall semester as New Orleans dealt with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. During that time, schools around the world opened their doors to Tulane students who were displaced. The university wrote in a blog post, “It’s now our turn to pay it forward and assist students in need.”

Students looking to study as guests at Tulane this spring can fill out this form to apply.

[h/t Forbes]

Pablo, a Groundbreaking New BBC Series, Teaches Kids About Autism

Autism spectrum disorder affects one in 68 kids in the U.S., but there’s still a lot of confusion surrounding the nature of the condition and what it feels like to have it. As BuzzFeed reports, a new British children’s program aims to teach viewers about autism while showing kids on the spectrum characters and stories to which they can relate.

Pablo, which premiered on the BBC’s kids’ network CBeebies earlier this month, follows a 5-year-old boy as he navigates life with autism. The show uses two mediums: At the start of an episode, Pablo is played by a live actor and faces everyday scenarios, like feeling overstimulated by a noisy birthday party. When he’s working out the conflict in his head, Pablo is depicted as an animated doodle accompanied by animal friends like Noa the dinosaur and Llama the llama.

Each character illustrates a different facet of autism spectrum disorder: Noa loves problem-solving but has trouble reading facial expression, while Llama notices small details and likes repeating words she hears. On top of demonstrating the diversity of autism onscreen, the show depends on individuals with autism behind the scenes as well. Writers with autism contribute to the scripts and all of the characters are voiced by people with autism.

“It’s more than television,” the show’s creator Gráinne McGuinness said in a short documentary about the series. “It’s a movement that seeks to build awareness internationally about what it might be like to see the world from the perspective of someone with autism.”

Pablo can be watched in the UK on CBeebies or globally on the network's website.

[h/t BuzzFeed]


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