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5 of History's Most Remarkable Teachers

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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.

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Live Smarter
Graduates in These States Fare Best When It Comes to Student Debt
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Student loan debt in the U.S. grows larger each year. According to CNBC, the average American in their 20s with student loans to pay off owes about $22,135. But college graduates from some states have it easier than those from others. As Money reports, choosing the right state in which to get your education may end up saving you $16,000 in loan payments.

That number comes from the latest student debt study [PDF] from the Institute for College Access and Success. The organization looked at four-year public and private nonprofit colleges to determine the states where debt levels skew low and where they creep into $30,000-plus territory. Graduates who study in Utah have it the best: 57 percent of students there graduate without debt, and those who have debt carry burdens of $19,975 on average. Behind Utah are New Mexico, California, Arizona, and Nevada, all with average debt loads of less than $25,000 a student.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is New Hampshire, where new graduates are sent into the workforce with $36,367 in debt looming over their heads. Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Delaware, and Minnesota all produce average student debts between $31,000 and $36,000. And though graduates from West Virginia don't owe the most money, they are the most likely to owe any money at all, with 77 percent of students from the state racking up some amount of debt. The variation from state to state can be explained by the types of colleges that are popular in each region. The Northeast, for example, is home to some of the country's priciest private colleges, while students in the West are more likely to attend a public state school with lower tuition.

If you've already received a degree from an expensive school in a high-debt state, you can't go back in time and change your decision. But you can get smart about tackling the debt you've already accumulated. Check out these debt-busting strategies to see if one is right for your situation.

[h/t Money]

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This Just In
Want to Become a Billionaire? Study Engineering
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If you want to get rich—really, really rich—chances are, you should get yourself an engineering degree. As The Telegraph reports, a new analysis from the UK firm Aaron Wallis Sales Recruitment finds that more of the top 100 richest people in the world (according to Forbes) studied engineering than any other major.

The survey found that 75 of the 100 richest people in the world got some kind of four-year degree (though others, like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, attended a university but dropped out before graduation). Out of those who graduated, 22 of those billionaires received engineering degrees, 16 received business degrees, and 11 received finance degrees.

However, the survey doesn't seem to distinguish between the wide range of studies that fall under the "engineering" umbrella. Building a bridge, after all, is a little different than electrical engineering or computing. Four of those 100 individuals studied computer science, but the company behind the survey cites Amazon's Jeff Bezos (who got a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering and computer science from Princeton) and Google's Larry Page (who studied computer engineering at the University of Michigan and computer science at Stanford) as engineers, not computer scientists, so the list might be a little misleading on that front. (And we're pretty sure Bezos wouldn't be quite so rich if he had stuck just to electrical engineering.)

Aaron Wallis Sales Recruitment is, obviously, a sales-focused company, so there's a sales-related angle to the survey. It found that for people who started out working at an organization they didn't found (as opposed to immediately starting their own company, a la Zuckerberg with Facebook), the most common first job was as a salesperson, followed by a stock trader. Investor George Soros was a traveling salesman for a toy and gift company, and Michael Dell sold newspaper subscriptions in high school before going on to found Dell. (Dell also worked as a maitre d’ in a Chinese restaurant.)

All these findings come with some caveats, naturally, so don't go out and change your major—or head back to college—just yet. Right now, Silicon Valley has created a high demand for engineers, and many of the world's richest people, including Bezos and Page, earned their money through the tech boom. It's plausible that in the future, a different kind of boom will make a different kind of background just as lucrative. 

But maybe don't hold your breath waiting for the kind of industry boom that makes creative writing the most valuable major of them all. You can be fairly certain that becoming an engineer will be lucrative for a while.

[h/t The Telegraph]


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