12 celebrities you didn't know were teachers before they became famous

·6 min read
A split image of Mayim Bialik (left) and Gene Simmons.
Mayim Bialik and Gene Simmons both once worked as teachers.Casey Durkin/ABC via Getty Images ; Frederick M. Brown/ Getty Images
  • Hugh Jackman worked as a gym teacher, and ran into a former student on the red carpet.

  • Mayim Bialik taught neuroscience classes before playing a neuroscientist on "The Big Bang Theory."

  • Jon Hamm was a high school drama teacher and said in 2017 he "might still" return to teaching.

Hugh Jackman worked as a gym teacher in 1987.

Hugh Jackman gives a thumbs-up on the red carpet for The Greatest Showman
Hugh Jackman.NurPhoto/Getty Images

While on a gap year in 1987, Jackman worked at Uppingham School in England as a gym teacher. He ran into one of his former students, reporter Rollo Ross, on the red carpet at the 2013 Zurich Film Festival.

"How was your education? Did I set you up for life?" Jackman asked Ross in a moment that went viral.

"@RealHughJackman good to see you just now. Glad you didn't tell me to drop and give you twenty like the old days," Ross tweeted after the encounter.

Liam Neeson, who taught at St Mary's College in Fenham, England, told ESPN he once punched a student who brandished a knife at him.

Liam Neeson poses against a turquoise background
Liam Neeson.Diana Yukari/Business Insider, Getty Images

In a 2012 interview with ESPN, Neeson said that he was fired for punching a student who threatened him with a knife.

"There were always discipline problems, getting them to settle down before you can start to teach them," Neeson said.  "This particular kid did not want to settle down, he wanted to disrupt the whole class. So I went over to him and asked him to leave the classroom and stand outside. The next thing he pulled a knife on me. My reaction was to punch him, which I shouldn't have done, but I felt threatened."

Sheryl Crow was a music teacher before she became a famous singer.

Sheryl Crow plays guitar and sings onstage, with a band and stage lights in the background.
Sheryl Crow.Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

Crow graduated with a degree in music composition, performance, and teaching from the University of Missouri in 1984. She taught music classes for children with special needs for two years before moving to Los Angeles to pursue a career as a recording artist.

Lin-Manuel Miranda taught seventh-grade English class while writing his first Broadway musical "In The Heights."

Lin-Manuel Miranda holds a piece of paper and speaks into a microphone
Lin-Manuel Miranda.Getty Images

True to his love of theater, Miranda had his students perform the Shakespeare works they read in class.

"I taught seventh grade English and one of my two favorite things to teach was 'Things Fall Apart' by Chinua Achebe ... The other one was 'A Midsummer Night's Dream,'" he told the Harvard Crimson in 2012. "The best way to teach any Shakespeare is to get up and do it because they're plays — they're not pieces of literature to be read — and so I'd make every kid in the class play a part every day, and we read through the whole play, and it was a lot of fun."

Jesse Williams taught a variety of grades before making it big on "Grey's Anatomy."

Jesse Williams wears a black shirt and silver chain.
Jesse Williams.Andy Kropa/Invision/AP

Williams mostly taught high school, but also worked as a substitute for kindergarten and seventh grade.

"High school is my favorite just because of my ability to connect with the students," he told PureWow in 2021. "I think it stems from the fact that high school was a real shift, a real fork in the road for me as a student and it helped me get on the right track. It was a real hinge point in my life so I think that's what drew me to it. But kindergarten was a lot of fun. Always an adventure, it certainly helped me prepare more for parenthood than anything else. I totally felt like Kindergarten Cop."

Sting taught at St Paul's First School in Cramlington, England, in the 1970s.

Sting
Sting.Andrew Toth/Getty Images

Sting, also known as Gordon Sumner, graduated from Northumbria University with a degree in teaching studies in 1973. He worked as a teacher for two years before becoming frontman of The Police.

Former child star Mayim Bialik taught college-level biology, chemistry and neuroscience classes before returning to acting in "The Big Bang Theory."

Mayim Bialik, wearing a purple blazer, hosts the "Jeopardy!" National College Championship
Mayim Bialik.Casey Durkin/ABC via Getty Images

Bialik earned a PhD in neuroscience from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 2007. She put her academic knowledge to use teaching college classes, starring as neuroscientist Amy Farrah Fowler on "The Big Bang Theory," and now as one of the hosts of "Jeopardy!"

Billy Crystal worked as a substitute teacher at his old Long Island middle school.

Billy Crystal gesturing with his hands
Billy Crystal.David McNew/Reuters

"I sat in the office and made $42.50 a day, and whenever a teacher was absent, I'd substitute," Crystal said in an interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2004. "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...' I'd only been out of school for a few years. I couldn't bring myself to call the teachers by their first names."

Gene Simmons of KISS was once a sixth grade general studies teacher in New York City.

Gene Simmons of KISS
Gene Simmons.Frederick M. Brown/ Getty Images

When asked by a Parade magazine reader which line of work was more difficult — music or teaching — Simons answered: "It depends how high you want to reach. The rewards are much greater in the music business, but the pitfalls are very deep. In one, you're in front of an audience who may not want to be there. In the other, you're in front of an audience who worships at your feet!"

Before writing hits like "Killing Me Softly," Roberta Flack taught English literature in Farmville, North Carolina.

Roberta Flack plays piano while wearing a sparkly silver jacket
Roberta Flack.Jack Vartoogian/Getty Images

Flack got her first teaching job when she was 19 years old.

"I taught 12th grade English literature, but every two-and-a-half, almost three weeks, I would see at least every child in that school, and this was what they call a coordinated school, which meant for that area it was the only Black school available," Flack told NPR in 2006. "And so I had kids from preschool all the way through 12th grade, and I taught every one of them something musical."

Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend once taught in a Brooklyn middle school as part of Teach for America.

vampire weekend september 2019
Ezra Koenig of the band Vampire Weekend.Owen Sweeney/Invision/AP

After graduating from Columbia University in 2006, Koenig taught eighth graders at the now-closed David Ruggles Junior High School in Brooklyn until Vampire Weekend landed a record deal in 2007.

"It was a pretty hectic lifestyle," Koenig told MTV News. "I mean, [being a full-time musician] is a hectic lifestyle too, but to teach all day, then go record or try to play a show, and then wake up and go to work again was pretty difficult."

Jon Hamm told NBC's "Sunday Today" show in 2017 that he "might still" go back to teaching instead of acting.

Jon Hamm looks to the side with a thoughtful expression.
Jon Hamm.Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

Hamm was a drama teacher at his alma mater, John Burroughs High School in St. Louis, Missouri, for one year. One of his students there was actress Ellie Kemper.

"I think teaching is one of the great professions on the planet and I had the good fortune to do it for a year," Hamm said. "And I would definitely go back to it, and I might still."

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