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5 Teachers That Changed the World

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Every educator changes the world in some way. A teacher is the first non-familial bond that most young people forge, ensuring that educators have played a role in shaping the minds of some of the world's greatest and most important thinkers.

There is no denying that some teachers have left an indelible mark on the world around them, however. Let's take a moment to celebrate 5 of the most pivotal figures in the history of education.

Aristotle (384–322 BC)

Every teacher hopes that their students will go on to achieve their goals. When your pupils include Alexander the Great, you clearly deserve a pat on the back for your approach. Aristotle, widely regarded as the most influential thinker in human history, also deserves to be remembered as the world's first truly influential educator.

Countless quotations have been attributed to Aristotle throughout the years, but perhaps the most pertinent to modern education is, "those that know, do. Those that understand, teach." The education sector is more important than ever as the world negotiates uncertain times, and we could all benefit from drawing on such wisdom – and sharing it with impressionable minds.

Rudolf Steiner (1861 – 1925)

Any educator will be acutely aware that the sector is currently undergoing radical changes, many of which are highlighted in this fascinating report on the Future of Learning. This is nothing new in some respects. Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian architect, writer, philosopher and spiritualist, introduced an entirely new method of teaching based upon anthroposophy.

Anthroposophy places as much emphasis on the morality, creativity and spirituality of a student as their intelligence. Essentially, it is a person-centred approach to education. The first Steiner school was opened in Stuttgart in 1919, exclusively for the children of employees of the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory. To this day, over a thousand Steiner schools are active in 64 nations throughout the globe.

Anne Sullivan (1866 – 1936)

Anne Sullivan lost her sight at 5 due to trachoma. Upon graduating from the Perkins School for the Blind, Sullivan was contacted by Arthur Keller – father of Helen Keller, who had lost her vision and hearing before her second birthday – with a plea to act as a private tutor to his daughter.

Sullivan disregarded the conventional curriculum as she saw it was not benefitting her student. Rapid and unprecedented progress followed, aiding Helen Keller in becoming the legendary author and activist that remains celebrated today, and Sullivan was dubbed a, “miracle worker” by Mark Twain. Teacher and student remained lifelong friends, with Keller present at Sullivan's bedside when she passed away in 1936.

Marie Curie (1867 – 1934)

Marie Curie is best known as a pioneering physicist that discovered polonium and radium. In addition to these critical discoveries that changed the face of medication, however, Marie Curie made history as an educator. Following the untimely death of her husband Pierre in 1906, Marie took over his teaching role at the legendary French university the Sorbonne.

As the first woman to hold a teaching post in this establishment, in addition to being the first person of any gender to gain two Nobel prizes (for physics in 1903 and chemistry in 1911), Marie Curie is undoubtedly one of the most ground-breaking – and important – educators in history.

Martin Luther King Jr. (1929 – 1968)

Before his untimely assassination, Martin Luther King Jr. was best known as a leader of the American civil rights movement and a gifted orator. Dr King's passionate dedication to travelling the US and educating citizens on the perils of poverty, social injustice and racial discrimination earn him a slot on this list.

While Dr King's official role was that as a pastor, his teachings continue to influence people the world over – both in and out of the classroom. Indeed, his learnings are arguably more important in 2021 than ever before.

Naturally, this list is not exhaustive. To circle back to how we opened this article, every teacher changes the world. There is no denying that this quintet can be considered among the most influential educators the world has seen, however, with their insights echoing throughout the past, present and – undoubtedly – the future.

Created 12 Mar 2021
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