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These 12 Rock Stars Use To Be Teachers

August 27, 2018

Let us gaze into the past of a dozen of these educators-turned-performers (or, in one case, a performer-turned-educator-turned-performer) and see what skeletons might be hiding in their old classrooms.

Gene Simmons - In the '70s, school children were presumably terrorized when Kiss bassist Gene Simmons taught sixth grade at New York City's P.S.75.“The reason I quit after six months is that I discovered the real reason I became a teacher," Simmons said. "It was because I wanted to get up onstage and have people notice me. I had to quit because the stage was too small. Forty people wasn’t enough. I wanted 40,000.”

Brian May - It's tough to find a more educated rock star than Queen guitarist Brian May. The rocker has a Ph.D. in astrophysics, so it's probably not a huge surprise that back in the '70s he tried his hand at teaching math at the Stockwell Manor School in Brixton. "One of my most disastrous experiences was the time I tried to teach the second form rectangles, pentagons and hexangles. I had this idea of letting them cut up colored paper with scissors," May recalled. "The staff said, 'You are seriously going to take scissors into the second form?' Half an hour into the lesson, they were all attacking each other with scissors -- ears, feet and hands were getting cut and there was blood and paper everywhere. I remember thinking, 'I will never try this again.'"

Dennis DeYoung - Before he broke into the mainstream with Styx, Dennis DeYoung taught music to middle schoolers in the Chicago suburbs. “I came out of college with a degree in education, and I was a music teacher," he said. "I would go into my 40 minutes in front of a class, then the next audience would come in. I saw teaching as one of the noblest professions, and it’s really undervalued. I don’t know about other cultures, but certainly in our culture.”

Sting - took a stab at teaching the subjects he was most passionate about in the '70s. "I was just in hell when I was teaching," he said. "I inspired the kids only by teaching them what I liked and what I was inspired by and enjoyed — that was basically soccer and poetry." But the experience came in handy when he he wrote the hit "Don't Stand So Close to Me." “I wanted to write a song about sexuality in the classroom," he said, later backing away from the idea that the song came from personal experience. "I’d done teaching practice at secondary schools and been through the business of having 15-year-old girls fancying me – and me really fancying them! How I kept my hands off them I don’t know.”

Sheryl Crow - After graduating college, Sheryl Crow taught music at the Kellison Elementary School in Fenton, Miss. -- her way of paying the bills while she wrote jingles. But before those jingles gave her a big break singing backup for Michael Jackson, she enjoyed her time in the classroom. "I really loved it, and I think I was a good teacher, but I was young and felt like if I was ever going to pursue the songwriting thing that I needed to do it well," she said.

Mark Knopfler - While struggling to make ends meet after college, Dire Straits frontman Mark Knopfler began teaching English at Loughton College. "I finally got a job teaching English in a college, which I was delighted to have because it proved to be a real steadying influence," he said. "There happened to be guitar classes at the college, and there was a guitar teacher there with whom I used to play. In addition, I also would go out into country schools and teach little kids basic guitar and singing a few times a week."

Art Garfunkel - When Simon & Garfunkel called it quits in 1970, Art Garfunkel made his next move: teaching math at Litchfield Private School in Connecticut. "When we split up in our teens, I tried to shop my stuff around and I got record contracts with different labels, but I didn’t have hits. ... I might have had a career as a solo. I would have been happy being a teacher," Garfunkel said. "But a teacher, yes. I would have been comfortable being a teacher. I supported myself in high school by tutoring kids, and making decent money at it. That was my first instinct about what I could do to make money."

Joe Satriani - On the day Jimi Hendrix died, Joe Satriani realized he would spend his life playing guitar. He began giving guitar lessons even as a teenager, and eventually taught a number of his contemporaries. "It’s always an interesting moment when a student progresses to the point where you realize that you’re equals. But the goal is to get to the point where the student is going to surpass the teacher somehow. Otherwise, it’s sort of like a bad reflection on you, right? I remember I’m looking at someone like Charlie Hunter, who I knew as a little kid, and he plays something and I think, 'Oh, my God, this guy is a genius,'" Satriani said. "I saw that happen with Steve Vai too, when I was still in high school. I realized, 'He has more talent in his fingertips than I do,' and I’d better not screw it up."

Todd Rundgren - Unlike many of his peers who taught early in their careers to supplement their gig income, Todd Rundgren was honored with an artist-in-residence position at Indiana University in 2016. "I get the benefit of their insights and find out what’s important to them,” he said of his students. “You meet individuals who inspire you. You hear about the fecklessness of youth, and then you see they’re serious and focused on the future, and I’m lucky to get that reassurance.”

Roberta Flack -  Was discovered singing in nightclubs while working days as a middle school music teacher in Washington, D.C. It's no surprise she went in that direction, given her own academic success — having graduated from high school at 15 and receiving a full scholarship to Howard University.

Kris Kristofferson - Has packed many lives into his years. He's been a Golden Gloves boxer, a Rhodes scholar, a U.S. Army captain, a helicopter pilot and a legendary singer-songwriter. But before he took on the mantle of the latter, the Army assigned him a post teaching literature at West Point. Instead, he moved to Nashville. "I’m kind of amazed by the whole thing. I was on my way to a totally different life," Kristofferson said. "And all of a sudden I committed my future and all my family and everything to this! It was pretty scary.”

Bryan Ferry - After college, Bryan Ferry supported himself by teaching art and ceramics at the Hammersmith school in London. "When I was putting Roxy [Music] together, I was teaching odd days, and this school asked if I could teach pottery two days a week," Ferry said. "That was fun — all the students were girls. It was a very good atmosphere, playing music during the lessons — I’d let the girls bring their own records — and then at nights rehearsing with the band. I made some pieces at the time, small experiments with different glazes and stuff. I still have some.”

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