Teaching Rock N’ Roll – These Rockers Were Teachers Before Becoming Rock Legends
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 06: Brian May attends the 76th Annual Golden Globe Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 6, 2019 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)
Teachers To Rockers
Before making it big, rockstars held day jobs just like us regular folks. For some, it’s to make both ends meet while for others, because it’s their passion next to music. The following legends, however, did more than busk on the streets or flip burgers for a living before they were thrust into the spotlight. We know them as musicians who churned out one classic hit after another and gave us jaw-dropping live performances.
But once upon a time, they were teachers. They taught sixth graders, high school students, or even aspiring musicians. Imagine going to your classroom every day and seeing someone who would one day become a household name and whose songs you will hear on the radio. Let’s take a look at some of these teachers-turned-rockstars.
6. Dennis DeYoung
Prior to founding Styx and writing 7 of the band’s Top 10 singles, DeYoung was a music teacher for elementary students at the Kolmar School in Midlothian, Illinois. At the time, Styx were playing in school auditoriums and other small venues.
“I came out of college with a degree in education, and I was a music teacher. 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.”
5. Mark Knopfler
Knopfler held several jobs since he was 13. He studied journalism for a year at Harlow College and also earned his degree in English at the University of Leeds. After graduating, he performed with local bands while he worked as a lecturer at Loughton College in Essex for three years.
He also had other stints aside from teaching college students.
“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. 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.”
Sting earned his degree from the Northern Counties College of Education and so before The Police broke into mainstream, he would teach at St Paul’s First School in Cramlington at daytime and perform in the evening. He shared in 2003:
“When I got my degree, I became a teacher, but deep down, that’s not what I wanted to be. Somehow, God smiled on me, [saying] ‘It’s your turn, you can have a hit record.’”
3. Art Garfunkel
Aside from being the other half of the legendary duo whose hits transcended time and generation, Garfunkel also earned his B.A. in art history and M.A. in mathematics education. Even at the peak of their career, he even worked on his doctorate degree. During their three-year hiatus following the duo’s break-up, he worked as a math teacher teaching geometry to high school students at the Litchfield Academy in Connecticut.
In one interview, he even revealed that if he hadn’t met Paul Simon, he definitely would’ve become a teacher.
“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.”
2. Gene Simmons
Before he wore his legendary makeup and leather ensemble, Gene Simmons took up education at the Sullivan County Community College and finished his bachelor’s degree in Richmond College. At the time, he already joined several bands but at his mother’s insistence, he managed to get a college degree.
In 1970, he and Paul Stanley along with Steve Coronel regularly performed in nightclubs but they weren’t getting paid enough. So to support his passion, Simmons took a job as a teacher for sixth graders in Spanish Harlem in New York City but quit after six months. According to him:
“The reason I quit after six months is that I discovered the real reason I became a teacher. 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.”
1. Brian May
It’s no secret that Brian May is one of the smartest and most intelligent rockstars on the planet. He’s an astrophysicist who worked with NASA and he built his own electric guitar. And so it comes as no surprise when we learned that he taught math and science to secondary students at the Stockwell Manor School.
He shared about his teaching gig experience in an interview:
“It turned into something I really enjoyed, it was very challenging. The biggest challenge was to get people to stay in their seats – seriously! It was quite difficult. You couldn’t get the children to attend unless they were incredibly interested in what you were saying. The kids were bored more than anything else… I used betting on horses to teach statistics which you wouldn’t perhaps normally do.”