Some of the most inspirational real-life teachers have managed to instill in their students the desire to achieve, often in unique ways. These teachers are without question dedicated, passionate professionals who put aside their own lives to better the lives of others. From Geoffrey Canada, whose story is told in the documentary Waiting for Superman, to Coach Carter, a man not afraid to take student athletes to task for low grades, the teachers on this list have gone above and beyond to make sure their students learn the lessons they need to succeed. These teachers are activists, leaders and motivators. Hats off to these truly remarkable, inspirational, real-life teachers!
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Salome Thomas-EL has dedicated his entire life to teaching, whether as a teacher or a principal in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Thomas-EL began his career as a teacher and chess coach at Philadelphia's Vaux Middle School. Over the decades, he's inspired numerous students, teachers, parents and fellow administrators with his enthusiastic approach to learning. Thomas-EL's compassion can be summed up in his own words: "Every child needs someone to be crazy about them."
Today, Salome Thomas-EL is a published author (The Immortality of Influence and I Choose to Stay) and a regular contributor on "The Dr. Oz Show," where he frequently discusses the value of mentoring in teaching, and on how teachers can best ensure that every student achieves his or her full potential. see more on Salome Thomas-EL
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Music teacher Gregg Breinberg deserves a place of honor among the country's most inspirational educators. Breinberg is the music teacher at Public School 22 (PS 22) in Graniteville, Staten Island, New York. In 2000, he founded the school's now-famous PS 22 Chorus, giving students with unique singing talents and a passion for music the chance to shine. And shine they have: Since its inception, the PS 22 Chorus has performed at the Academy Awards, on "Good Morning America" and alongside countless musicians, including Stevie Nicks, Neil Finn, Beyonce, Lady Gaga, and Kylie Minogue.
These fifth graders no doubt credit "Mr. B." with giving them the confidence they need to embrace their talents for all the world to see. Breinberg began blogging about the PS 22 Chorus in 2006, and his YouTube videos added to the Chorus' official channel caught fire. Today, millions have watched the videos – in awe of the kids' abilities, and the teacher who motivated them.
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Coach Ken Carter
Ken Carter was a high school basketball coach whose belief that players should be held accountable for poor academic performance outweighed his desire for team wins. In 1999, Coach Carter cracked down in a major way on his players at Richmond High School in Richmond, California. The team was undefeated when Carter canceled all games and practices for over a week. Why? Because more than a dozen team members' grades were so low – he wanted to make a point through this so-called "lockout": grades matter much more than athletics in the long run.
Coach Ken Carter took serious heat from players, parents, and school administrators for his decision. Eventually, however, people began to see the big picture – finding his actions admirable and inspirational. Carter's lockout – and the fallout from it – is profiled in the 2005 movie Coach Carter, starring Samuel L. Jackson.
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When he was a child, Geoffrey Canada used to dream that Superman would swoop into his neighborhood to rescue him (and other residents) from poverty and despair. Canada held on to this idea, eventually going on to become a teacher in Harlem. In 1997, Canada founded the Harlem Children's Zone, offering education and social services for parents and children (including early-childhood education programs and charter schools. Canada is featured in the 2010 documentary film 'Waiting for Superman.'
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Joe Louis Clark
Joe Louis Clark became the principal of Eastside High School in Paterson, New Jersey, in 1982. The teacher and former elementary school principal quickly established a strong presence in an effort to instill discipline at the high school and bring up test scores to avoid a takeover by New Jersey's state government. On any given day, Clark could often be found roaming the halls of Eastside, wielding a bullhorn and interacting with students and teachers alike. He was involved in every single aspect of the school, telling TIME magazine in 1988 that "In this building, everything emanates and ultimates from me. Nothing happens without me." Clark cracked down on drug dealers who approached the school by chaining doors and threatening some dealers with a baseball bat. He meant business. That hands-on, get-tough approach worked. He fostered school pride and inspired students to go on to bigger and better things through discipline and education.
In 1989, Joe Clark's inspirational story was told on film in the movie Lean on Me, starring Morgan Freeman. see more on Joe Louis Clark
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When Ron Clark left his elementary school teaching job in North Carolina in 1998, he dove headfirst into a new career as a teacher at an inner-city school in Harlem. Clark rose to the challenge, refusing to take on the honors class. Instead, he opted to work with some of the toughest, most disadvantaged students, in an effort to help them get their standardized test scores up – and giving them a shot at a real future through education.
In 2006, Ron Clark's inspirational story was told in the made-for-TV, Emmy-nominated movie The Ron Clark Story, starring Matthew Perry. Today, Ron Clark is the founder of Atlanta's Ron Clark Academy and author of The Essential 55, a book that outlines 55 rules that students should follow to learn responsibility and respect. see more on Ron Clark
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When Jaime Escalante took a job teaching math to students at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles, California, in 1974, one wonders whether he knew he'd eventually become one of the country's most inspirational teachers. Teaching math to any kid can be challenging, but in Escalante's case, he was trying to inspire and educate at-risk students at one of the most violent and dangerous schools in America. He succeeded: Within a few years, Escalante founded a special advanced math program at the school. By the early 1980s, he had large groups of students taking – and passing – AP Calculus tests.
Escalante's efforts did not go unnoticed. In 1988, his story was told in the book Jamie Escalante: The Best Teacher in America and on film, in the movie Stand and Deliver. Sadly, Escalante passed away in 2010 – but because of his incredible inspiration, countless students from Garfield High went on to achieve greatness. see more on Jaime Escalante
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Marilyn Gambrell did not start off as a teacher. She worked as a parole officer for years, before opting for a career in education. Gambrell managed to combine both professions into a special program at Houston's M.B. Smiley High School called "No More Victims." The idea behind "No More Victims?" To help students whose parents are behind bars deal with specific issues – in the hope that the pattern of incarceration won't repeat itself. "No More Victims" attempts to break the violence cycle and ensure a brighter future for students of incarcerated parents. Gambrell's program, first introduced in 1993, ultimately resulted in a near 100 percent student graduation rate.
Marilyn Gambrell's inspirational story was told in the made-for-television movie 'Fighting the Odds,' starring Jamie Gertz.
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