Famous TEFL Teachers


Ever think that TEFL doesn’t lead anywhere?

If you have ever wondered what happens to all the TEFL teachers who close their grammar books for the final time and lock the classroom door behind them, then here’s a selection of former TEFL teachers who have made their way to fame (and sometimes infamy) and occasionally fortune, and have, in some cases, even won the respect and admiration of their peers, after the teaching is done.

As you might guess, there are quite a few authors amongst them so if you are teaching now, maybe it’s time to start making a few notes…

Bob Geldof Bob GeldofMember of the Boom Town Rats but more famously known now for raising money for Africa (some would say in a patronising way) and swearing on television.

Unqualified (he failed his school leaving certificate in Ireland) he went to Murcia in Spain where he taught English. Discipline was a problem in the class and he sometimes got physical with the students to keep them in line.

J K RowlingJ.K. RowlingJoanne Rowling is an English author of the Harry Potter books.

After spotting an advert in The Guardian newspaper in 1990, Rowling went off to teach English as a foreign language in Porto, Portugal. She taught at night and wrote during the day. After 18 months she met a Portuguese TV journalist whom she subsequently married. She had a daughter with him and then divorced. In 1993 Rowling moved to Scotland with her daughter and gave up teaching.

James JoyceJames JoyceRenowned Irish author and poet and regarded as one of the most influential writers of the 20th Century with classics such as Ulysses, Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, and Finnegan’s Wake.

Joyce moved Switzerland to teach English at the Berlitz Language School; however the job was a scam and did not exist. He then went to Trieste (then part of Austria-Hungary) on the promise of work but he was scammed again with no teaching job. With the help of the director of the Trieste Berlitz school, he found a job teaching in Pola, (then part of Austria-Hungary and today part of Croatia). He stayed there, teaching English mainly to Austro-Hungarian naval officers for 8 months or so until March 1905 when the Austrians expelled all foreigners. He moved back to Trieste and began teaching English there, remaining there for the next ten years.

jeb-bushJeb BushJohn Ellis “Jeb” Bush (born 1953) is an American businessman and politician who served as the 43rd Governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007. He is brother of former US President George W Bush and son of former US President George Bush. He is also looking at running for US President in 2016.

In 1971 when he was 17 he went to a small village in Mexico to teach English as a Foreign Language. This was part of his high school’s summer program. While he was teaching there he met his future wife, Columba Garnica Gallo.

joe_dresnokJoe DresnokAmerican soldier who defected to North Korea during the Korean war. Facing a court martial for going AWOL he ran across a minefield and sought asylum in North Korea. He spent his time there teaching English amongst other things.
John FowlesJohn FowlesEnglish author of books such as The French Lieutenant’s Woman, The Magus and The Collector.

Fowles taught English on the island of Spetses in Greece. He also met and had an affair with the wife of a fellow schoolmaster whom he subsequently married (the wife, not the schoolmaster). In 1953 Fowles and his fellow expat teachers were all dismissed for trying to institute reforms and Fowles returned to England where he began to work on the first draft of The Magus, his novel set on a fictional Greek island (of course modelled on Spetses) about an English teacher. For the next 10 years Fowles taught English to foreign students at an all girls school in Hampstead, London.

John Mark KarrJohn Mark KarrKerr worked as an English teacher in Thailand. He was arrested in 2006 on charges of child pornography and during this time confessed to the murder of JonBenét Ramsey in 1996. He was subsequently cleared of all charges.
Keith WrightKeith WrightFormer Australian politician and leader of the Australian Labour Party.

Wright entered the Australian parliament in 1969 rising to leader of the Labour Party and coming within 1 seat of being Prime Minister in 1983. In 1993 he was jailed for 8 years for indecent dealing and rape1.A former teacher, he now runs TEFL courses in Asia, owns a school there and writes grammar books.

Nick HornbyNick HornbyEnglish author and screenwriter, most well known for About a Boy and High Fidelity.For a while Hornby taught English in London.
Paul TherouxPaul TherouxAmerican travel writer and novelist.

Theroux joined the newly formed Peace Corps after graduating and in 1963 worked as an English teacher in Malawi. When he was there Theroux helped a political opponent of the then Prime Minister to escape to Uganda. For this he was expelled from Malawi and thrown out of the Peace Corps.

steve_toltzSteve ToltzCritically acclaimed Australian novelist who spent time teaching in Spain before moving to Paris where he wrote A Fraction of Wine in 2008, shortlisted for the 2008 Man Booker Prize and the 2008 Guardian First Book Award.
Todd SolandzTodd SolondzAmerican indie filmmaker and Sundance prize winner for Welcome to the Dollhouse.

For a while Solandz taught English to immigrants in New York. His film, Happiness, includes a character who teaches English in similar circumstances to Solandz’ own.

Wilfred OwenWilfred OwenOwen was a soldier and poet, one of the most influential and well known from the First World War (he was killed in France in 1918 a few days before the armistice). His most famous works include Dulce et Decorum Est.In 1913 he worked as a private tutor teaching English and French at the Berlitz School of Languages in Bordeaux, France. Later he taught private lessons.

Useful Links & References

Careers in Teaching English – it’s not just about teaching English

TEFL on Film – films involving TEFL teaching


1. Keith Wright says sorry for sexual sins that landed him in jail – from the Courier Mail newspaper

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