It's tough to teach school. As controversies rage from coast to coast over pay, tenure and training, here's a 10-part primer on teachers — pay attention in case there's a pop quiz later.
1 Pink Floyd's 1979 song "Another Brick in the Wall, Part II" — with lyrics such as "We don't need no education" and "Hey, teacher, leave them kids alone" — put an unwelcome spotlight on a maverick London high school instructor known for chain-smoking in class. Music teacher Alun Renshaw brought 23 students to a studio to record the song's chorus for Pink Floyd, but failed to secure his boss' permission. The school got lots of criticism, the music department got 1,000 pounds, and Renshaw got out of the country, moving to Australia.
2 When Americans are asked which occupations contribute the most to society's well-being, they answer teachers, second only to military personnel, according to a 2009 Pew Research survey. (Scientists were third and medical doctors fourth.) That esteem for educators appears to be even higher among Generation Next, those born from 1981 to 1988, who are twice as likely as older generations to name a teacher or mentor when asked to list people they admire.
3 Teenage outlaw John Wesley Hardin, wanted for killing four men, hid from authorities for three months in the late 1860s by working as a teacher at his aunt's school in Texas. "John Wesley Hardin prayed before class every morning," a schoolgirl recalled.
4 Educators in 19 states, including Indiana and Missouri, can still discipline a student by paddling. While most of the states that allow corporal punishment are in the South, it is also legal in Idaho and Wyoming. Earlier this year, New Mexico became the most recent state to ban the practice. At the time, Vernon Asbill, a Republican state senator and retired educator, argued, "The threat of it keeps many of our kids in line so they can learn." A 2010 bill in the U.S. House to ban corporal punishment in schools died in committee.
5 When future president Lyndon Johnson taught speech at Sam Houston High School in Houston, he drove the debate team relentlessly, putting them through 50 practice competitions. The team charged through city and district competition but lost in the state finals, upsetting Johnson so badly that he ran to the bathroom and threw up.
6 Famed educator Maria Montessori left Italy and went into exile because of philosophical clashes with a former teacher — Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, whose students once nicknamed him il tiranno (the tyrant).
7 Teachers are heroes every day, but especially when violence erupts. Shannon Wright shielded a student and was fatally shot during a school massacre in Jonesboro, Ark., in 1998. Dave Sanders was killed while helping scores of students to safety at Columbine High School outside Denver in 1999. When a student started setting off pipe bombs at a school in San Mateo, Calif., in 2009, Kennet Santana tackled him. "I just thought to myself, 'If I'm wrong, I'll apologize to his parents later,'" he explained.
8 Some guidebooks for teachers encourage them to use euphemisms to avoid offending students and parents. A student is not described as lazy — instead, he's "a reluctant scholar." A student isn't spoiled — instead, she "only responds positively to very firm handling." Those dice you're using in math class aren't really dice — they're called "probability cubes" to avoid upsetting parents opposed to gambling.
9 Kiss frontman Gene Simmons, the rocker known for his heavy makeup and long tongue, was once a teacher. "I used to be a sixth-grade teacher in Spanish Harlem," he said. "I did it for six months, and I wanted to kill every single kid." But in a separate interview, he said: "Children need to learn to be selfish, to put themselves first and not care what other people think."
10 Female instructors in Chicago became more active in the women's suffrage movement in the 1890s after school board member William Rainey Harper (also president of the University of Chicago) rejected the idea of raises for teachers, noting that they already made more money than his wife's maid. He also suggested a compromise: raises for male teachers only.
Mark Jacob is a deputy metro editor for the Tribune; Stephan Benzkofer is the Tribune's weekend editor.
Sources: "The Ultimate Teachers' Handbook" by Hazel Bennett; "John Wesley Hardin: Dark Angel of Texas" by Leon Claire Metz; "Lone Star Rising: Lyndon Johnson and his Times, 1908-1960" by Robert Dallek; "'Everybody's Paid but the Teacher': The Teaching Profession and the Women's Movement" by Patricia Anne Carter; "The Montessori Method" by Maria Montessori, edited by Gerald Lee Gutek; "Mussolini" by Peter Neville; "Unusually Stupid Americans" by Kathryn Petras and Ross Petras; govtrack.us; U.S. Department of Education; Pew Research Center; The New York Times; Newsday; spinner.com; cbs.com; cnn.com; news.bbc.co.uk.