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Heroes and villains with chalk on their hands

You'd be surprised at the wide range of people who've stood in front of a class. Porn star Ron Jeremy, for one.

Chris Bunting plots some well-trodden and more obscure routes out of the job

How many times must we hear that the rock star Sting once used to be a teacher? The endlessly repeated story goes that many moons ago a callow but talented youth called Gordon Sumner stepped into a rowdy class at St. Paul's Roman Catholic School in Cramlington and survived, ooh, a whole two years as an English teacher before running off to London to reincarnate himself as one of Britain's most successful musicians.

Despite his fleeting acquaintance with the profession, it seems almost compulsory to mention Sting's links with teaching. A search on the Internet finds almost as many mentions of him as a "former teacher" as there are of him as "a musician" and the official Sting website mythologises him as "this former teacher, soccer coach and ditch digger", forgetting to mention that he was actually a football coach as part of his teaching job and spent about as much time "ditch digging" while a building labourer as he spent as an income tax clerk, another former profession that curiously fails to get a mention.

Sting, of course, isn't the only famous performer with teaching credentials.

As a breed, the teacher-turned-show-business star, it seems, cannot get enough of talking about their time in the classroom. You can almost hear their agents telling them that a past in teaching, like digging ditches, has that down-to-earth feel that might make them "real" people in the public's eye.

Unlike tax collecting, it also has a touch of social credibility.

Other members of a genus we might call formerus teacherus performus, include the comedian John Cleese, Sting's rival Geordie songster Brian Ferry of Roxy Music, Gene Simmons, lead singer of Kiss, the world's most celebrated porn stud Ron Jeremy (nicknamed "the hedgehog" and still going strong a quarter of a century and a "few thousand" trysts into his second profession) and the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire host Chris Tarrant, who famously ended up living in a mini-van parked outside his school. The postman even delivered his letters there in the mornings. Poor guy!

If we consider politicians as a sub-species of the same group, Estelle Morris, former college teacher David Blunkett and the incomparable Sir Rhodes Boyson swell the ranks. In the last parliament, more MPs had worked in education than in any other single profession. An outsider could be forgiven for concluding that teaching was packed full of performance nuts, practising their Wembley stage dives or despatch box tirades on Class Six whilethey were waiting for their big break.

But if cavorting on a stage is not your thing, don't worry. Former teachers have had a disproportionate impact on at least two other areas of public life. Literature has good reason to be thankful for the profession. T.S Eliot, Roddy Doyle, Louis de Bernier s, Nick Hornby, Alan Bleasdale, Maeve Binchy, Tom Sharpe, and Joanna Trollope, to name but a few, all served time in the classroom.

And the final area of outstanding achievement for teachers? Not quite as flattering as the first two, unfortunately, but it seems a certain brand of teacher has an extraordinary talent for megalomania and dictatorship. Mao Zedong worked as a principal of a primary school while waiting for his revolution, Albania's Enver Hoxha taught French. Afghanistan's Taliban leader Mullah Omar started his movement from a small village schoolhouse and Africa's veteran terrible of the moment, Robert Mugabe, was a teacher for 20 years before entering politics.

But, finally, a testimonial from a former student of apparently a well regarded teacher at a private high school in Indo-China in the 1950s: "A nice simple teacher. He cared for his students. He rarely punished any".

The man in question?

Cambodia's Pol Pot.

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