Educational Anthems: 17 Songs About Teachers
It wouldn't be school without teachers, the people at the front of the classroom.
Rock artists are usually assumed to be the rule-breaking type, so they're not exactly the star students of the class. But it makes for some strong and relatable songwriting material.
As you'll see in the below list of 17 Songs About Teachers, some focus on the cliche of a student developing a crush on the schoolteacher; others take critical aim at the rigidity or unfairness of the education system. And then there are those songs about the general learning experience of life and the educators encountered along the way.
Sharpen your pencils and read on.
1. 38 Special, "Teacher Teacher"
From: Single (1984)
As any former student knows, teachers can only teach so much. There's still a whole lifetime of experience to be learned after graduation. This is more or less the theme of 38 Special's "Teacher, Teacher:" "Am I ready for the real world, will I pass the test? / You know it's a jungle out there." The song reached No. 25 on the Billboard Hot 100 and appeared in the movie Teachers, which also featured music by ZZ Top, Freddie Mercury, Joe Cocker and others.
2. ABBA, "When I Kissed the Teacher"
From: Arrival (1976)
You've heard the story before: A student develops a crush on their teacher. It's an unrequited infatuation that's been the subject of many songs. ABBA's "When I Kissed the Teacher" was the opening track from Arrival, and the lead song in 2018's Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. ABBA's music video for the song featured the group members dressed in school attire, while the teacher was played by Magnus Harenstam, host of the Swedish version of Jeopardy!
3. Bob Seger, "School Teacher"
From: Seven (1974)
It's not exactly clear if Bob Seger, the narrator of "School Teacher," is a student himself or a pedestrian on the street noticing an attractive schoolteacher walking by: "I'd like to know ya, but I'm a nothin.'" Either way, it doesn't rock much harder than this song from Seger's first album with the Silver Bullet Band.
READ MORE: Top 10 Bob Seger Songs
The No. 16 hit "Teach Your Children Well" isn't about a schoolteacher but the relationship between older and younger generations. Graham Nash wrote the song while he was still a member of the Hollies, but it went unrecorded until Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's Deja Vu. "I realized right there that we had better start teaching our children better," Nash told Guitar Player. "Otherwise, civilization was in jeopardy."
5. Dan Baird, "I Love You Period"
From: Love Songs for the Hearing Impaired (1992)
Dan Baird of Georgia Satellites fame kicked off his solo career in the early '90s with Love Songs for the Hearing Impaired, which included this song about an attractive teacher who shows the singer how to impress the girls with spelling and punctuation.
Elton John and Bernie Taupin gave "Teacher I Need You" a bit of a '50s, Jerry Lee Lewis-esque spin. John later explained that his vocal performance was inspired by teen idol Bobby Vee: "She was long and she was lean, she's a middle-aged dream – and that lady means the whole world to me."
READ MORE: Elton John Albums Ranked Worst to Best
Elvis Costello drifted back to the days of his youth, recalling the era in which he'd daydream and goof off in class. "Penelope Halfpenny" is loosely based on one of Costello's young schoolteachers. "She sat on the edge of the desk in a short skirt, flicking her hair," he told Uncut. "She had a hand on the door to a world we hadn't entered. She offered the sense of freer life that we were not being trained for."
8. George Michael, "One More Try"
From: Faith (1987)
George Michael uses a teacher as a metaphor for a romantic partner. His previous lover hurt him, and he's hesitant to fall in love again: "'Teacher, there are things that I don't want to learn, and the last one I had made me cry." "One More Try" was a massive hit, hitting the No. 1 spot on three U.S. charts.
9. Jethro Tull, "Teacher"
From: Single (1970)
Jethro Tull frontman Ian Anderson wasn't writing about a traditional teacher here. Instead, it's about the gurus who became famous in the '60s and '70s. "They would suck in people and use the power of persuasion to bend their will and lead them on a spiritual path to enlightenment," he told Rolling Stone. "And a lot of the time, of course, it was just about getting your money and driving around in a big, white Rolls-Royce, which struck me as worthy of writing a song about."
10. Leonard Cohen, "Teachers"
From: Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967)
Leonard Cohen used a teacher figure as a symbol of sorts in this song from his debut album. He asks women in a hospital, "Are you teachers of the heart?" They cryptically reply: "We teach old hearts to break."
11. Morrissey, "The Teachers Are Afraid of the Pupils"
From: Southpaw Grammar (1995)
The Smiths' former frontman isn't exactly the subtle type. His fifth solo album included the 11-minute "The Teachers Are Afraid of the Pupils," a sinister opposite of the Smiths' "The Headmaster Ritual." Instead of the students being bullied, this time it's the instructor who should watch their back.
12. Paul Simon, "The Teacher"
From: You're the One (2000)
A songwriter who has always bordered on ethereal, Paul Simon created a sensei-like character for "The Teacher" from his 10th solo album: "There once was a teacher of great renown, whose words were like tablets of stone."
13. Pete Seeger, "Teacher's Blues"
From: Gazette, Vol. 1 (1958)
Pete Seeger was one of the leading figures in topical and political songwriting, inspiring the likes of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and many more. "Teacher's Blues" highlighted the plight of the average schoolteacher, who may have been looked up to in society but were often underpaid. Teachers' unions had been around since 1916 but weren't nearly as influential as they are today. "Prestige is fine but so is bread and meat. What good is that white collar when you cannot еat?"
Pink Floyd's No. 1 hit protests against rigid school rules with vocals provided by schoolchildren. Roger Waters didn't attend a boarding school, but he was aware of their sinister reputations. His lyrics were specific to schooling, but Waters later emphasized that he had something more universal with "Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2." "I care deeply about education," he told The Wall Street Journal. "I just wanted to encourage anyone who marches to a different drum to push back against those who try to control their minds rather than to retreat behind emotional walls."
Unlike some other songs about student-teacher crushes, the illicit affair in "Don't Stand So Close to Me" is revealed. As Sting once described it: "The teacher, the open page, the virgin, the rape in the car, getting the sack." The Police song references Lolita, the 1955 novel about a young girl and her relationship with a middle-aged literature professor, "Just like the old man in that book by Nabokov."
16. Van Halen, "Hot for Teacher"
From: 1984 (1984)
"What do you think the teacher's gonna look like this year?" David Lee Roth asks at the start of "Hot for Teacher." Van Halen played up the schoolteacher fantasy with the song's famous video, which was filmed at a Los Angeles high school and featuring models as teachers.
17. Velvet Revolver, "Just Sixteen"
From: Libertad (2007)
The characters in Velvet Revolver's "Just Sixteen" get busted in the end, though neither student nor teacher has many regrets: "Standin' in the courthouse, God in every child. He said, 'Your Honor, I plead to the crime of being satisfied.'"
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