10 life lessons from the world's greatest teachers

This National Education Day, let us introduce our children to ten valuable life lessons that they can learn from the world’s greatest teachers.

By Dr Priscilla J S Selvaraj

10 life lessons from the world's greatest teachers

Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, former President of India, who was a great teacher and philosopher said, “The end-product of education should be a free creative man, who can battle against historical circumstances and adversities of nature.” Quite true. And, it is teachers who impart life skills to children to wage such battles. 

This National Education Day, let us share with our children ten life lessons from some great educators in the history of the world.

1. Socrates (469-399 BC)

Who: Greek philosopher

His students included the famous Plato and Xenophon. He laid the groundwork for the Western systems of logic and philosophy.

Famous quote: “To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom.”

Lesson for your child: Be courageous and fearless.

Be it on the battlefield, while serving three military campaigns, or in facing death because his philosophy challenged conventional Greek wisdom, Socrates proved to be brave and courageous. Even when his friends offered to bribe the prison guards so that he could escape and go into exile, Socrates refused and preferred to embrace death.

2. Plato (428-348 BC)

Who: Greek philosopher and mathematician

He was Socrates’ student and Aristotle’s teacher. He founded the Academy in Athens, which was one of the first institutions of higher learning in the western world.

Famous quote: “Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something.”

Lesson for your child: Be loyal.

Having come from an aristocratic family and possessing outstanding intellectual and artistic abilities, Plato, when he met Socrates, decided to follow him and be his student. Even after Socrates was put to death, Plato continued to be steadfast in his philosophical principles which were based on Socrates’ teachings. In fact, his early writings reflect more of Socrates’ voice than his own. Loyalty is what our children should learn from this great philosopher.

3. Aristotle (384–322 BC)

Who: Greek philosopher and scientist

He was the famous teacher of none other than Alexander the Great. He is one of the greatest intellectual figures in the history of the world. He excelled in both the sciences and humanities.

Famous quote: “Those who educate children well are more to be honored than they who produce them; for these only gave them life, those the art of living well.”

Lesson for your child: Be a lifelong learner.

This great teacher continued to study all his life. This is how www.biography.com describes him - ‘Aristotle founded his own school, the Lyceum, in Athens, where he spent most of the rest of his life studying, teaching and writing.’ And, what did he study? Logic, metaphysics, mathematics, physics, biology, botany, ethics, politics, agriculture, medicine, dance and theatre. Now, that’s quite a long list. Isn’t it? But, it isn’t exhaustive. This is a valuable lesson for our children from this great teacher - to be an avid learner always and to never stop learning in all areas of life.

4. Gautama Budha (563-483 BC)

Who: Spiritual leader on whose teachings Buddhism was founded

Famous quote: “Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.”

Lesson for your child: Seek knowledge.

He was born as a prince, but chose to give up his life of privilege and luxury in search of knowledge and enlightenment. Let us teach our children to emulate this great teacher and become seekers of knowledge.

5. Confucius (551-479 BC)

Who: Chinese philosopher and teacher

Famous quote: “By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.”

Lesson for your child: Live with integrity.

Confucius believed in self-discipline, humility and compassion. Virtue and ritual propriety formed the basis of his teachings. Not only did he preach integrity but he also practised it. This is an important value our children need to possess.

6. Emma Willard (1787-1870)

Who: American women’s rights activist

Famous quote: “Education should seek to bring its subjects to the perfection of their moral, intellectual and physical nature: in order that they may be of the greatest possible use to themselves and others."

Lesson for your child: Stand up for just causes.

She advocated women’s education and started her own school for women in Troy, New York in 1821. During a time when education was considered to be the privilege of only men, Emma Willard chose to defy the system and stood up for the cause of women’s education. Let us teach our children to raise their voice against injustice.

7. Savitribai Phule (1831-1897)

Who: Indian Social reformer and Poet

Famous quote: “All gets lost without knowledge.”

Lesson for your child: Treat everyone equally.

Along with her husband, Phule co-founded the first women’s school in Pune and became its first teacher. She stood up for women’s rights and raised her voice against discrimination based on caste and gender. As parents, let us encourage our children to treat everyone with equality and dignity.

8. Anne Sullivan (1866-1936)

Who: Teacher of Helen Keller, who was both visually challenged and hard of hearing

Famous quote: “Children require guidance and sympathy far more than instruction.”

Lesson for your child: Keep persevering.

Braving several obstacles, which included her own diminishing eye-sight, Anne Sullivan, persevered hard to teach the deaf and blind Helen Keller to communicate. She began with a breakthrough in her teaching by connecting the sign language to objects in the environment and went on to help Helen Keller graduate from college and even author books. Later, Keller went on to become a great motivational speaker. Sullivan’s grit and determination were hallmarks of her character right from her own childhood days. Let our children imbibe this quality of perserverance.

9. C S Lewis (1898-1963)

Who: An influential British writer, lecturer and theologian

Famous quote: “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”

Lesson for your child: Be humble.

This novelist, poet, academician and broadcaster, who published more than 30 books, the most famous of those being, ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’, is said to be a humble person. He never sought to be in the limelight despite his accomplishments. If our children learn to be humble, they will easily acquire all other positive traits.

10. Dr APJ Abdul Kalam (1931-2015)

Who: Former President of India and Scientist

Famous quote: “You have to dream before your dreams can come true.”

Lesson for your child: Lead a life of simplicity.

This ‘People’s President’ and ‘Missile Man of India’ was a teacher at heart. After completing his tenure as the President of India, he chose to get back to where he truly belonged – in the classroom. He was known for his simplicity and unpretentious lifestyle. He owned very few possessions.