There are a number of influential and important figures in the world of TEFL.
These include luminaries such as Stephen Krashen. Noam Chomskey. Jeremy Harmer. Michael Swan.
The problem, of course, is that NOBODY OUTSIDE THE WORLD OF TEFL, and MOST OF THE PEOPLE WITHIN THE WORLD OF TEFL, have never heard of them at all.
Noam Chomsky is arguably well-known among grad student types for his political activism, but until he goes on DANCING WITH THE STARS, the average American will have no idea who he is. In addition I haven't been able to find any indication he ever taught English as a Second Language, despite all the linguistic theory he came up with on the subject.
With that in mind I offer this list of the most famous (former) TEFL teachers.
12) Oliver Stone, film director and screenwriter of such ground-breakingly violent films as SCARFACE and NATURAL BORN KILLERS, taught English for six months at the Free Pacific Institute in South Vietnam, before giving that up to join the Navy. The quote “If you’re not born crazy, you’re born boring” is prominently displayed on his personal website. That strikes me as a very TEFL sort of statement.
11) Nicky Hornby, author of novels such as HIGH FIDELITY, which usually centered around spoiled, self-centered man-children as they bumbled their way through life, apparently taught English and TEFL in London at some point. Little information seems to be available about where, why, or how he liked it.
10 ) Bob Geldoff, musician and charity activist, apparently pissed off to Spain at some point to teach English, somewhere in between working at the slaughterhouse and starting the group the Boomtown Rats and single-handedly saving Africa from famine.
9) Gary Glitter, 70s glam rock star, after fleeing child porn charges in Britain, was arrested in Vietnam for raping teenage girls as young as 12; he claimed he was only teaching them English. Whether he actually did any teaching is a bit in doubt, to say the least.
8) Keith Wright, former Australian politician and leader of the Australian Labour Party, nearly became Prime Minister in 1983 – but in 1993 he was jailed for 8 years for “indecent dealing” with underage girls and rape. A former preacher as well as teacher, he now runs TEFL and teacher training courses in Asia. He is quoted in an article in the Courier Mail as apologizing for his errors and saying that "literacy can free people from poverty. Improving literacy is, therefore, a way of combating child exploitation. I'm glad to say there is a charity element in my work."
7) Charles Berlitz, the grandson of Berlitz School founder Maximillian Berlitz, probably deserves a place on the list. Unlike his father, it would seem he actually taught English. (His father actually began the Berlitz Schools to teach French and German.)
Most sources are unclear as to whether he actually taught, merely saying that "during breaks he worked for the family language school"; he later worked mainly in the publishing and tape-production part of the business. But we can assume he probably did a little teaching, somewhere along the line, so he can at least earn 7th place on the list.
He sold the company in the 60's, and focused himself on other equally scientific and logical pursuits:
If you don't want to bother to watch that, he apparently believed that The Bermuda Triangle was related to the lost city of Atlantis and ancient astronauts, subjects upon which he wrote many books. He also wrote a book about The Philadelphia Experiment, which supposedly had a World War 2 battleship disappearing due to time-travel and invisibility experiments.
The Berlitz company actually entered legal proceedings at one point trying to stop him from using the Berlitz name, as they felt it might reflect badly on the school.
And if his rather kooky wrting wasn't enough -- he married a student!
6) Perpetually grumpy and acerbic author and professional backpacker Paul Theroux worked as an English teacher for the Peace Corps in Africa as well as at the National University in Singapore.
As we all know, Peace Corps volunteers are hardly the usual kind of English teacher; Theroux didn't think much them, himself, nor did he think much of teaching; in the introduction to a collection of early novels, he describes wanting to write to escape the "tedium of teaching" and that he "found nothing" in Singapore.
Nonetheless, Theroux had plenty of adventures, it would seem; he writes that "In Malawi I saw my first hyena, smoked my first hashish, witnessed my first murder, caught my first case of gonorrhea.” He also got kicked out of various countries for getting involved in political activism.
So we place him respectfully at number six on the list.
5) Todd Solondz is probably not any better known, in terms of being a household name, than any of the above-mentioned, but he is a director who has made several award-winning and commercially successful films. He taught ESL in the early 90's for the New York Association for New Americans.
One of the characters in his second and most famous film, HAPPINESS, works as an ESL teacher, and has an affair with a Russian student (who turns out to be an abusive grifter.)
The other characters in the film are a father who proves to be a pedophile who rapes young boys, a guy who makes obscene phone calls, and a murderous fat woman. Yeah, it was made in the 90's.
His featuring ESL in a film earns him fifth place on the list.
4) James Joyce, author of critically-lauded, weighty, unreadable novels worked for many years for the Berlitz chain in Trieste.
We are informed by Wikipedia that during this period his was constantly scheming to make money in other fields, while simultaneously drinking heavily and wasting his brother's money:
"Joyce's ostensible reasons (for teaching) were desire for Stanislaus's company and the hope of offering him a more interesting life than that of his simple clerking job in Dublin. In truth, though, Joyce hoped to augment his family's meagre income with his brother's earnings.
Stanislaus and Joyce had strained relations throughout the time they lived together in Trieste, with most arguments centring on Joyce's drinking habits and frivolity with money."
3) John Fowles , the British author of THE COLLECTOR and THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT'S WOMAN, wrote his first novel THE MAGUS while teaching English in Greece. Wikipedia states that "Fowles was happy in Greece, especially outside of the school," and that he and all the other teachers were fired after two years for "trying to institute reforms."
In addition, he stole another guy's wife while he was there, and THE MAGUS was full of a reasonable amount of sex, as far as 60's literature goes. As far as I know, it's the only popular and critically-acclaimed novel in which the main character is an EFL teacher.
Therefore, despite not being particularly widely-read these days, he earns #3 on the list.
2) John Mark Karr taught English in Gautamala, while fleeing from a child pornography charge in the United States, and was teaching English in Thailand when he was arrested for confessing to the murder of JonBenet Ramsey.
Of course he didn't do it, and was exonerated by DNA evidence after he received a business-class trip back to America escorted by federal marshals.
(TEFL teachers around the world should pay attention to this quick, free, and easy way to get a ticket home in an emergency.)
John Mark Karr is apparently in the process of undergoing a sex change and lives as a woman named Alexis Reich.
Since then he has been up on domestic abuse charge and there are recent reports of him making death threats related to organizing a cult around JonBenet Ramsey, and his current whereabouts are unknown.
AND NUMBER 1) : J. K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books. She taught English in Porto, Portugal in 1992, and in the course of two years, got married to a local, had a child, got divorced, and returned home to be diagnosed as clinically depressed. I'd say that establishes her TEFL cred, wouldn't you?
And of course, eventually, she came up with the idea for Harry Potter books and is now worth a billion dollars.
In addition to being the most well-known, she also provides inspiration to the legions of TEFL bloggers out there hunched over the keyboard. (Rule #1 for success: don't write about TEFL.)