Inside the Classroom

Important Teachers in US History, Part III

Though every teacher makes an impact on their students, the work of some teachers has helped to build the education system that we know today. As we celebrate teachers throughout the month of May, we continue to highlight a few of those teachers in the third and final part of our series, Important Teachers in US History.

Born into slavery, Booker T. Washington understood the value of an education and job training. Freed by the Civil War, Washington showed an interest in reading, which his mother nurtured. He started attending the Hampton Institute, where he connected with its principal, General Samuel Chapman Armstrong.

Armstrong later recommended Washington to lead the new Tuskegee Institute, a school for black students, and it was here that he spent the rest of his life. He started the school with nothing more than $2,000 allocated for teacher salaries, and grew Tuskegee to an institution with over 1500 students, almost 200 faculty members, and an endowment of nearly $2 million by the time he died.

Washington went on to act as a spokesperson and advocate for the black community, working with Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft to advance the civil rights of black Americans. His work undoubtedly helped thousands of black Americans in his lifetime, and helped to set the path for desegregation in public education in the 20th century.

An accomplished mathematician and professor, Marjorie Lee Browne was only the third black woman to earn a PhD in the US. Browne’s studies were encouraged by her father and stepmother, who saw that she was a gifted and highly intelligent student.

After graduating from Howard University in 1935, Browne taught in New Orleans for a few years before earning both her master’s and doctorate degrees. She began teaching at North Carolina College, now known as North Carolina Central University, and later became the chair of the Mathematics Department. Browne received a grant from IBM that she used to establish a computer center at the school, which was one of the first computer centers at a minority college in the US.

Browne was also a highly successful and valued professor. She was given the first W.W. Rankin Memorial Award for Excellence in Mathematics Education, and helped North Carolina College earn the prestigious designation of having a National Science Foundation Institute for secondary education in mathematics. After her death in 1979, four of her students established a trust in her name that sponsors a lecture series and awards scholarships.

Like many of the other teachers featured in this series, John Dewey was an excellent student. Born and raised in Burlington, VT, Dewey started attending the University of Vermont at age 15 and graduated second in his class at age 19.

Dewey started teaching first in Pennsylvania, and then in Vermont. He left teaching to earn his PhD, and then began teaching philosophy, eventually being named the head of the Philosophy Department at the University of Chicago. Inspired by the writings of William James, Dewey developed his theory of experimentalism, which suggests that people use thoughts and ideas to adapt to the world around them.

Taking experimentalism further, Dewey theorized that people need a broad education to enable them to think creatively, and that the best way to learn is by doing. He opened an experimental school to test out his theories and began lecturing about them all over the world, and today remains one of the most influential minds in education reform.

If you’re interested in learning more, be sure to check out Part I and Part II of this series.


Source: Editors. (2014, April 2). John Dewey Retrieved from

Source: Editors. (2014, April 2). Marjorie Lee Browne Retrieved from

Source: Jennings, T. (2010, October 29). 20 influential figures in education. Retrieved from

Source: Leech, C. (n.d.). Top 12 pioneers in education. Retrieved from

Source: Mugleston, W.F. (2000, February). Washington, Booker T. Retrieved from

Source: Nielsen, E.A. (n.d.). Browne, Marjorie Lee (1914–1979). Retrieved from


About the Author


Laura Almozara

As a child, Laura spent a lot of time reading and telling stories, at one point reading a new book every day. She took that interest with her to college, where she studied English and journalism. She then started working in publishing and eventually made her way to edtech. Laura is excited to be a part of the Where Learning Clicks team, helping to provide innovative education tools to some of the people who need them most.