Federal File

April 10, 2002 1 min read

The stereotype of Congress is that it is infested with almost nothing but lawyers. What that means to the country is open to interpretation.

But Congress also has a healthy number of ex-educators.

An exact count of former teachers, coaches, principals, school nurses, professors, adjunct instructors, and college presidents serving on Capitol Hill is hard to pin down. Most of Congress’ 535 members, like Americans in general these days, have had multiple careers.

But based on congressional Web sites and Congressional Quarterly’s Politics in America 2002, more than 100 federal lawmakers have spent some time standing at the front of classrooms. At least 50 worked as K-12 educators.

Victor Morales, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate from Texas, has been touting his 20 years or so as a teacher. And Lamar Alexander, now seeking the Republican nomination to represent Tennessee in the Senate, has a résumé that includes stints as secretary of education and president of the University of Tennessee.

But the Senate “teacher caucus,” provided it includes higher education instructors, already has 18 members. That would include Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., now closing in on his 100th birthday. Sen. Thurmond was a teacher, coach, and school superintendent more than 70 years ago. (Then he became a lawyer, joining a decidedly larger caucus.)

A teacher runs the House. Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., taught high school government and history for 16 years, along the way leading the Yorkville High Foxes to the 1976 Illinois state wrestling title. The four dozen or so other ex-teachers in the House include Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo.

Mr. Tancredo’s former students get credit for his political career. He told one of his junior high civics classes that if all 32 of them volunteered on a political campaign (not his), he would run for office. They passed the test.

—Ben Wear

A version of this article appeared in the April 10, 2002 edition of Education Week