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Maya Angelou on Teaching


Maya Angelou speaks about her work as a teacher and what inspired her to give back to students.

Distinctly referred to as “a redwood tree, with deep roots in American culture,” Dr. Maya Angelou (April 4, 1928-May 28, 2014) led a prolific life. As a singer, dancer, activist, poet and writer, she inspired generations with lyrical modern African-American thought that pushed boundaries. Best known for her autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Random House), she gave people the freedom to think about their history in a way they never had before. The first feature documentary about her life, American Masters – Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise, premieres nationwide Tuesday, February 21 at 8 p.m. on PBS (check local listings) during Black History Month as part of the 31st season of THIRTEEN’s American Masters series.

Funding for Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise is provided by IDP Foundation, Ford Foundation/Just Films, National Endowment for the Arts, National Black Programming Consortium, Anne Ulnick, Michael Metelits, and Loida and Leslie Lewis.


Major support for American Masters is provided by AARP. Additional funding is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Rosalind P. Walter, The Philip and Janice Levin Foundation, Judith and Burton Resnick, Ellen and James S. Marcus, Vital Projects Fund, Lillian Goldman Programming Endowment, The Blanche & Irving Laurie Foundation, Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, The André and Elizabeth Kertész Foundation, Michael & Helen Schaffer Foundation and public television viewers.


Some of the greatest teaching I ever had started very early with Mama saying, 'When you get, give, and when you learn, teach.

That will take you all over the world.'

I used to think I was a writer who could teach. Now I know I'm a teacher who can write and when I get a class together I look at them and think, 'You poor dears, you poor little darlings. You think that you've come to be taught by a celebrity. I promise you you'll never work as hard in your life as you work in my class, but you'll never be the same again either.' The theme in my class - all my classes, no matter what I'm teaching - is 'I am a human being.

Nothing human can be alien to me.' That statement - if you look under Terence, with one 'R,' in the encyclopedia you will see beside his name in Latin 'Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto.' This was stated by an African, Terentius Afer. He was a slave. He was sold to a Roman senator. He was freed by that senator. He wrote the most popular plays in Rome.

Five of those plays and that one statement have come down to us from 154 B.C.

I am a human being. Nothing human can be alien to me.

I tell my students when you can internalize that, you can never again say - when the person commits most horrific crime - you can never say, 'Oh I could never do that.' You can say I intend never to do that. You have the same components in you. But if you can do that with the negative just think of what you can do with the positive. If a human being dreams a great dream, dares to love somebody, writes a stunning book, does an important movie, you can learn from it.


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