Well the dawn was coming
Heard him ringing on my bell
He said, my name's the teacher
Oh that is what I call myself
And I have a lesson
That I must impart to you
It's an old expression
But I must insist it's true

Jump up, look around
Find yourself some fun
No sense in sitting there hating everyone
No man's an island and his castle isn't home
The nest is for nothing when the bird has flown

So I took a journey
Threw my world into the sea
With me went the teacher
Who found fun instead of me

Hey man, what's the plan, what was that you said?
Sun-tanned, drink in hand, lying there in bed
I try to socialize but I can't seem to find
What I was looking for, got something on my mind

Then the teacher told me
It had been a lot of fun
Thanked me for his ticket
And all that I had done

Hey man, what's the plan, what was that you said?
Sun-tanned, drink in hand, lying there in bed
I try to socialize but I can't seem to find
What I was looking for, got something on my mind

Lyrics submitted by knate15

"Teacher" as written by Ian Anderson

Lyrics © BMG Rights Management

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Teacher song meanings
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  • +9
    General CommentA long time ago, I read that the song "Teacher" was Anderson's commentary on the instant gurus and charlatans who flourished in the 1960s due to the counterculture of the time, the quest many young people were on to find a deeper meaning to life than the mainstream path of career, marriage, family, and materialistic striving and accumulation. Specifically, the "teacher" was Timothy Leary, whom many came to believe was a self-serving, charming sociopath, pursuing his own fame and pleasure while leaving a trail of confused, sometimes disillusioned LSD users in his path. According to his own son Jack Leary, Timothy enjoyed drinking more than tripping on LSD and had used his charms to seduce women, Harvard graduate students, intellectuals, hippies, and artists even before his discovery of psychedelics in the early '60s. Anderson talks about a "teacher" who drinks and gets suntanned while the song's narrator had "something on [his] mind," i.e. is tripping on acid and trying to make sense of the jumble of insights, perceptions, and sensory phenomena he experiences while tripping. But the "teacher" is only along for the ride, drinking and having fun at the poor truth-seeker's (psychic and financial) expense.

    Anderson (while capable of sometimes annoying self-righteousness and sanctimony in his own right- "A Christmas Story" being the prime example) was skeptical of all systems that promised a predigested path to the truth and authenticity, whether political leaders, organized religion, psychedelic gurus, or officially-sanctioned trips to the moon ("For Michael Collins, Jeffrey, and Me," also on "Benefit"). Like Dylan (especially the "It's Alright Ma, I'm Only Bleeding" Dylan- "...and not forget that it is not he or she or them or it that you belong to"), John Lennon (e.g., "God"- "I don't believe in Krishna, I don't believe in Buddha...I don't believe in Beatles; I just believe in me, Yoko and me, and that's reality"), Anderson advised his listeners to think and consider for themselves, take no easy answers handed to them by self-appointed gurus or "experts." "Teacher" is just a take on one such guru.
    mbrachmanon August 05, 2009   Link
  • +4
    General CommentI honestly don't mean to be rude, but it's interesting how some fairly obvious meanings can get right past people.

    Mycroft is the only person who got this tune. I mean, okay, some songs are truly ambiguous and there isn't one meaning to "get." Not this one.

    This song is an amused, yet angry statement about people with shallow lives who want you to drop what you're working on, go out on the town with them, or the beach, or wherever, and tell you to "lighten up" about everything, until of course they need you for something.

    I don't think it begins with the speaker "in a major funk." He is alone, and "the dawn was coming." There is the a word omitted from the next line in this copy of the lyrics -- the full line is "Or that is what I call myself," as in, a self-proclaimed expert on life.

    "Heard him ringing on my bell" -- this is clearly a reference to the phone ringing and someone unfortunately being on the other end. The scene of a writer contemplating a creative work or trying to find peace in solitude & being interrupted by a rude telephone call from a jackass party-guy type is deliciously painted in Allen Ginsberg's "Victim of Telephone" poem, which may or may not have informed Ian A's lyrics here. Look it up.

    Then the speaker finds nothing of the good times this "teacher" promises him -- he feels maladjusted, adrift "threw my world into the sea" while his friend makes merry on the speaker's dollar -- probably a typical nightmare for frustrated rock stars. "He thanked me for his ticket," i.e. for funding the road trip or party, is lying in bed (possibly in the speaker's house) and finding no more enlightenment than having gotten a tan.

    This makes the questioning, cynical chorus so satisfying to the audient, and the guitars & drums reflect it by picking up the backbeat and playing a faster, keyed up version of the opening line. "What was that you said?" is an angry phrase, almost cinematic -- you can picture the typically meek, subdued artist suddenly jumping up & challenging his loser friend that never had a helpful agenda or actual encouraging word. In this context, "Something on my mind..." is a very dynamic phrase. It could mean what he was working on before the phone rang, could mean his skepticism about social gatherings, could mean what he's about to confront the guy ("saying what's on my mind") or all three.

    My favorite part about that last line is that it paints a picture of an antisocial person stuck in a social-graces situation and still feeling contemplative & not letting go of his thoughts and inner searching. In context with the frowning, thoughtful flute/keyboard motif that the line leads into, it is just a beautiful and charming musical statement about a thoughtful person who takes himself seriously & his resident "lighten up" chiseling buddy.

    How anyone could interpret this song as the teacher being a good guy & really teaching Ian all about the finer things in life and to relax etc. is absolutely beyond me. Words mean stuff in songs. Pay attention to them.

    Shadowgbqon April 11, 2009   Link
  • +2
    General Commentor it can be taken more litteraly. where some dude is in a major funk about life, and a friend of his comes and says "lets get the heck out of dodge and have some fun" but the dude in the funk doesnt glean any pleasure from socializing and drinking..it is meaningless to him, he is looking for something else. something with meaning. the "teacher" friend can't relate and so he leaves him and goes on with his good time...and yes TULL rocks!
    mycroft45on December 05, 2004   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThis tune is a classic. This is a great song about how finding things in life is ultimately meaningless. The purpose of life is too live it and not worry about the small things. Many songs have this meanings and this is one of the better ones.
    OpinionHeadon December 24, 2004   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThough Ian Anderson was anti-religion, he was a very spiritual person. I believe that most people who are spiritually in tune tend to frown upon our organized religious systems in the same way that Mr. Anderson does in so many of Jethro Tull's work. His frustrations with the church are frustrations with the way that men bastardize the spirit for the good of themselves.

    If the teacher is God, then the song is about a struggle to break from social isolation, a struggle that many who suffer from depression encounter. The speaker allows the Teacher (God) to show him the way, yet is turned off by the idealistic nature of his teachings, and ultimately they part ways. This is all too common for those who seek out God and don't get the immediate results they expected.

    If the teacher is an actual human, I would have to agree with mycroft45 in full. Partying, drinking, extraverted socialization has become the status quo. Many people who don't derive pleasure from these activities often feel like an outcast, and attempt to live that lifestyle. As an artist, Mr. Anderson probably had to struggle between his introverted artistic spirit which fulfilled him and his constant interaction with the large scale public as a rock star.
    unclecollyon November 09, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI like the way mbrachman interpreted the song for us. My only request is that a source should have been provided so we could see when/where Ian made the connection between the "teacher" and Timothy Leary. My reserve with believing this interpretation, without a source, stems from a book I read called "The Harvard Psychedelic Club" in which Timothy Leary is labeled as the "trickster" and Huston Smith as the "teacher". Because of this, I am more inclined to favor the literal interpretation of mycroft45.
    poetogethron August 03, 2012   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI hate the fact that hardly anyone has commented on any Tull songs! Tull is awesome. This is one of my favorite JT songs, I think it means that life is the teacher and if you let it, life will get more out of you than you get out of it.
    rand0mprecisi0non May 22, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General Comment"No man's an island" words from the 18th century English poet Jone Donne.
    chrisb1on February 19, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General Comment2 things:
    I agree that tull is awesome. Me and my friend dan are 18 and 16 years old, and we think the Ian was way ahead of his time. He writes some of the best lyrics i've ever heard in my life.
    Secondly, I agree with mycroft45
    WYWHon March 23, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI agree that this is about life teaching you, the individual a lesson. but Ian anderson was famously anti-religion. He makes many sarcastic references to gods in his songs, and was mostly against the catholic church. So i don't think he's referring to god, more like just life in general
    big99daddyon March 25, 2006   Link

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