Teachers Share Heartbreaking Secrets From Their Students’ Home Lives
Whether through overhearing or being directly told, teachers often discover shocking, horrifying, and tragic facts about the lives of kids. And given how dark this world can truly be at times, these secrets can often take just as big a toll on the teachers as they do on the kids themselves. Here are 50 sad but true stories about some of the most depressing facts that teachers have ever learned about their students’ lives.
1. A For Effort
I had one kid whose parents would only give him a pillow and blankets for his bed if he had all A’s in school. I contacted the school counselor and confirmed that it was true, along with the fact that all of the food was locked away and he was only given specific amounts per day. Shockingly, when we contacted the authorities, we were told that this was not considered against the law. I made a deal with him that as long as he was doing his best, his grade would never drop below an A. He teared up and was very grateful.
2. Green Pilled
I had a girl playing with something while sitting on the carpet. She was rolling it back and forth, and putting it in her mouth, and taking it out, and rolling it around again. I told her to give it to me when the other students started their independent work. She gave me this large green pill. At recess, I asked her about it. What she told me next was shocking.
She said that her mom and dad give her and her siblings one of these every night to make them sleep. I take the pill to our school admins and tell them what she told me before searching Google images to find out what it could be. I find a short list and go back to admin, where I’m told that it isn’t my job to worry about stuff like that.
I try several times that day to get answers and they say they think it’s melatonin, so I should stop overstepping my place. This girl and her siblings are in and out of foster care and often come to school with no food and filthy clothes. She once came to school in a sweatshirt covered in dried blood for three days in a row. Her parents wouldn’t even bother to sign the papers to get the kids the free school lunches. I forged the mom’s signature every month.
3. It’s A Gift
My mom taught in a very low-income school and, every year, she would go to the dollar store and pick up Christmas presents for all of her students. She knew that many of them didn’t get any other gifts for the holiday. She also had stories about how they needed to be careful when constructing standardized tests, because there were students who might answer a question like “What do you do when you’re hungry?” with “Go to bed” or other similar things.
4. Oh, You Beautiful Doll
Every week, I’d let students earn raffle tickets which would potentially allow them to choose a prize, such as bringing in a “Show and Tell” or picking a prize from my treasure chest. Anyways, one day, a student brings in her favorite doll. This leads all the girls to start talking about their favorite dolls. One student privately tells me that she has never had a doll before.
This made sense, because the child was homeless. She wore the same dirty outfit nearly every day, and often swiped things from teachers and classmates because she became adapted to the survival of the fittest mode, and her parents were completely out of the picture. That night, I went to the nearest Toys R Us right after school.
The next week, I made sure this girl won a prize and stocked my treasure chest with a brand new teacher and student Barbie set. Well, this child picked the Barbie right away. The most touching part about this story came next: She asked if she could “Show and Tell” her new Barbie. I said “sure.” At the beginning of her “Show and Tell,” she introduced the student Barbie as her name and the teacher Barbie as being my name. I was so touched.
5. A Strongly Worded Letter
I had a girl miss several lessons last term. I was concerned about her progress in class and followed up on the absences. The next time I saw her, we had a wee little chat, and she told me that she was really struggling with home stuff. The following day, she appeared very early with a letter and asked me to read it after she left.
The letter stated that she was unable to tell her story out loud, but that she wanted me to know. Her story detailed a difficult home situation. I have redacted the details of it out of respect for the pupil, as she had never intended for it to be shared publicly on the internet. It completely floored me. I had lessons starting in fifteen minutes, but I couldn’t stop crying.
It felt awful to know that this strong, silent young girl could brave coming to class with the weight of all this on her shoulders. So we worked out how to make school feel safer for her. She struggles to be around lots of people and near doorways without a trusted adult nearby. She’s terrified that someone from her story will appear in school to try and take her away.
So we spend our breaks and lunches in my classroom, playing games and watching silly videos on YouTube. If she has a bad day, I’ll walk her to her bus and try to cheer her up. I always make sure that she’s seated away from the door and nearby a friend or my desk. It’s not much, but every little bit helps her feel safer.
6. The Mark Of The Beast
I had one young man in my class who had strange round markings on his arms that I couldn’t figure out. They looked a little bit like vaccine scars. I figured that it may have been some kind of scarification thing from his culture that I didn’t know about, since I live in a melting pot country. We had a pretty good relationship, so I asked him about them one day.
Nope, my theory was way wrong. They were permanent cigarette burns from when he was a baby that had grown up with him.
7. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town
It was my first year teaching and the holidays were approaching. A second grade student asked me why Santa Claus visits everyone else’s home, but skips hers. On Christmas Eve, my father and I played Santa. We dropped off gifts at their home for each child, with the permission of their legal guardians of course. It turned out the kid’s parents were behind bars.
8. A Shot In The Dark
I got a voicemail message today about why a student could not come to class yesterday. It said: “Sorry I couldn’t come to class, there were shots right outside my apartment and I thought I was going to get hit. Some officers came eventually and I had to give them a statement. I will get the work from yesterday done today. Thanks.” Yea, you get that extension.
9. Your Acting Debut
One of my best students in one class showed up late after I had a slew of students rolling in late and I had said there would be consequences for the next ones. I walked over to talk to him and he almost started crying, so we stepped outside and I angled him away from the class and asked what was up. I was not fully prepared for what I was about to hear…
Turns out he had been kicked out of the house, was living in his car, and his phone had run out of battery that morning. His phone was his only alarm, and that was why he had been late. And he felt terrible about being late. I told him that I was very proud of him for making it into class. I also said I would make angry faces for show.
This was so that the rest of the class didn’t think I was going back on my word. But I made sure he knew that I was just faking it and that he was actually awesome. I also said he could take a few minutes to collect himself and join us when he was ready. I think I even waved my arms up in the air a bit to ham it up. That dude aced my class in the end. He was amazing.
10. Hard To Sleep On This One
I taught at an inner-city charter school. I had a bright sixth-grade girl who started sleeping during my classes, which was not like her. When I asked her after school what was up, she told me that her family had just moved into the homeless shelter and, the last time she slept through the night, all their stuff had been swiped. As a result, she had been intentionally preventing herself from sleeping for days.
11. Candy Therapy
A five-year-old girl was crying at the school lunch table. I tell her she’s going to see her mom soon and it’s all going to be okay. I don’t know her very well at this point. She goes, “My mom’s behind bars.” So I quickly go, “Your dad, then.” And she goes, “He’s behind bars, too.” Her twin sister then says, “We live with our grandma.”
I’m about to cry at this point, so I ask if they need anything, or whether there’s anything I can get them. They ask for candy. I always carry caramels in my purse because these are safe candies and the kids love them and know I have them. I gave them each a handful of caramels and sat with them until their grandma came an hour later. We colored together. They each saved a few caramels for their grandma. I’ll never forget those two little girls.
12. Bedside Manner
I work with students with significant disabilities and autism in an elementary school. We have one student who, at the end of the day when we say it’s time to go home, almost always pipes up: “TIME TO GO HOME AND TO TO BED!” We get out of school at 2:00 in the afternoon. I have always wondered what he really means by this—but I wasn’t prepared for the answer.
As I understand it from a coworker who knows someone who worked with the kid’s family in the past, the mom apparently literally sends them both to bed immediately when they get home from school and, we’re guessing here, they probably spend the rest of their time laying in bed and watching YouTube videos on tablets.
The younger brother actually has mild leg deformities because he was never allowed out of his crib to walk as a toddler. To this day, his legs are bowed as a result of this. And before someone asks, no, this is not enough for Child Protective Services to do anything. Believe me, I’ve tried many, many times without any luck.
13. Help With A Loss
I used to work as a nonprofit social worker in schools. This job gave me some pretty heavy PTSD. I have very, very few stories about this job that aren’t deeply messed up. If you have one of me in your school, your district is probably low on cash and has a high homeless population. My job was half counseling, half resource management, and a little bit of after school clubs and events for good measure.
I had a boy come up to me who was on a sensitive list. Most of my cases were. That’s why I was there. But anyway, he comes in and he asks me if I could come to his house and help with his grandma because he was scared. I often made house visits. Sometimes even with Child Protective Services. But this was often just to drop off food and make sure that no one was getting hit. This particular boy lived in the back of an old Ford minivan with some tents set up around it.
He lived there with his grandma, his two sisters, and his mom. Basically, as he said, he hadn’t been back home since it had gotten cold, so he was sheltering. I had called up the shelters for him a few times, but I won’t go into that mess here. But anyway, I get there to check out his concerns—and I’ll never forget what I found. Turns out Grandma isn’t just unwell. She’s no longer alive. So he starts asking me if I could call the authorities and an ambulance. I agree.
After I finish my paperwork when school ends, I find him, the van, the tents, the sisters, and the mom standing around Grandma’s lifeless body trying to process what was going on. Her body was curled up in the back seat under a ton of blankets. It was a harsh winter day. So I call the ambulance, and then I go home and cry. Just cry a lot, and vomit.
Then, about a few days later, the kid comes back and wants to know if I could in any way help with the funeral expenses. So I call my boss. She says no we can’t. But she does give me a list of a bunch of churches in the area. I call around. I plead my case to everyone I call without breaking any privacy laws. No dice. I was living in a Mormon halfway house at the time and the landlady liked me. So I asked her. Thankfully, she said yes. She and the church agreed to take care of the arrangements.
We cremated the Grandma because it was cheaper. We all had a nice religious get together with everybody. I then got a nice thank you letter from the kid, and his mother met and got to talk to some nice and very supportive people. When it was all over, I went home for some more crying and vomiting. And I still haven’t gotten over this situation to this day.
14. Making The Call
I don’t want to give out too many details, but I’ve had to fill out four Child Protective Services reports in my four years of teaching. Three for students that either confided in me or had signs that they were being physically harmed, and one that was taken advantage of by her own father. It’s honestly the worst part of the job by far, having to hear and see just the sheer awfulness that some kids have to go through.
15. Reading Between The Lines
School counselor here. My second year on the job, I had a courageous student who suffered from a rare, debilitating disease. She didn’t have many friends because she was never in school and always in hospitals. She loved reading, though. She brought books with her to the hospital. Unfortunately, due to the disease, her eyesight was now deteriorating, and she knew that she would eventually go blind.
She cried in my office that she would miss her books, and didn’t want to be alone in the dark. I couldn’t help crying with her. She transitioned to using audiobooks on her iPod. This was roughly fourteen years ago, a time when middle schoolers didn’t have smartphones. A year later, she passed. My hope is that she’s at peace, reading all the books she wants with other friends she’s met.
If I can pass on anything to all you educators out there, it’s this little piece of advice that I received from a principal many years ago: “Be kind to your students at all times. The seven hours that they have in school may be the best seven hours of their day. We are never certain what goes on in their homes.” He was absolutely right.
16. Putting Her Family First
I gave a student a hard time for being absent for a week, and she told me that she had to stay home to take care of her little brothers and sisters because her parents had just gotten extra jobs. And this kid was a very honest person. That was sad. It made me feel like a pretty insensitive person. I should say two things, though.
One, this was twenty years ago, and I still feel bad about it to this day. That’s why I’m writing about it. And, two, I learned from the experience and have tried to share my lesson ever since. I really regret not being nearly as sensitive as I could have been in handling the situation, and I should have realized that getting all the facts straight was important before I took any action.
17. Summer Stock
I taught summer workshops for teens for a few years. These workshops were based on electives and were rather pricey for students to attend. In complete honesty, it was really just a bougie summer daycare and I always felt bad for the teens because the admins were super neurotic about the “education” aspect to the point where the curriculum was as boring as possible. They’re kids, they want to spend their summers having fun, but rich helicopter parents expect something different.
One year, I had this absolute monster of a kid. He was thirteen years old, rowdy, inappropriate, didn’t do any work, constantly throwing things around, etc. The admins tried to boot him from the school, but his grandma had begged us to keep him on board. Since they were paying good money, the admins agreed to keep him there under the terms that we would just “leave him alone.”
I didn’t agree with that at all. No kid should just be ignored. So I didn’t follow that instruction. I would always try to encourage the kid’s weird jokes and interests, and would take him on a walk around the school grounds every day. I always gave back as good as I got with the sass, and he got a kick out of it. We explored weird classrooms and kicked around rocks and joked about whatever YouTube videos he was into.
We got to talking and he started to trust me. Eventually, he told me about his life. His parents both worked in the airline industry and, as a result, they were filthy rich with homes all over North America. But this also meant that they were never home. During the school year, he was mostly alone with them just popping in here and there.
In the summers, they would fly him to his grandma’s house, who lives in our dinky city, and she would care for him for the summers before he would get flown out to wherever the heck his parents were staying for a couple of days to pretend they were a loving family. The cycle would then repeat. He was aggressively lonely, didn’t believe that anyone cared about him, and was constantly acting out as a result.
It broke my heart. He would skateboard all over the surrounding cities. For a couple of summers, I would run into him in the weirdest places and times. Think outside of dingy bars on late Saturday nights, or randomly in the huge metro city in the middle of the week, or driving by him skateboarding on the side of the highway, etc.
He had no one looking after him and no concern for his own wellbeing and safety. The absolute lack of care or concern for him was heartbreaking, and I tried to do what I could. But ultimately his parents didn’t actually break any laws based on his home state rules and regulations. And his parents are, again, filthy rich. This meant that, in the eyes of the law, he was “well provided for.”
Even worse, everyone around him thought they were great parents for sending him to this expensive summer workshop! I still think about him every now and then, even though it’s been years since I taught him. I really hope that he’s doing okay, wherever he is.
18. Different Country, Same Problems
A kid who didn’t have food at home once said to me: “I am hungry. How much time until the break?” Another kid once said: “I will quit school and become a criminal when I grow up, because swiping stuff is the only thing I’m good at.” This guy was a teenager who had a very bad situation at home. I was a teacher at a public school in a poor region in São Paulo, Brazil. Many of the children had serious problems at home.
Many of them didn’t have a father, lived in small houses in the slums, etc. More than one of them didn’t have any food at home. All the teachers knew about it. One kid’s mother had a lot of problems and all his siblings were in the same situation, so every day the main thing on his mind was eating. He talked about it all the time.
The second teenager I mentioned apparently had food, but there was a history of violence in his family and he had already committed serious offenses and he probably felt empowered by them, because he apparently felt bad and stupid in regular legitimate activities such as his studies. I wasn’t the regular teacher, I was part of an NGO that offered specific attention to students in need.
So every day, I would go to their regular class and pick about six or ten of them to have special classes with me. At the beginning, they felt really bad and other students were calling them stupid for having these side classes with me. But by the end of the program, many students wanted to join us and our students felt much more confident in general. So it was great. But, sadly, we didn’t solve the hunger problem and this teenager was never convinced that he had a future out of crime…
19. One Thing Is Clear
I taught a student who had intellectual disabilities. For example, I had a test question that was “Who is the founder of Buddhism?” and the choices were me, the principal, the assistant principal, and the correct answer. He came back from his accommodation room and said “I chose you for the last question!” and he legitimately didn’t understand why that was bad.
Admin had called him into the office to discuss things with him before, but talking to him never led to anything because it was like herding cats. One morning, while walking to class, he said: “Hey Mr. Teacher, this morning my poppy tried to choke me, threw me on the ground, and took my phone away. But don’t tell anybody, okay?”
I swear it was like a completely different kid was talking, because it was so focused and direct. Luckily, Child Protective Services and eventually some officers got involved.
20. Feeling Unwanted
This was a few years ago. This student came into class one day really late, escorted by some official. He threw his bag on the ground and sat in his seat frowning. Turns out the day before, he went home and his foster parents had decided they no longer wanted him. So, just like that, he had gone into the care of social services.
Everything about this unfortunate child went downhill from there. It was extremely tragic. On a separate occasion, I was also in an interview with a mother and her son in which the mother straight up tells us that she’s not too concerned about her son as he’s not her favorite child. The defeated look on her son’s face still tears me up.
21. Opening Up
A student’s mother shows up for the first time in almost a year, and she’s well dressed and looking like someone straight out of a fashion magazine. She had the latest phone model, flashy jewelry, and was just expensively dressed overall. The student, on the other hand, was always shabbily dressed. He even once went without a blazer for a week because his parents weren’t buying him one, even though our school mandates it as part of our uniform.
We allowed him to wear his sports jersey in the class, which is normally not allowed, and we constantly called the parents, to no avail. Anyway, on this particular occasion, she showed the slightest possible interest in her child, telling us to make him study however we wanted and even hinted at hitting him if he didn’t behave. A lot of talking and counseling later, the dark truth finally came out.
It turned out that the student was actually from a well-to-do family, but the parents didn’t get along well. The father went away on “business trips” for weeks at a time, during which he was having multiple affairs and the mother was doing the same at home right in front of the child. It was an open secret. The child acted weird just to get some attention in school, which he wasn’t getting at home. I really felt for the child. He was eleven years old at the time.
22. Point Noted
In this case, I’m not the teacher, but the student. I was absent a lot, but always handed my teacher an excuse note the next day. One day, he came to me with all of them and told me that none of the signatures matched and that they therefore had to have been forged somehow. I told him that it was because sometimes my mom was really “tired” when I would get her to sign it.
In reality, sometimes she was too intoxicated to hold a pen and could barely scratch her name out for me. Anyway, by the end of the school year, it was very obvious to all my teachers that my mother had a substance problem. But this one teacher didn’t believe me and insisted that I had been forging her signature.
When he took his “proof” to the office, they informed him that my mother had called in every one of my absences. He apologized to me the next day and seemed to feel pretty bad about it.
23. Teach A Man To Fish
I once had a student not come to school for two full weeks. When he finally showed up, he was limping and his foot was wrapped up in a large dirty ace bandage. I called him to my office after school that day to check in on him. He told me that he had been in the river fishing for his dinner two weeks ago and slipped on a rock.
He cut his foot so badly that he couldn’t walk until today to make it to school. I asked about going to the doctor but he hadn’t seen his parents in so long that he didn’t know how to get to them for help in getting to the hospital. I called Child Protective Services and got him as much help as they could offer. We soon found out that he was living in a tent because his house had been foreclosed on when his parents disappeared.
A bunch of teachers chipped in and got him groceries and clothes. We also started driving him places after that. Today, more than two years later, he’s working a decent job and one of our teachers still clothes and feeds him. The student is too prideful to live with anyone and kind of couch hops now. But he’s so strong and resilient. He’s an incredible human being and I think he will change the world one day.
24. Temple Of Doom
A few weeks ago, one of the kids in my online class had a bandaid on her left temple, so I casually asked her what had happened. She responded to me by saying: “My mom was angry with me and threw a pencil and it stuck in my head, with blood.” I was shocked and had no idea what to say or how to react. This poor little girl!
25. All Work And No Play
I tutor Chinese children online. Some of them get sent to private boarding schools when they hit middle school. Most do three to four hours of homework a night and have classes Saturday and Sunday too. One boy is eleven years old. When I ask him what he does for fun, his only response is homework. He doesn’t play video games or watch TV or movies.
His parents force him to study and read all day, every day. The only time he plays with other children is when they eat lunch or have gym class. I have some other students like this as well, but not quite as bad. Some of my kids are taught that the cinema is a waste of time, that video games and cartoons are bad, and that they need to study all weekend to get into a good university.
The children can be like zombies. It is difficult sometimes seeing them have no joy. One girl said that the highlight of her week was that she didn’t get assigned a lot of homework this weekend.
26. The Letter Of The Law
At the beginning of the school year, I always have my new students write me letters about their lives. Last year, a student wrote about her dad taking his own life in July. This year, I had a student’s dad pass from an illness. Both situations were really sad. Sometimes, I think that some of the kids have a sad home life, but they’re actually not sad about it or aware of their own problems.
Like, for example, I had a homeless girl in my class a few years ago who was always positive and joking. Or this year, I had a young student tell me that he didn’t mind going into foster care because the woman at his house makes “sweet quesadillas.” It’s so jarring for me to realize the situations that some of these kids are in, even when they themselves don’t fully understand the severity of them.
27. Loud And Proud
I once told a student at my high school that I was proud of him for his work outside of school. He teared up and thanked me, because he apparently had never been told that someone was proud of him before. I imagine that he really couldn’t remember another time, and it made me feel so bad for him. Also, his dad was a real jerk to him, so it’s no surprise that he’d never been told that before. That hit me right in the feels and I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.
28. Silence Is Golden
I had a student who would not acknowledge my presence at all. He was absolutely silent, so I guess what depressed me was his lack of engagement—until I found out the devastating reason why. Basically, the boy was in my sophomore-level English 10 Honors class several years ago. He was quiet and chose to sit with his back to me every single day.
I tried to get him to talk to me a few times, but he was so shy and withdrawn that I stopped because I didn’t want to make him feel more awkward and uncomfortable than he obviously already did. He was a middle-of-the-road student: When he turned in homework it was often half done. His classwork was sloppy and I usually sensed that he wasn’t paying attention at all.
That year, I had a rough group of classes. There were student fights breaking out, a girl was beaten up by her boyfriend and almost killed, a very tall male student threatened me—and my admin wasn’t very supportive. So, a lot of the time, I was hanging on by the skin of my teeth. I allowed the young man to sit quietly in the back of the class because he wasn’t causing any problems. When we got to the essay unit, I was completely gobsmacked by his paper.
It was the most well-written and analytical essay I had seen in a long time. I wrote him some sort of encouraging comment and started to pay closer attention to him in a very low-key kind of way. Well, fast forward to his junior year. I asked if he would join the school newspaper, for which I was the advisor. He did and, over the course of the next two years, I watched him change and develop into a leader in the class.
He came out of his shell and got really involved in the paper—even learning how to program and do layouts, etc. When he graduated, he wrote a note in my yearbook that I will never forget for the rest of my life. The note was all about how, back when he was a sophomore, he was being jumped into a gang and it was my encouragement that gave him the courage to get out of that lifestyle. He joined the Navy and is currently in the Ph.D. program at Duke University.
I still talk to him once in a while and he’s doing amazing. He is both married now and happy with his life.
29. Coping With The Past
My mom is an English teacher and once told me about a 13-year-old child whose mother had taken her own life a few years ago. In a creative writing task a few years after it happened, the question revolved around finding out a secret. The boy then wrote a descriptive piece about finding a body hanging in his front room, lifelessly swinging. It was extremely heartbreaking stuff. He had his counselors upped and said he just wrote it from the heart. Poor guy.
30. Dance Dance Revolution
An animation student of mine was once pitching me her idea for a cartoon story. She wanted it to be about someone dancing, and then running away when the authorities came to break it up. When I didn’t understand why she started running, the student explained that women dancing in public in her country wasn’t allowed. I’m in the US, and she was from a Middle Eastern country. I felt incredibly bad for her.
31. Brotherly Hate
I had a 10-year-old in my class crying and wishing for her life to end. Her older brothers at home were being awful to her, tormenting and hitting her all the time. She was saying that I should just let her go so she could take her own life, and then she wouldn’t be a bother to us or her brothers anymore. I sat her down with another teacher, a cup of tea, and some cookies.
We talked with her throughout the afternoon. There was not much we could do about the brothers, but she left with a smile and came back to school the next day with a smile as well. Now, I’m just keeping my eye on her in case things go bad again, but so far so good. Apparently, talking to us encouraged her to tell her mother about everything that happened, so at least someone at home is also keeping an eye out for her now.
32. Going Once, Going Twice
A female university student from China once told me that her mother had tried to sell her for eight dollars when she was a baby. That must be a pretty traumatizing thing for a child to learn. There are so many things that those of us who have good lives take for granted and don’t even think about. If your parents never tried to sell you, you have at least one thing to be thankful for!
33. Checking In
I’m speaking for my girlfriend who is a special education teacher. One of her students’ parents lives in their car, so obviously the student does as well. My girlfriend has to talk to Child Protective Services almost weekly to make sure that everything is okay. It’s very sad, but the parents really are trying their best, and CPS can’t do anything because the girl isn’t necessarily neglected.
Her parents just can’t afford a home, and there doesn’t seem to be anything that anyone can do to help them. Then, there are the multitude of students who have been mistreated by their parents in a myriad of ways and have to explain it to their teachers. It’s extremely depressing and sad, and drives a lot of their behavioral issues down the road.
Furthermore, teachers hear kids use lots of swear words and talk about graphic and inappropriate things that they would not know about at their ages if they weren’t hearing certain things in the home. Many of her students are non-verbal and can only relay what they hear. They use all kinds of bad language and slurs, everything you can possibly imagine.
So I can only imagine what is going on in the kids’ lives to introduce them to these manners of speaking. I don’t know how my girlfriend does that job and lives with these situations on a daily basis, but I certainly admire her for it. No way I could deal with those things every day.
34. An Uncertain Future
I had a student who was acting out more than usual. I sat down with him privately to figure out what was up. Turned out both his parents were out of his life. I think dad had abandoned him and mom was behind bars for the long haul. He lived with his grandpa. He broke down in tears telling me that his grandpa was really sick and would probably pass soon.
He had an aunt who was trying to figure out if she wanted to take him in after grandpa passed, or if he was going into foster care with a stranger. It was so much pressure and stress on a sixth-grade boy, and he was just devastated. I have heard a lot of tough things from students in my career, way beyond what my sheltered California-girl upbringing could have ever led me to imagine.
Kids whose parents have told me they don’t want to be raising them, kids who have witnessed the loss of a sibling, physical harm of many sorts, kids bawling their eyes out about their disabilities, a giant tough guy fifth-grader missing his dad’s cooking and unsure if or when he would ever be back home to cook for the family again. It’s just a lot. It’s changed everything about my life, including how I vote. But that one little boy will always stick with me. I often wonder how he’s doing.
35. Sad Beyond Words
A kid once said to me: “My daddy hurt my mommy real bad and now I can’t see them again. Do you know where my little brother is?” Later, when I found out what it meant, and I couldn’t stop crying. It was a double murder-suicide. Her mother had tried to shield her son with her body and was stabbed by the intoxicated father multiple times before he took the boy’s life and then his own.
The room was supposedly a nightmare. The bodies were discovered when a neighbor dropped the little girl off at home. The girl never saw the bodies, luckily enough. That was the poor neighbor’s misfortune. She was sent to school the next day to have a sense of normalcy while her uncle dealt with everything. It was the fifth year in succession where a student violently lost their life in that school. Thrice from the same grade, if I remember correctly. Everyone was traumatized. I changed careers!
36. Animal Cruelty
My mum was a teacher. There was a girl in the class who I think must have been a first-year student. They could tell she came from a less than ideal situation. Anyway, she had just gotten a new kitten and was very excited. A few days later, when they asked her how her kitten was doing, she said they don’t have it anymore because her dad got angry and threw it at the wall. Broke my heart and still does to this day.
37. What The Fork?
A kid in my class once said: “I haven’t used a fork and a knife in ages.” It made me so sad to hear. I worked at a group home for kids removed from their parents’ care. This particular kid had been completely raised by the TV and was ten years old eating all his meals with his hands because he never ate with other people.
I taught a seventh-grade kid who was 11 years old. He once swiped a burger. I sat down with him to find out why. Turned out his dad had run out. His mum was drinking herself into a coma. To cope, the kid had turned to selling substances to afford food. But he hadn’t done well that week, so he had to resort to taking someone else’s food. Luckily, Child Protective Services got involved to help the poor kid.
39. Animal House
The family of one of my former students had social services and animal welfare people both pay them a visit at the same time. The animal welfare people took their dogs away, stating that the home was so filthy that it was unfit for animals to live in. Social services did nothing about the kids, though. Just a sad and terrible situation all around.
40. Leaving A Mark
Lots of sad stories. I was one of those students back in the day. The school nurse saw markings on my back and asked me what they were. I told her I got beat at home, which I did for the smallest mistakes when not living with my dad who often went to rehab. An officer came by and checked my whole body for more marks, then social workers showed up while I was babysat by a nice old couple. Nothing ended up happening, but I definitely continued to get in trouble and receive different types of punishments that didn’t leave visible marks on me.
41. Striking A Cord
My students were debating on what hurt the worst when being beaten by their parents. The whole conversation was disturbing to say the least, but one kid “won” when he mentioned the cord from the television. He even stood up and proved it by removing his shirt and showing a bunch of scars. Looked like Django. It went from students laughing to complete silence and then crying.
42. A Message Of Hope
A student who I built trust with gave me a letter that detailed the horrific experience he had a few years prior of torment by his family members. I checked with the school admin, who claimed that he was no longer in that environment. Though they didn’t know all the details, they confirmed that it was true that he had experienced those things.
I think he just wanted someone else to know about his pain, and it’s something that I’ll never forget. This child is unfortunately one of many students who have shared similar traumas and experiences with me over the years. My students have been mistreated, harmed, molested, sold, beaten, neglected, sold for substances, and more.
Some of the stuff I’ve heard about would utterly shock you. I choose to work in high need, low-income schools because those kids need us the most. And they need your vote. When you vote, please look at the education views of each candidate. Our children are suffering in this country, and our educational system is very poor. Leaking ceilings, rats, chairs that break when you sit in them, and standardized testing is the worst.
Schools that do well get funds. Schools that don’t get closed down. But when schools are trying to teach children with that type of trauma and coming from homes that are hurting, there’s no way to catch up. It’s a fight that really matters, but it’s one that we can’t win. These kids who suffer so much deserve so much more. And I am one of many teachers who are there for them.
We listen. We take on the weight of their pain. We truly love them. We are the teachers you wish you would have had, but most of us leave the profession before you’d get that chance. So please, vote with your heart and with good knowledge on each candidate. There’s many votes you’ll be casting, and a straight ticket might eliminate a really good candidate for your local schools.
And if you can, consider volunteering at your local school. Kids need people who care. They need adults who can show them that the world isn’t as dark as it looks to them. Or donate some supplies at any time during the year. They’re sorely needed. It’s true about us paying out of pocket. And it’s true that we don’t make nearly enough money to justify doing that.
The world is kinda dark, but the kids I’ve had the honor of teaching over the years are the light. They truly are better than all of us. I truly believe that anything that you can do to help them makes all the difference in the world.
43. The Long And Winding Road
I became very sad and depressed when a kid in one of my classes casually told me that he and his little brother were living alone because both of their parents had been sent back to their home country over an immigration paperwork issue. Their childhoods have been totally disrupted by something that was never their fault.
44. Teaching The Real Lesson
I had a teacher back in high school who on the first day told us, in fact almost begged us, to talk to him if we ever needed help. He basically told the class that there were at least five kids in our class living in poverty and probably more dealing with some kind of awful circumstance. He said that each of our lives is more important than anything he needs to teach from the social studies textbook.
He also added that he doesn’t want to see any more kids flunk classes because you’re “too busy watching your mom and making sure she doesn’t overdose,” or “going to work after school because your family can’t pay the bills.” I’ll never forget the shock on the class’ faces because the area I lived in had half the kids driving BMWs to school and the other half waiting in line at the food bank to eat.
I remember little from school, but I never forgot that man’s words. Luckily, I ran into him recently at a restaurant. I politely and discreetly thanked him for that lesson, then paid for his and his partner’s meals discreetly. I will continue to take his words to heart by taking a little deeper of a look at the people I meet and remembering that there’s always two sides to every story.
45. Harsh Circumstances
I taught in an area with a lot of gang fighting. My first-grade student was telling me about his family and said, “My daddy got shot.” Another kid heard him from across the table and said, “My daddy got shot too!” These were two of the smartest first graders I’ve ever met, and it devastated me to think of their future as children of color in a gang-ridden impoverished city.
46. Getting Answers
When I was in sex-ed class in the seventh grade, during a Question and Answer session with the teacher, a girl once asked a question that made us realize her dad was assaulting her. He ended up behind bars over it, but you could tell that it was a super awkward moment for the teacher considering the whole class found out about it at the same time.
47. Needing Acceptance
A student once informed me that he had been kicked out of his parents’ house for being gay, and that he was now living with an older gay couple that made him do their chores in his underwear. He cried and I didn’t know what to do. This was in college, though, so he was technically an adult and the law would not be able to help him. I feel terrible that he is stuck in that situation.
48 Without A Song
One teenage girl in my class once told me that she was sad and feeling ashamed because she wanted to sing in the shower and she couldn’t. Her parents were religious fundamentalists with negative views about music. This really stuck with me. It was so surreal to see a child be deprived of such a simple and innocent pleasure.
49. No Time To Rest
Sara was my best student. She was clever and hardworking—but when I learned her dark secret, I couldn’t see her the same way. Both of her parents had cancer and couldn’t work. The family was falling into debt, so Sara got a job to support her sick parents and her four younger siblings. That poor girl spent all her time caring for others—and here I was, thinking she was just an average high schooler. You really don’t know the story of someone’s life.
50. Food For Thought
My dad was a teacher. Before school, he would routinely pack an extra lunch for himself. Later, I discovered the tragic reason why. He told me that he kept having this kid come to class and sleep during the first period. He thought it meant the kid was bored, until one day, he made pancakes for the class as a treat. That day, the kid didn’t sleep. They ended up staying up and ate six pancakes. Later, the kid told my dad they often don’t eat breakfast because their parents simply don’t buy food. When they have extra money, it goes directly to buying drinks for themselves.
After hearing that, my dad started regularly buying breakfast foods for my class and leaving them out for anyone to take. The kid didn’t sleep in class anymore after that. It was really an unbelievable situation and it made my dad very sad, but he said he was glad he could help in a small way. To clarify, the parents didn’t qualify for food stamps or any kind of government help, because they made too much money.
At least it looked like they did on paper, but really they didn’t. We lived in the Bay Area at the time and, even though they made a lot, most of the money went towards rent and other basic living expenses. My dad also said that these people generally seemed to make bad choices. He tried not to judge them, since he can’t possibly know their full story, but it seemed like their kids came last in their decision-making process very often.