Teachers Recall Their Most Unforgettable Students
It’s been said that teachers can sometimes learn more from their students than their students learn from them! After all, teachers are only human. They are trying to understand the world and learn from their experiences as much as the rest of us. So when a teacher winds up with that one student in their class who has a greater impact on them than they ever could have imagined, it’s something that they don’t forget any time soon. Here are 50 stories about some of the most unforgettable students that teachers have ever had.
1. Words To Live By
The student that I will never forget is Big Mike. I’m a high school science teacher in an affluent suburb. We get this transfer kid in, who is about 6’8”, 350 pounds, with a long, thin Hulk Hogan-style mullet and big glasses. Mike hailed from the hills of Kentucky. He had a thick southern accent, and was the most quotable kid I ever met.
He used to say things like: “I hate books Mr. Teacher!” One time, he said: “My grandma made me sleep on the porch because she cooked some veggies and I told her dang it woman! Where’s the meat?!” Another time, he said: “I ain’t never seen a pencil like this. Can I keep this and show my dad?” He was talking about a regular mechanical pencil.
But those pale in comparison to my favorite quote of all time: “They threw me out of Golden Corral because I ate eight of them steaks they had. I was so mad, next time I’m trying for nine!” One time, we were supposed to have a fire drill at precisely 1:55 PM. When the bell didn’t go off, he went ahead and pulled the alarm. He honestly thought he was helping out whoever had forgotten.
2. Ain’t She Sweet
One of my students told me as a very young child that she wanted to grow up to be a strawberry one day. She then cried when she realized that she couldn’t become a strawberry, because she was a human being. Explaining that to her and watching her reaction broke my heart, but was also extremely adorable. She was a very sweet girl.
3. Three Magic Words
I had a student who was only sixteen years old but already deeply hooked on dangerous substances. He had a really rough childhood. He started smoking with his dad at the age of thirteen. Then, his stepdad took his own life right in front of him when he was fourteen. A whole bunch of other unimaginable things also happened in between.
He’d often come to school under the influence and we would send him home. Nice kid, always respectful, and just had “a good soul.” One day, he was all sorts of messed up and I pulled him out of class. I told him that I loved him and that I was worried about him. I also said that if he kept this up he would more than likely not make it past the age of thirty.
He freaked out and ran to the principal’s office to complain that I just told him that I loved him and cared about him. The principal said, “Well, maybe he loves you and cares about you.” We kicked him out of school after a while. We had to. He eventually got sober and came back to track me down. He grabbed me and started sobbing.
He told me that when I said I loved him, it was the first time an adult had ever said that to him. And he believed it. He has stayed sober for years, went to college, and is doing really well as a nurse now.
4. So Many Students, So Little Time
I’ve had many students that are still taking a large place in my heart. Some are sad, like the girl whose mother started hitting her during a parent-teacher conference. I started crying and begged the mother to stop. There was also the student who had no water or electricity at home, so we allowed him to shower at school and we washed his clothes.
There was the student who watched his grandparents get murdered by his mother and wrote about it in an essay for my class. There was the student who had never been in a lake, that we took camping. He was so excited, but didn’t know how to swim. So he just stood there with the water up to his neck and grinned. He was truly a lovely kid.
There was the girl with terrible anxiety that I sat with for hours after school to help with school work. Not because she wasn’t smart, but because she was so anxious about not being perfect. There was the girl who was mauled by a dog, which messed up her face, but she always smiled. There was the girl whose father brought her to school late every morning, who finally broke down and told me that her father was abusing her every day when the mother left to go to work.
There were the Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees who flooded my school after the conflict. One wrote an essay about running towards a boat and seeing his grandfather get shot, but having to keep running. There was the Brazilian boy who got up in class and got me to start dancing with him while we all laughed joyfully.
There was the group of students I took outside during their first snowstorm. The wonder on their faces was priceless. There was the student who found me on Facebook after twenty years, just to tell me that I made a difference in her life. She came to my state, took me out to dinner, and told me that I was there for her when her home life was terrible. I had no idea. I’m just kind to everyone.
I have a million more stories. I have loved every student, and being able to teach has been an honor.
5. A Troubled Young Lady
I ran an afterschool program while I was in university. The student I remember the most was a grade six girl who was having a really rough time. Her parents were out of the picture, and she lived with her very old, handicapped grandma. She basically had to be the caretaker at home. One session, she was acting out a lot and making a lot of alarming comments.
She was saying that no one loved her, that she had no reason to live, etc. It was really distressing to hear. She also told me that she was harming herself. I still worry about this kid and hope she’s alright. I wish there was more I could do for her. The school knew about the situation and said she was open to getting help and talking to them, so that’s a positive.
6. Hope For A Better Future
I teach at a prison. The first inmate that I ever had graduate under my teaching cried when he looked at his diploma. He was the first in his entire family to graduate from school. It was quite the accomplishment and I was very moved at witnessing his reaction. It made me truly appreciate what my job is really all about.
7. This Oscar Ain’t No Grouch!
I had a seventh-grader who was the biggest, happiest doofus I’ve ever seen. He actually was pretty intelligent, but he was such an open book that he came across as a bit of a fool. Other teachers treated him like a nuisance, because he definitely was a distraction to other kids. He didn’t try to be disruptive, though. He just was.
He lit up the room with positive energy and was genuinely happy to enjoy every moment of being alive. I didn’t understand how his prior teachers were annoyed by him, because he genuinely was a ray of sunshine and he made everyone a little bit happier by being in his presence. He was always smiling, always entertained by life. And it was contagious.
Kind of like a human golden retriever. I helped him learn how to set school-related goals for himself and take more of an interest in the things we studied, and he was so proud of earning his first A in my class. The reason I will never forget him is because I wasn’t yet a mother when I taught him, and I decided then that “If I ever have kids, I hope they will be as happy as Oscar is.”
I would try to encourage their sense of wonder and fun, above all else.
I had a junior in my high school science course last year peel a strip of metal off the side of a ruler and proceed to stick each end of it into an outlet and shock himself. I saw the sparks out of the corner of my eye. He jumped up and his arm was in some significant pain. He said he did it because he wanted to see what would happen. Scientific method in action I guess.
I will never forget that idiot.
9. Something To Think About
The student that I’ll never forget for as long as I live is the one who told me, “You really make me think.” We are friends to this day and still have the best conversations. It was such a simple little comment, but it really had a big impact on me and made me feel appreciated. What he said was the highest compliment any teacher can hope to receive.
10. Rocking The Boat
I was a watersports instructor teaching people kayaking and canoeing a couple years back. There was a group of refugees, all minors between the ages of eleven and seventeen, who came to us through a charity that was supporting them as they worked on getting their asylum status completed here in my country, the United Kingdom.
All of them had crossed the channel on a raft or dinghy literally two days before, yet for some unknown reason, the charity had decided that it was a good time to take them canoeing! Can’t make this stuff up! Anyway, there was this one kid from South Sudan. He was fifteen years old and an absolute behemoth. We’re talking taller than six feet, and pushing fifteen stone in weight.
He was covered in scars, some of them from ritualistic scarification. He was also missing teeth and generally just looking like he’d been through many hard times. He was terrified of the water. I took him in my boat, nice and easy. Then, once he got comfortable, I just stuck a stern rudder in and let him power us through the water.
He and the other kids loved it! We had some tears at the beginning, as I imagine there was a lot of PTSD involved judging by the state of some of these poor kids. But by the end of the session, this giant monster of a child walked up to me with a huge jagged grin, and said in broken English: “Thank you, leader!” before giving me a giant bear hug that I’ll never forget.
To this day, four years later, I still remember that grin.
11. Out Of The Past
In my fifth-grade math class, when my teacher called my name on the first day of school, she paused, lowered her glasses, and asked, “Are you (insert my uncle’s name)’s son?” I said, “No.” She gave a huge sigh of relief and said: “Oh, thank God.” This was over twenty years after she’d had my uncle as a student. I guess she never forgot him!
12. A Sad Farewell
I had a student who took his own life on Christmas Day. I still don’t understand why. He was a pretty happy and laid back student. Absolutely no warning signs. He was getting a B in my class, and my sister in law was his desk buddy. She did not see it coming either. I wish he had tried to ask someone for help instead of resorting to what he did.
13. So Sad
I will never forget a wonderful young student of mine who lost his life in a car accident back in June 2020. He was in his junior year. I took him under my wing in Grade 9. We worked on his impulsive behaviour, colourful language, anger management, and questionable life choices. By Grade 10, he was a mentor to incoming freshmen that had similar issues as himself.
In Grade 11, he was a leader here in the school, volunteering even though he held down two after-school jobs. We shook hands everyday. He’d bring me coffee. His last text to me said: “Life is beautiful, man.” He had recently told me that he wished that I was his dad. Sadly, he wasn’t wearing a seatbelt coming home from one of those jobs.
He passed instantly after being ejected from a car he was a passenger in. My commute to and from work every day passes by the exact spot where it happened.
Miss you, Edward.
14. Hard Choices
I’m a professor and I had a student who was a big dude, much older than the typical college student. He was about forty, an ex-soldier, and very stoic. We did a simulation exercise during class where students had to make a decision about whether to race a car or withdraw from the race. Most students go forward with the race for a variety of reasons.
But what they don’t know is that this situation mirrors the decision that NASA made with the Challenger launch, which obviously exploded. After the exercise, the student came up to me and started crying and said it was the most impactful exercise he’s ever done and that whenever I have hard days I should remember that I made a difference for him.
I almost started crying myself. It was a great moment in my career.
15. Naming Names
I have so many memorable students to mention that I don’t even know where to start. There was Madison, who had a beautiful smile. A few years after graduation, her life was tragically cut short by her boyfriend, who had been a classmate of hers. This shattered me. Then there was Tony, who had Attention Deficit Disorder and sat right in front of me.
He made me crazy and charmed his way into my heart, both at the same time. He liked my class but not science, and that was fine. Then there was Travis, who was a nice kid in school but is now a real leader in his community. There was Stefanie, who pursued a career in chemistry and said it was all because of how I inspired her.
There was Sara, who called me the night she thought about ending her life. She’s now one semester away from being a social worker. There was Dustin, from my first year on the job, who was living on his own and needed lunch money half the time. He’s a dad and husband now and doing great. There was Haley, who put a ton of pressure on herself and was in tears in my class after school.
A couple of conversations with her dad later, and I think maybe a family crisis was averted. She’s with the Peace Corps now. There was also Bill, who did as much as needed in order to get a C in my class, and no more. He now has a Ph.D. in mathematics and is a data scientist. Yet he was always bored out of his mind in my class.
There was Justin, who had a major falling out with the journalism teacher and couldn’t get anybody to listen to his side of things. He TA’ed for me during that double period after dropping her class. He’s a dad now, and a successful reporter. Also a super nice guy. It’s not that these students are any more or less remarkable than anyone else.
We just forged a relationship, and I’m so grateful to have shared a small bit of their lives with them. The thing I miss the most about being in the classroom is the kids.
16. Food For Thought
When I was teaching English to kids in Taiwan, I once joked with a young student and told him that I was feeling hungry. He didn’t know that I could speak Chinese, so he responded with “Chi da-bien!” That translates to something along the lines of “eat poop.” I think it’s safe to say that I won’t be forgetting that student any time soon…
17. Call Me Maybe
A fifth grade girl joined my class partway through a semester and, on her very first day, after everyone else had left, she walked up to me and slid a folded up piece of paper across my desk. I opened it up and read it. It said, “Teacher, this is my phone number. Call me anytime you want.” I am not exactly sure what her goal was, but I definitely never forgot the incident.
18. Here Comes The Sun
Joseph. I taught, or rather tried to teach Joseph science for two years. I wasn’t exactly blind to his, uh, limitations; but he really did surprise me when we began our unit on the Universe. We watched a short video about the life of a star and then I led a class discussion. We talked about our sun and how small our solar system is, and all of that other fun stuff.
At some point, it dawned on Joseph that the sun is a star and would go through a life cycle like any other star does. He started to lose his mind and suddenly had so many questions. Things like: “Wait, so we’re gonna get burned alive???? How much time do we have?!?! How come nobody has said anything about this before?!”
And this isn’t like when middle schoolers ask dumb questions for attention. This kid was literally grabbing his hair and squirming in his seat, totally scared. So I say: “No, Joseph. This isn’t going to happen for a very long time. We won’t be here by then.” Turns out that was the wrong thing to say. It did not help the situation.
All that poor kid was doing was minding his own business, and doing the least he possibly could academically up until now. And then, out of nowhere, I threw his entire existence and mortality in his face. Accidentally, of course. I’m not a monster! Anyway, it was so bad that he had to take a minute outside in the hall to figure everything out before returning to class
Joseph did not pass the eighth grade that year.
19. Dancing The Night Away
I’m a dance instructor. A student had one hemisphere of her brain removed as an infant, and so she was paralyzed on one side. She said that she wanted to dance because she wanted people to see that she wasn’t ashamed of her body. After months and months of practice, she finally managed one spin around. The other instructor cried, I cried, and she cried. It was incredible.
20. Lesson Learned
I taught sculpture and mask making at an arts summer camp, many years back. One of the projects was drawing a creature and then carving a 3D version of it out of a block of foam, to later paint and decorate. All the students nailed it, except one. This nine-year-old boy didn’t get it. I sat with him and went over it, many times.
He simply didn’t understand the concept of three dimensions, like “What would this side view look like as a top view?”-type thinking. After a long while, my assistant, a woman in her late 30’s, took me aside and pointed out all the indicators that the kid had a certain condition that I had no idea existed. I’ll never forget his confused, blank face.
And my frustration at how someone couldn’t think in 3D. I try to be more understanding, sympathetic, and patient now.
21. Come From Away
I will never forget Michael. He came from a different country at the age of two. It took him months to open up to me, but I was patient with him and it paid off. We had an unbreakable bond. We would do art projects together, we would play, and I even learned his native language so I could better communicate with him. He opened a new level of love and joy into my life.
22. In A Better Place Now
At my school, we get a lot of refugees from the Middle East and South Asia. I had a student talk to me about her trip over. They fled when a horrific group was starting to take over their city. Her father stayed behind to help others get out. They got a notice that he was being held for ransom a few days later. They paid the ransom, and in return were sent an image of his headless body.
She was an incredibly happy, jovial young woman. I can’t even imagine what kind of pain she must have gone through beneath her happy demeanor. I heard many stories of fleeing strife, but that one was probably the worst for me.
23. Good News
I’ll never forget the kid who sobbed in my lap during recess when her mother was going through chemotherapy, because she was terrified of what might happen. Months later, this same kid came running down the hallway and literally leapt into my arms while screaming: “Miss N, my mom is going to be okay!” It was an incredible moment.
24. Figure Of Speech
I’m a speech therapist, so I work with students who have disabilities or special needs. One of my students started with me in kindergarten. Let’s call him Frankie. He had autism and just a tiny bit of language, and a lot of behaviors. But something about him I absolutely loved. He walked like an old man and had a mop of blonde hair.
I adored him, even though a lot of the other staff classified him as a difficult kid. He had a difficult home life and unsupportive parents, which made his behaviors a lot worse, but he never had them with me. As he got older, he had more outbursts and tantrums, but they would always call me over to help calm him down.
When the COVID lockdown hit, Frankie’s parents weren’t able to get him onto the computer to do remote learning, and I left to work at a different school in September. So I never got to say goodbye to him. I know he’s probably doing okay this year, but it breaks my heart that I can’t be the one to be there for him anymore. I just hope he understands why I’m not there.
25. There Must Be Some Mistake!
As a teacher, I have to admit that in large classes, the “good” students often get forgotten about. The simple fact is that the “bad” students take a lot more effort than those students who just innately understand the information I’m teaching. If I’m teaching a smaller class, the opposite is true. I notice the good students because they’re good, and the bad students because they need more help.
That said, when a student is extremely exceptional, I take notice. I had one student who was the most exceptional student I’ve ever had. She not only aced literally every assignment I ever handed out, but she also got perfect on pretty much every single test. Now, it’s normal to have “very good” students who do very well, but not perfect scores over and over again!
26. Roll Call
There are many students who I’ll never forget. Kelly, my yearbook editor. She held my inexperienced hand as my first editor and cried with me in the stairwell. I’m proud of her. I’m proud of us. Detention Lively, so named because that’s how I addressed her and her inability to not disrupt class. I’m still very close to her and communicate with her weekly. One of my favorite kids.
The Babble Boys, a group of six boys who were all very smart and very talkative. They would discuss all sorts of interesting things during class and totally distract everyone. I loved them and they made me ten times the teacher I would have been without them. Their curiosity was infectious. I have been to their weddings and to their children’s baptisms.
Mariam, because I failed her. I could not stop her from taking her own life. I will never forgive myself for it. The Council, three girls and one boy who all became lawyers and one a doctorate in linguistics. They were all on my debate team. Hilarious. Powerful. Bright. Cha’nz, I tried so hard to get through to you. I bought you books on rapping and rhymes.
I bought you food. I tried to get you to a safer place. I failed you too. I hope you are safe. I still worry about you. And then there’s the unnamed boy who threw a desk at my head. I am trying to forgive you for making me fearful of students. It is hard. I am only human, after all. And I’m still afraid of you. I still see you around.
Fourteen years in the business. We need to pay teachers more. We need to honor them more. This year may break me.
27. Seeing The Resemblance
I was getting my middle school certification in my state. This was maybe three or four years ago, and my college would place us in local schools in the area to partner with an accomplished teacher and get our observation hours in. The college had a reputation for putting male teacher candidates in the roughest schools in the area.
My first morning there, in a very rough all boys middle school in the worst part of the city, a little boy maybe ten year old walks into class, looks at me, and immediately says “What are you looking at, you Ryan Gosling-lookin’ monster??” I was utterly speechless. I can only assume that was his catch-all term for strangers.
I’ll definitely never forget him!
28. Friends Forever
This kid Jay was ten years old and had a learning disability. He was also struggling at home due to his parents’ divorce, so he was living with his grandma. It was my first year teaching, and he would often lash out to get attention and be purposely annoying to see if he could get a rise out of me. Pretty soon, it became clear that he was just lonely and isolated, so he needed a friend.
After getting to know him for a couple of weeks, I was happy to become his friend that year. He and I became so close that he would bend over backward trying to catch up on work just so he could hang out with me. I saw him struggle pretty heavily, even with one-on-one support. But apart from a couple of moments of crisis, he kept at it and worked hard every day.
This isn’t a movie, so he still wasn’t the best student in the class. But he made so much progress compared to the beginning of the year that every time I even thought about quitting or taking it easy, I thought “Jay needs me.” And he did.
29. Thank You For Your Disservice
I have lots of good stories, but my most memorable one was a bad one which, while unfortunate, had an outcome I am most relieved by. There was a student in the school that was really smart, but also one of the most hateful pieces of garbage I had ever seen. One look at his home life showed where he got this from, but that was still no excuse for his behavior.
He was bigoted against every group you can imagine, and at times just downright cruel. He even made fun of other kids’ deceased relatives. Now, this student really wanted to be in the army, going so far as claiming he worked with special forces over the summer break one year when he was a minor. The school would try and ask him what else he wanted to do, but he didn’t want any backup plan.
The day came and he officially applied to the armed forces of our country. He went around to a bunch of teachers and asked to put us down as references. We said yes, and then proceeded to give fully accurate accounts of what he was like to the people that called us. We spared no detail, and even warned that he could be a danger to the people around him.
After a long conversation with the recruiter, he called some of his other references who confirmed that this kid was cruel and evil. As a result, the student was rejected from the forces. He then went on to be charged with uttering threats and brandishing a weapon against people in a workplace.
It may not be a happy story, but I truly think we did the right thing.
30. Copy That
The kid I’ll never forget is the one that plagiarized a paper so badly that it matched 100% to a plagiarism-catching software. They didn’t respond to an email where I told them they got a zero on the assignment and explained how serious this was. And then, they had the audacity to send me a separate email asking for extra credit that had already been awarded to those who had earned it.
My head was spinning after that one…
31. My Name Is Earl
I had this huge eighth-grader named Earl who wanted everyone to think he was cool. He got himself into quite a bit of trouble, but he also really loved math. He took a test in class one day and begged me afterward to let him retake it because he didn’t think he did well. I graded it and he got 100%, so I called his mom to deliver the good news.
You could tell it was the first positive phone call she’d ever gotten about her son.
32. His Bite Was Bigger Than His Bark
After school one day, we were playing with a dog. Unfortunately, while we were playing, the dog playfully bit a young student. To my utter shock and amazement, without missing a beat, the student immediately proceeded to bite the dog back in retaliation! It was one of the funnies things that I’ve ever seen. I will never forget that kid!
33. A Complete 180
The student that I’ll never forget is the one who threatened to end my life, in explicit detail. Believe it or not, once we got the appropriate help and resources for him, he became the sweetest kid in the whole world and thanked me every day for not giving up on him. I have never had any other kind of experience that felt quite like that one.
34. Thicker Than Water
This five-year-old son of one of my colleagues was being difficult at school one day, as he often was, so he wasn’t allowed out to play during recess. The teacher put him into a timeout. After a few minutes, the teacher came back into the classroom to find that he had smeared his poop all over the water cooler. I think we can assume that this teacher never forgot that kid!
35. Taking A Chill Pill
I taught sixth grade English and had this student who was way too smart and funny for his age. He lived right by the school and he’d stay after school some days and just chill out while I was grading papers. I liked him a lot. I kept things pretty light in the classroom. I tried to make the kids laugh whenever I could. One day, I started on this joke rant about the word “chillax.”
I was like: “Can I just say something about the word ‘chillax,’ guys? It’s a ridiculous word. I like slang. I’m all for language changing over time. But chillax doesn’t solve a problem! It’s the word ‘chill,’ which means relax, combined with ‘relax,’ which means relax, to make ‘chillax,’ which also means relax! It’s completely and utterly pointless!”
This kid stands up and interrupts me with the perfect response: “Whoa whoa whoa, just chillax, Mr. X!” I laughed pretty hard. It might not be that funny to you, but his timing and tone were just perfect. Especially for a kid his age. I hope he’s doing well.
36. Them’s Fighting Words
This one kid I taught would occasionally run around the classroom screaming: “I’m an attack helicopter!”, before throwing paper airplanes around the room and screaming “Attack so and so’s army!” He was probably about ten or eleven years old at the time. I hope he’s doing well these days. I’ve never forgotten him.
37. A Tough Situation
My second year teaching, I had a student who came in late on the first day of school. His parents had registered him that morning. He came in shy and embarrassed, but no problem. We stopped what we were doing. I grabbed a desk and a name tag and asked him what his name was. He didn’t know his last name. This should’ve been a red flag, but I chalked it up to the fact that he was a second-grader thrown into a scary situation. I let it be.
The more I worked with him, the more I knew something was going on. He was a native English speaker, and English was his only language, yet there were a lot of words he didn’t know. He’d ask to take off his ‘feet’ instead of his shoes, he’d speak like Yoda, he never really learned how to spell or even recognize his name, he had motor skills problems, and he just generally had a lot of gaps in his knowledge.
He also couldn’t count, not forwards or backward. I recommended him for testing but, due to policy, I needed to try a few rounds of different interventions first. There was another student in the class who he called his cousin. This other student said, “Oh we’re not actually cousins, our dads are just friends and my grandma helps out his family with food and a house and things.”
Fair enough. I got an alert one day that his paperwork was finally filled out so I looked into his file, and I couldn’t believe what I found. The students weren’t cousins. They were half brothers, but they didn’t know. The guy this kid was calling uncle was actually his father. Everyone knew, and they thought it would be best to just lie to him about his real father.
They also faked bank statements and bills to give a fake address so they could enroll in the school, despite the school having open enrollment where you can attend the school without living in the school district. I realized this kid was not dealt an easy hand. Then, to make matters worse, his mom had a meltdown and went to an inpatient facility.
I was working my butt off with this kid academically, but my goal now was to be sure he felt happy and loved. His family continued to be weird. We knew they were low income, and the school reached out to them at holiday time to see if they’d like to anonymously benefit from the holiday toy drive. They ignored every call and email, and eventually the counselor just dropped off the gifts.
They sat unopened in the garage for months. At the end of the year, we got him tested. His IQ was 69. 70 is the baseline for “legal mental retardation.” Around this time, his mom found out she was pregnant again. Baby number four, at the age of 27. She went back to the inpatient facility. I ended up moving away after that year.
I always think about this kid, hoping that he’s getting the help he needs to succeed and live his best life. I was a young teacher then and I don’t think I’ll ever forget about him.
38. Digging Deeper
I taught undergraduate classes while I was in grad school. There are a few people who stand out in my memory, but one guy in particular takes the cake. He was real smart, but also a good-natured dude and laid back. I relied more on papers than tests as a way to formulate grades, so students wrote a lot of papers. And this guy wrote the best stuff.
He’d take something complex that we’d go through and tie in pop culture and even jokes, but in such a clever way that it showed he really understood the subject matter. It was FUN to read his papers! He took two of my classes. A couple years later, after I had moved on and was working elsewhere, he asked me for a recommendation for a position.
He ended up going into archeology, professional digs, graduate school, the works. I don’t think that my teaching directly impacted his success. He was a smart guy, so he was going to do well no matter what. But it sure was cool to see this real smart dude at his start and then watch him become a scholar and professional in his own right.
I still think about that guy. Hope he is well. I’ve dropped enough hints in this post that if you’re out there my dude, you know who you are and I hope everything is going amazing. As I’m sure it is.
39. Never Forget
I won’t forget the seventeen-year-old student who walked in during my prep period and saw me crying because I had a bad day. He just sat there, didn’t say anything, and let me cry. He told me things would be okay and that we all have our bad days. I’ll never forget the student who broke down in tears during a break in school because his mom was being placed behind bars and he had nowhere to go.
He was almost 18 and wound up couch surfing, showering at gyms, and walking to work and school. He now owns his own car, has his own apartment, and is doing very well. I’ll never forget the students who came to me and told me they were pregnant before telling anyone else. All of these happened over the course of a couple years.
They were scared and didn’t know what to do or how to tell their parents. They’re all great moms now who are working and going to college. I’ll never forget the student who told me about his experience crossing the border with a ‘coyote’ as a child. Or the student who told me he didn’t want to grow up to be like his family who were heavily involved in gangs.
He told me how he didn’t want that life, but that life wanted him. Unfortunately, he did follow down their path in the end. And then there’s all of the students who call me mom because I am more of a parent to them than their own biological parents. There’s just so many of them that I won’t ever forget. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
40. The Power Of Hugs
I was still in high school myself when I joined a program to be a teacher’s assistant at a nearby kindergarten. The kids were all so lovely and loving, and I enjoyed getting to know each of them as individuals. One day, midway through the year, we got a new little girl in the class. Serena was a quiet kid, but bright and attentive.
She always ran up to hug me around the waist when I came into the classroom. At some point, the classroom teacher mentioned to me that the reason she was new to class was that she and her mom were living in the women’s shelter in town. But that was all the information I had. A little over a month later, I came in one day and Serena didn’t hug me.
She was withdrawn, by herself in a corner, and the teacher advised me that it was a “bad day,” so we weren’t pressuring Serena to do any school work. At one point, I did go to check on her, and Serena started crying and clinging to me, telling me that she wanted to go home to her mommy. I gave her a hug and let her cry, but I felt totally helpless.
I didn’t really know what was going on, and I was only 17 years old myself. There wasn’t anything I could do, and it broke my heart. The next time I came in to teach, Serena was gone. And I never saw her again. She’d be about 21 or 22 years old now.
41. Turning The Tables
I once had a student receive an in school suspension for cheating on a test. He proceeded to sneak his cell phone into the bathroom, call our Human Resources department, and file a formal complaint against me to the administration for allegedly treating him unfairly. My administration and I got a pretty good laugh out of that one…
42. Predictive Powers
My mother has three or four favorite students from back when she taught nursery school. All four of them went on to be published authors or do other great work, including a boy who got into Duke, put that on hold, served two tours in Iraq as a marine, and is currently in graduate school. We’re all wondering when he’ll run for office.
What always struck me is that my mother could identify these unique kids at age four, and she was always right. She also diagnosed autism, ADHD, learning disabilities, who was gay, etc. Always right, as far as we know.
43. Left In The Dark
A ten-year-old student of mine from right before COVID is the one that I know I will always remember. His mother had terminal cancer and I sometimes wonder how he is doing. I also wonder whether his mother has passed. I have no way of knowing right now. I hope they’re both okay. He was a real handful, but he was a nice kid and didn’t deserve that.
44. Stairing The Problem Down
The student that I’ll never forget is the one that pushed me down a flight of stairs, then was back in my class the next day and stabbed me a month later. It was not fun. It was only my third or fourth day as a teacher. I was still shadowing my teaching mentor, and this girl who was known to be a ‘handful’ stormed out of the classroom, so I followed. It was the biggest mistake of my life.
The young girl took umbrage with this and, as I got to the top of a small flight of stairs, she turned and shoved me down. I filed an incident report. But she faced no punishment. Around a month later, I was on lunch duty and got the kids ready to go back to class. The same girl refused and then decided to bull rush me. I leaped out of the way, and she picked up a knife.
She literally chased me across the campus with said knife. Unfortunately, I ran into one of the doors that only opened from the outside, and she caught up and shoved it into my arm. She was back in my classroom within the week. No consequences from the school. They said, “Well you should have expected this considering her history.”
I continued working at that school for a year after that happened.
45. To B Or Not To B
I was teaching in a low socioeconomic area, at a school that was notorious for rough students and misbehavior. In that school, I taught the students that nobody else wanted to teach due to their behavior. I had special ed students who needed extra support but didn’t receive any. Students who were involved in gangs along with the rest of their families.
Several had just come out of juvenile detention when they landed in my class. Then there was “B.” Among his group of friends, he was the boss and liked taking charge. He would try to impress his friends by disrupting the class, showing that he was in charge instead of the teachers. B would throw pencils and papers around, chase people in the classroom, and make huge messes that he refused to clean up.
Obviously, this annoyed and angered several teachers. I can’t remember a single teacher who spoke about him without using expletives. I would constantly pull him aside to talk to him and try to figure out why he was acting out. During our talks, I reminded him that just because he was the biggest fish in the classroom didn’t mean there were no bigger fish out there.
If he kept up his behavior, one day he would irk the wrong person and bite more than he could chew. I wished that wouldn’t happen, but he shouldn’t try his luck. Of course, B didn’t believe me. B said he would simply beat them up since no one could beat him. B stopped coming to class one day. Even though I asked, no one told me what happened to him—but I found out soon enough.
It was typical for my students to get in trouble and wind up in juvenile detention for a few months. I figured that was what happened. But several months later, I see B walking to my class with a limp. Before I say anything, he tells me, “Remember when you warned me about the bigger fish? I ran into one and wound up losing.” B had provoked some stranger at a store.
Turns out that stranger was a high-ranking member of a Mexican cartel. So said stranger sent some of his underlings to kidnap B. B was one of the lucky few to survive, since most cartels don’t let you out alive after such an incident. Obviously, this had a great impact on him. But what made it worse was that his parents didn’t even care.
They didn’t look for him when he was kidnapped, nor did they tell the authorities. B was the one who reported what happened to him after he was let go. They started an investigation and contacted CPS. But knowing how things work out in my hometown, that would likely lead nowhere. B was rather quiet and calm for a few weeks, but he soon started slipping back into his old habits.
So I decided to just spend the first few minutes of class sitting next to him and listening to him. B told me about how he wished for someone to show him some boundaries since he wanted to know someone cared about him. But the adults he knew either didn’t care or enforced unfair rules. Several times, he told me about how much he loves cars.
So I asked him: “Why don’t you ask at a local mechanic shop if you can help out, so you can learn?” He seemed utterly perplexed but curious at the same time. It had never occurred to him, but he liked the idea. The following week, he told me a local auto shop took him in as an apprentice. He was overjoyed at having the apprenticeship.
The next several weeks, he eagerly showed me pictures of what he worked on. B’s demeanor would brighten up whenever he talked about it. That’s when his behavior changed. First thing I noticed was how he helped clean up a mess someone else made. That was something he never did before. He stopped running around and would use his ‘bossiness’ to call out others for their misbehavior.
He started respecting others. Now, the counselors and admin wanted B to go to college, but B didn’t want to. B didn’t want to leave a job he loved so much. They would have arguments and send B to suspension after provoking him. It hurt me to see admin so adamant about destroying B’s opportunities simply to push college on everyone.
Considering that B had planned on dropping out of school without any kind of job, his current situation was a major improvement. Fortunately, he didn’t pay attention to them and focused on his apprenticeship. Now, several years later, he didn’t go to college despite graduating high school. According to the school administration, that makes him a disappointment.
But B is now the lead mechanic at the auto shop. The owner considers him one of the best employees he has, and is even considering having B take over at some point when he retires soon. But best of all, B is still alive. He didn’t fall down the dark path he was heading towards. All because I chose to listen to him. Those were my toughest years in teaching, but knowing that I had such an impact on students like him made it all worth it.
It convinced me to stay as a teacher and love what I do.
46. Udder Amazement
I once had a student innocently: “If cows have udders, then why don’t they have hands?” Matthew, I will never forget that comment for the rest of my life. The combination of the sheer silliness of the thought and the seriousness with which he expressed it was just amazing. It’s the little moments like this that make me love being a teacher and working with students.
47. She Sounds Amazing
The student that I’ll never forget is Becca. She was totally brilliant in terms of brains, personality, talent, and humor. She got her Girl Scout Gold award, which is like Eagle Scout for girls, and volunteered at a local school. She wanted to be a pediatrician for children with special needs. Tragically, she lost her life in a car accident just six weeks after graduation.
48. Some Moments Are Always With You
The student that I’ll always remember was the first student of mine to pass. He took his own life over the summer after tenth grade. I spent the next three years trying to help his friends cope in healthy ways. I was extremely proud to see that group of friends pull through and graduate. I cried like a baby when they left his seat open during the graduation ceremony.
On a happier note, I will also never forget my first JV volleyball team. Most of the girls had never played volleyball, so I spent a majority of the season teaching the game to them. After losing most of the season, the bus ride back after that first win will forever be in my heart. I will also forever remember the first kids I coached in track.
Teaching is both heartbreaking and extremely uplifting. I am so grateful for all that students have taught me throughout the years.
49. Wendy, What Went Wrong?
Let’s call her Wendy. I taught school in Detroit Public Schools, special ed. I had a small class, self-contained for students with visual impairments. Wendy came to us in overly small shoes, a worn-out coat, and a huge hat covering her face. In its infinite wisdom, the district put us in a magnet school that had never had special ed before.
The first day, the principal said to me, and I quote, “You know we don’t want you here.” The principal was hardcore on dress code. She took one look at Wendy, and tried to send her home. I fought back and the principal, deciding she had bigger fish to fry, backed down. But that bonded Wendy to me instantly. And that feeling never changed.
She was a shy, quiet sixth-grader who was behind in math, reading, and everything. She also had low vision that even magnifiers and glasses couldn’t help. Since the class was so small, everyone got super intense teaching. Thanks to this, Wendy started to blossom. Even though most of the other teachers refused to let our kids come to their classes, I did manage to get them into art and music.
We discovered that Wendy was some sort of musical natural. She could play piano by ear, sing on note, and even played the flute! She made friends and started pulling up on her academics. Then, in February, it all ended. The secretary called me to the office to say that CPS wanted to talk to me. The lady said that there was an investigation into Wendy’s homelife.
Apparently, her mom had taken off and was on the run. Wendy disappeared. At some point, her mom landed back at the house and our truant officer found out and went over there. The mom said, “I’m homeschooling my children,” and slammed the door in his face. And that was that. Wendy was gone. But then, eighteen months later, we had another surprise.
I’m in another school with some of the same amazing kids, when one of them says to me out of the blue, “Hey, Ms. Teacher! Wendy’s with her dad now. She’s coming back to school tomorrow.” I was stunned. I peppered this poor kid with at least a hundred questions, until he just started laughing and said, “Wait until tomorrow!” or something like that.
Sure enough, Wendy rolls in with her father the very next day. Wendy and her five siblings had been locked in a house for the past year and a half with no medical care or proper nutrition. Nothing. Someone got word to a cousin, who got word to the dad, who found them and alerted the authorities. CPS busted in to save them all. Wendy was back.
To tell you how incredible this kid was, she jumped right back into school. We put her in seventh grade instead of eighth to get her caught up. Within a month, she had friends all over the school, every teacher loved her, and she wanted to learn Braille even though she didn’t need it. She worked her butt off and succeeded in this endeavor.
I had her for her two years in a row, and what years they were! Those were the most amazing years of my teaching life. We made so much progress. On her last day of eighth grade, Wendy clung to me and cried and said she couldn’t make it in high school. I told her that of course she would. And she did. She came back during her ninth grade year and gave me a letter that I still have.
She didn’t talk much about those eighteen months, but she thanked me for helping to make her into her own person. Three years later, I got a notice from her that she was graduating high school. I will never forget any of those kids, especially Wendy. Whenever I think about giving up or that I can’t do something, I think of her. I will never forget you, my dear, sweet, love.
50. Coming To His Aid
I taught math to middle schoolers. I once had a student who did very well. He was always pleasant, and liked to help others. I began to think about him more when I noticed a pattern in the clothes he wore. The clothes were nice, basic, and clean, so I really just shrugged it off. It had just turned into the holiday season that year, about a week or so before Thanksgiving.
One evening, I had to run back to the school to pick up my car, as I had gone out with some fellow instructors. As I was preparing to leave, I noticed activity near the dumpsters. I headed over and saw this student digging through them and pulling out food scraps from the cafeteria’s leftovers. My heart sank about a thousand feet in an instant.
I didn’t know what to do. If I were to go up to him, he’d know I knew and I just didn’t know how he would react. I talked with a colleague of mine who knew a social worker. The family had suffered the loss of his dad about two years ago, and now his mom was battling cancer. To say they were hanging on by a thread would be an understatement. But the kid hid this from everyone as far as we knew.
Finally, we knew we had to do something. So we all waited one evening and, sure enough, he returned. He was scared, ashamed, crying, and angry. Every emotion you can think of. I do not blame him. We took him to his home and his mom was emotional too. We ordered hot food and a colleague went out and got it for them. We all spent many hours that evening talking and reassuring them that we were there to help.
Working with local resources, we got them the help they needed. We arranged for food, medical assistance, and even local volunteers to come and help with some chores around their house. The mom got better, thankfully, and the bright young man continued to do well in school. He eventually got a scholarship for college when he graduated a few years later.
This was twenty years ago. Today, that bright young man works as a mechanical engineer and is still as generous and considerate as ever. His mother, sadly, passed around ten years ago. All three of his “former teachers” from that night went to the funeral. I am very proud of him and the man he has become. We still keep in touch, and visit often.