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20 Teachers Talk About Students They’ll never forget?

#1

I taught math to 5th-8th graders. Had a student who did very well, always pleasant, helped others, etc. 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, and one evening I had to run back to the school to pick up my car as I had went out with some fellow instructors. As I was preparing to leave I noticed activity near the dumpsters and saw him digging through them pulling out food scraps from the cafeteria. My heart sank about 1000 feet. 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, 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 and got it, and we all spent many hours that evening talking and reassuring them we were there to help.

Working with local resources, we got them the help they needed. Food, medical assistance, even local volunteers to come help with some chores around their house.

The mom got better thankfully, and the bright young man continued to do well in school and got a scholarship for college when he graduated a few years later.

This was 20 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 on around 10 years ago. All 3 of his "former teachers" from that night went to the funeral.

I am very proud of him. We still keep in touch, and visit often.

#2

I had a kid, 16, total addict. Alcoholic, meth, pills, heroin. Really rough childhood. Started smoking crack with his dad at 13, stepdad committed suicide in front of him at 14, unimaginable shit in between.

He’d come to school high or drunk 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 pull him out of class. I told him that I loved him and I was worried and if he kept this up he would more than likely be dead by 30. He freaked out and ran to the principals office and complained that I had just told him that I loved him and cared about him. Principal said “Well, maybe he loves you and cares about you.”

We kicked him out of school after we had to.

He got sober. He came back to track me down. He grabbed me and started sobbing. He said when I said I loved him it was the first time and adult had 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.

#3

I’m a HS science teacher in an affluent suburb. We get this transfer kid in who is about 6’8”, 350, long thin Hulk Hogan mullet (not bald tho) and big glasses. Mike hailed from the hollars of Kentucky, thick southern accent, and was the most quotable kid I ever met.

“I hate books Mr. xxxxx they PISS me off.”

“My grandma made me sleep on the porch because she cooked some veggies and I told her dang it woman where’s the meat?!”

“I ain’t never seen a pencil like this. Can I keep this and show my dad?” (Talking about a regular mechanical pencil)

“They threw me out of Golden Corrall because I ate 8 of them steaks they had. I was pissed, next time I’m trying for nine.”

And we were supposed to have a fire drill at like 1:55 or some odd time, at 1:57 he went ahead and pulled it honest to god thinking he would help out whoever forgot.

#4

I’ve had many students that are still taking a large place in my heart. Some are sad, like the girl whose mother started beating her during a parent conference. I started crying and begged the mother to stop.

The student who had no water or electricity at home but we allowed him to shower at school and we washed his clothes.

The student who watched his grandparents get murdered by his mother and wrote about it in an essay for my class.

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 in the water up to his neck and grinned. Lovely.

The girl with terrible anxiety that I sat with for hours after school to work on school work, not because she wasn’t smart, but because she was so anxious about not being perfect.

The girl who was mauled by a dog, which messed up her face, but she always smiled.

The girl whose father brought her to school every day late who finally broke down and told me her father was raping her every day when the mother left to go to work.

The Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees who flooded my school after the war. One wrote an essay about running towards a boat and seeing his grandfather get shot but he had to keep running.

The Brazilian boy who got up in class and got me to start dancing with him while we all laughed joyfully.

The group of students I took outside during their first snowstorm. The wonder on their faces was priceless.

The student who found me on Facebook after 20 years to tell me I made a difference in her life. She came to my state and took me to dinner and told me 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.

Edit: my goodness. I am moved to tears by the comments, especially the thanks. Thank you for reminding me how much value my life has held.

#5

I taught GED classes in a local prison to the mens SAP program. These weren't violent offenders, they were just addicts that got caught up.

Totally the most rewarding position I have EVER had in education. Seeing those men get their GED was incredible. One old man, he was a carny that traveled the US his entire adult life, never made it past 8th grade, got his GED right before the virus shut everything down.

He came and found me in my classroom and hugged me like a brother and thanked me. I still remember his full name, he made that much of an impression on me. He was due to get released a few weeks later, I really hope he's doing well....

#6

I had a 7th grader that was the biggest, happiest doofus. He actually was pretty intelligent, but he was such an open book (and didn't put much effort into school) 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; he just was.

But 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 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.

#7

I had a junior (~16 years old) in my high school science course last year peel the 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 and 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 dumbass.

Edited to "shocked" because he didn't actually die. Thanks for the heads up.

#8

I was a watersports instructor teaching people kayaking and canoeing a couple years back.

There was a group of refugees, all minors between 11-17 that came to us through a charity that was supporting them gaining asylum in my country (UK).

All of them had crossed the channel on a raft or dinghy literally 2 days before, and for some goddamn reason the charity had decided it was a good time to take them canoeing! Can't make this shit up.

There was this one kid from South Sudan, 15 years old and an absolute behemoth. We're talking 6 foot plus and pushing 14-15 stone in weight. Covered in scars, some of them ritualistic scarification, missing teeth and generally just looking like he'd been through hell many 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.

Him and the other kids loved it! We had some tears at the beginning, I imagine there was a lot of PTSD involved judging by the state of some of these poor kids.

At the end of the session, this giant monster of a child walked up to me with a huge jagged grin, said in broken english "thank you leader" and gave me a bear hug I'll never forget.

To this day, 4 years later, I still remember that grin.

#9

A wonderful young man who was killed in a car accident back in early June 2020. He was in his Grade 11 year.

Took him under my wing in Grade 9. Worked on his impulsive behaviour, colourful language, anger management and questionable life choices. By Grade 10, he was a mentor to incoming Grade 9s that had similar issues as himself. In Grade 11, he was a leader here in the school, volunteering, joined the Arts community and 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" and he had recently told me that he wished that I was his dad.

He wasn't wearing a seatbelt coming home from one of those jobs. He was killed instantly after being ejected from a car he was a passenger in. My commute to and from work everyday passes by the exact spot he was killed.

Miss you, Edward.

#10

I’m a professor and I had a student who was a big dude, much older than the typical college student like maybe 40, ex-military, 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 when 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.

#11

Joseph. I taught (read: tried to teach) Joseph science for two years so 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 lead a class discussion and we talked about our sun and how small our solar system is and all of that 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, and he starts to lose. His. Fucking. Mind. (It’s not much going on up there though, so I am not too worried about long term effects).

He suddenly has SO many questions. “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 is fucking grabbing his hair and squirming in his seat totally scared.

So I go “no, Joseph this isn’t going to happen for a looooong time, we won’t be here by then”which does not help the situation.

All that poor kid was doing was minding his business, and doing the least academically up until now. I threw his entire existence in his face (accidentally, I’m not a monster) and he had to take a minute outside in the hall to figure shit out after that.

Joseph did not pass the 8th grade that year:/

#12

Dance instructor. Student had one hemisphere of her brain removed as an infant and 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 she finally managed one spin around. The other instructor cried, I cried, she cried. It was fucking incredible.

#13

I taught sculpture and maskmaking at an arts summer camp 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 paint and decorate. All the students nailed it. Except one, a boy around 9, didn't get it. I sat with him and went over it, many times. He didn't understand the concept of 3 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 Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. I had no idea. 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.

#14

I will never forget Michael. He came from a different country at the age of 2. 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, I learned his native language so I could better communicate with him. He opened a new level of love and joy into my life

#15

I’m a speech therapist so I work with the 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 calm him down. When covid 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 ok this year but it breaks my heart that I can’t be the one to be there for him anymore, and I just hope he understands why I’m not there.

#16

his huge 8th grader named Earl who wanted everyone to think he was a badass and he did get into quite a bit of trouble, but in reality he loved math. He took a test in class one day and begged me after 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 news and you could tell it was the first positive phone call she'd ever gotten about her son.

This tiny girl named Chelsea who asked so many questions in class that you could hear the collective sigh every time she raised her hand, but she never let it deter her. She was murdered when she was in her early 20s and it killed me to read that in the paper.

This lanky boy named Isaac who was always in trouble and could never stop taking. I ran into him a few years later and he was taking AP Calc. I said, "what do you have to say to me?" (Kidding, of course.) And he says "thank you" and melted my heart.

And so many more...

#17

The one who threatened to kill me, in explicit detail... who, once we got the appropriate help and resources for him, was the sweetest kid in the world and thanked me every day for not giving up on him.

The one whose life I saved, when I called home because they suddenly got very unwell, and it turned out he needed emergency surgery.

The one who has a physical disability, and oh-so-proudly told me one day, “Miss OxenFree! Look! I can jump now! Dancing helped me jump!” because our daily dance breaks helped her develop her gross motor skills to the point that she could figure out how to jump.

#18

I taught 6th grade English. 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. Tried to make the kids laugh when I could. One day, I start in on this joke rant about the word "chillax."

"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 pointless!"

And this kid stands up and interrupts me with, "Whoa whoa whoa, just chillax, Mr. X!"

I laughed pretty hard. It might not be that funny to you. But his timing, his tone...it was perfect. Especially for a kid his age. Hope he's doing well.

#19

I taught undergraduate classes while I was in grad school. There are a few people who stand out but one guy in particular. He was real smart but a good natured dude, 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 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, 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 an scholar and professional in his own right.

I still think about that guy. Hoping 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.

#20

Goose.

His nickname was Gus (pronounced Goose), and he was first in my English 1 class. Gus was receiving Special Education services, and he had generally not experienced success in English class or school.

But he was so coachable. The next year he wanted to have my English 2 class, but I only had pre-AP options. Gus requested to be placed into pre-AP, which doesn't usually have students receiving Special Education services. Then, Gus met two young ladies who took him under their wing.

By the end of the year, Gus EXITED the Special Education program.

That's the one and only time in my teaching career (13 years in Texas so far) I have ever seen a student exit SpEd.

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Written by Samantha Clarkson

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