It's not often that teachers are let in on what happens at home for their students, but sometimes it's vital that they find out what's going on after the bell rings. They can only hope that they have stress-free home environments with loving parents and clean surroundings, but that isn't always the case.
Best Grades In The Class
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.
Last year we had a girl start randomly pepper-spraying people in the library. It turns out she had snapped after she found out her ex-boyfriend had been hooking up with her mother during and after the relationship—a whole legal bullet was dodged there because he was 18 when it all started. At first, it was just a Twitter beef when she found out.
Then, it escalated to the point where she went to confront him over this, armed with pepper spray, and one way or another had a nervous breakdown, snapped, and then went to pepper spray everyone in the library. I heard that she had been told he was there. She ended up leaving the school after the incident and the guy got suspended, but it was a mess for the school’s PR.
I honestly felt bad for her because I’d had a class with her and she was always really nice and it seemed like a super awful situation had just brought the absolute worst in her.
The Shocking Truth
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.
From my wife’s pre-K class: “That’s daddy’s new girlfriend. Mommy says she’s a slug.”
Just Say No
One time in fourth grade, a couple of police officers come into the classroom to teach the kids about drugs as part of the D.A.R.E. program. For some reason, they brought in a bunch of drug paraphernalia to show kids what kind of things to avoid. An officer held up a piece and goes, “This here is a crack pipe.” Then one of the kids shouted out, “Hey, my dad has one of those!” Thinking he was making a mistake, one of the students said, “Ryan, do you want your dad to get in trouble!?” Ryan replied: “…kinda.”
The Greatest Gift Of All
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.
Kids Say The Darndest Things
My friend was teaching an improv class to first graders at camp and asked them to name some “everyday activities.” First two examples: “Getting divorced!” and “Resuscitating someone after drowning!”
Show And Tell
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.
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.
Master of Disguise
I had a child tell me that his mom and dad both like to play dress up at home. The description of their “costumes” made it quite clear that this was private time dress up. Made for a few interesting interactions with the parents throughout the year.
Sharing Is Caring
Our second-grade teacher had her class say something about their family. One of the little boys described the details of his parents swinging lifestyle with another family in the town who had a few kids of their own. He was blissfully ignorant of exactly what he was describing. Apparently out of the 5 kids total between the families (3 / 2 split) no one is really sure who is whose father. So they all are the other family’s “half-brothers and sisters.” After revealing all of this to the class, his “half-sister” who is in the same class says, “You weren’t supposed to tell anyone!”
Marching to His Own Beat
I found out one of our marching band students was habitually late to after-school practice of home games for a disturbing reason: His younger sister was constantly running away. He never told any of us and played it off like he was a big jerk. He took a lot of yelling from the marching instructor and various teachers for skipping class or being tardy.
It wasn’t until the principal called the parents about his “behavior” that we found out he was helping to look for his sister or prevent her from attempting to harm herself again. He wanted to be treated like every other student and not receive special treatment from us, so we kept up the charade of yelling at him for lateness, etc.
I was a student teacher during this time and would sit with him and just chat, which is where I found this out the first time. He cared about his sister dearly and would start to tear up talking about her. He wanted her “well.” The family had been working with the local police and working with family counseling to try and get the daughter well and safe.
This was taking a toll on the brother, who cared deeply about his sister, and he kind of got “forgotten” as all the attention was on ensuring she was safe and alive. The teachers in the school were very worried about him and did what they could to let him know he was welcome and safe and cared for at school, but they were still limited.
Most of these kids drove better cars than the teachers. I had a six-year-old Dodge Neon, and BMW and Audis lined the student parking lots. Most of the kids came from neighborhoods where the houses started at $600k. It was very middle-middle to upper-middle class kids and families. Basically, it was considered “scandalous” in this type of neighborhood for this thing to be happening, and this was mostly why it was kept “hush hush.”
I had a student a few years back (9th grader) who lived with a classmate for a while. His mom threw him out of the house to live on the street. He didn’t know all his teachers came together to get him new clothes, bedding, school supplies, etc. when his friend’s family took him in. The thing is, that wasn’t even the most heartbreaking part.
Poor kid was so scared after being on the street that first night that he slept in school because he felt safer. It was so upsetting, I cried in Target and got him new PJs, slippers, and a fuzzy blanket for his new room, amongst other things, so he could feel cozy and safe. We sent him on every school trip, funded every dance ticket, got him a present for the holidays and said it was an award for something.
He’s doing OK now and I think the family that took him in even legally got custody. We also funded several tickets that kids “won”’ to prom for kids who couldn’t afford to go. A group text would go out, a whole bunch of people would chip in, and we would get these kids to prom. My school is full of amazing staff who do this stuff a lot. I have some amazing co-workers and I’m so proud to call them my colleagues.
Battle of the Bulge
I tutor high school students in AP classes, and one of my students is definitely pregnant. Meanwhile, her mom is either completely oblivious or trying to keep it totally quiet. Like, this happened when her mom dropped her off one day: Knowing I’m in the process of losing a pretty significant amount of weight, she asked me a chilling question.
She asked me to talk to her daughter about cutting down on carbs so the girl can get rid of her “paunchy belly.” First of all, no, that’s not even remotely my job as your kid’s private tutor. Second, she’s very obviously pregnant and at this point, you’d have to be blind not to notice. I mean she’s at least 8 months along and isn’t doing all that much to hide it.
Then, my student had a “mystery illness” for a few weeks and she wasn’t coming to tutoring sessions or going to school. She came back about a week ago and had miraculously gotten better and also seemed to have lost about 25-30 pounds. Her mom also miraculously had a baby, despite not being pregnant at all before.
So for everyone who was concerned, the end result was that she had the baby and her parents took over caring for it. I don’t know if everyone will agree with me, but knowing the girl and her family, this is the most positive outcome that could have happened.
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.
While discussing how to take care of Legos, a first-grade student chimes in: “And if you steal even one Lego from Ms. So-and-so’s room you’ll go to juvie, and they’ll put pepper spray in your eye, and it will hurt for a week.”
In year 10, my students get to go to camp for a week, but it costs $300 per kid. I had one student who seemed really, really excited to go until the permission slips got handed out. The next day, she returned it to me unsigned and said that she didn’t want to go anymore. I did some digging and some math and found out that her family couldn’t afford it.
She doesn’t know, but my school has fundraised enough money to send about 7 kids to camp if money is an issue, but I could tell she/her family didn’t want a handout. I’m her English teacher, so I organised a “writing competition” with a “mystery prize” and she won. I pulled her out of class and told her the good news. Her reaction was incredible.
I said “Hey, your poem was absolutely beautiful [it was] and won the competition. I know you didn’t want to go to camp, but the prize is the best bunk at camp, no charge! And I know we’d all love to have you there.” She cried, and the next day she had a signed slip. I think it’s going to be a great time for her.
I used to be a teaching assistant in a third-grade classroom. One day, I was asked to “grade” their poetry assignments (they all got A’s) and pull the best ones to be put on display at open house. There was one poem a student had written about their dog that had been hit and killed by a car the previous week that left me in tears.
The student had been having some problems focusing in class, and the poem explained a lot. I never would have guessed that an 8-year-old was capable of writing such a moving and articulate poem, or that their behavior problems stemmed from something so painful. It made me a lot more patient and understanding when interacting with kids, and the poem has a very special place in my heart.
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.
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.
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.
Doing Her Best
I’m a high school and junior high teacher in a rural town. About a year-and-a-half ago, a sixth-grade girl stays out of school for a couple days. She shows back up with long sleeves (and what I assume were bandages), and she says she was burned by “liquid fire.” The newspaper ran a story the next day, and it told me everything I needed to know.
It said a man was arrested for throwing acid on his family when he went into a rage at the mom. Looked up the dad, and sure enough it’s this kid’s dad. He threw acid all over his family. Again, this giant bag of smegma threw ACID on his children in a temper tantrum. She didn’t know, but a few other teachers connected the dots.
The girl was already a pretty screwed up kid. She was a raging lunatic just waiting to explode over anything. She ended up getting expelled for attacking the principal, but honestly all that she had gone through changed my opinion of how bad she could have turned out, considering.
When I was teaching, I found out one of my students had almost been involved in a “thrill” kill that landed one of his friends a life sentence.
That the reason she stopped showing up to school for weeks was because her mom wasn’t around and she had to take care of her younger siblings. But that wasn’t even the worst part. Poor girl was the absolute best student, too. Straight A’s, great personality, and her mom was just useless. Our administration went to check on her and found out the whole thing.
They brought food, clothes, and did everything else they could for her. She showed up a couple more times, but I think she ended up having to do online classes to graduate…I hope she’s doing well now.
I said, “Trust me, I’m a doctor” to a kid, then all eyes turned to me. They asked, “Are you really a doctor?” I replied, “No it’s just a saying.” Then one boy, without looking up from his work, says, “My daddy pretended to be a doctor…he got in trouble.”
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.
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.
Chasing Boys in All the Wrong Ways
I was a substitute teacher for a few months for 5th graders. I was around almost like an assistant teacher, aiding the other 5th grade teachers with anything they needed. Some of the girls would always complain about boys and stuff, but I never thought anything of it. Then one day, I learned the awful truth about them.
I saw them talking up and glorifying cutting their wrists in order to get boys’ attention by texting them pictures. I told a teacher and they ended up talking to their parents with the principal of the school.
Starving for Attention
My wife is a teacher in a school servicing a primarily low-income demographic. 97% of students were free/reduced meal eligible before the district got a grant making breakfast and lunch free for all. She knows which parents are the worst. She knows which “cousins” are actually half-siblings. She knows who’s homeless and living in a car, or precariously close to homeless.
She knows which kids go home at 3 PM on Friday to not have anything to eat until school breakfast at 8 AM on Monday.
The Weight of the World Off Her Hips
“Mommy had to miss my camp recital because she was getting surgery to make her more skinny.”
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.
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.
Silence Is Golden
Not a teacher, but my mother was one. My mother had this one 4th-grade student who would. not. talk. She later found out she was mute because of her home life. She didn’t feel safe talking at home, so she didn’t talk at school.
Younger Than He Looks
I used to tutor fellow students. All but one of my 12 students have been over 18, and I’m 20 years old. One of my students left her phone in plain sight when she was going to the bathroom. Like magic, I just see two incriminating texts. They were from what I guess was a friend saying “Really? Isn’t he your tutor?” and the other one “If he’s your tutor then isn’t he like at least 30?”
She continued, “I mean, he’s kinda cute but idk about the age difference.”This was both a morale boost and a killer because apparently I was cute enough for whatever they were talking about and also apparently look 30+…so, yay? I never found out what it is they were talking about, but nothing weird ever happened other than she was a little more “friendly” than other students.
I was just at a quickly put together wedding last weekend. The niece was passing out bubbles. She’d say, “Instead of throwing things at the bride, we’re going to blow bubbles at her.” A friend commented that it wouldn’t be very nice to throw the bubbles at the bride, it might give her bruises. The niece replied, “The groom has already given her bruises.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Setting Him up for Success
I’m not a teacher, but I am in college administration. I had this one intern come in for a formal headshot photo without a tie. When I offered him mine to wear, he liked it so much that I told him to keep it. I later found out his tragic past. Turns out, his family’s storage unit had burned down in-between moves and he literally only had the clothes on his back.
I went home that day and gathered everything I could. I even went in my brothers’ closets for clothes they didn’t wear. Didn’t even tell them, and I don’t think they’ve noticed. Then I brought it in to him. He went on to get his headshot, graduate, and land a job.
Baring It All
I’m not a teacher, but it fits. Junior year of high school, we won regionals by beating our in-town rivals for football. Besides the post game/weekend debauchery, we decided to use the regional trophy as a prop to take “noods” (covering our junk) and send them to anyone and everyone at the other school. We also decided to do our school because why not.
The plan was to take 1 per day as long as we were still playing post-season. It started off as three of us doing it on the first day. By day two, there were about a dozen of us, and people caught on with a Snapchat at the same time from the football team. Behold, screenshots…lots and lots of screenshots. If you didn’t get a screenshot, you bet your butt someone else did.
In the end, all the photos were easily obtained. Coaches then put the trophy in the athletic office for display, and we thought nothing of it. Fast forward 4-5 weeks, we’re joking around with one of our math teachers, a younger woman. A joke came up about trophies and the photos, but I played it off—until one of the girls goes, “Yeah Ms. Smith what did you think of [his] trophy pictures?”
Turns out, she saw them the day the coaches put the trophy in the athletic office. I’ve never been more red in my life.
I’m the student, but a professor helped me escape domestic violence. I was living with a boyfriend who had a terrible temper. Screaming bloody murder, throwing things, smashing things. He only hit me directly a few times, but I would “accidentally” get hit by things he threw. I was hiding in my room almost 24/7, sneaking out at 2 am and hiding in my car, and having panic attacks.
I was a shell of person. That professor was the first person I told. I was so scared that no one would believe me or would say I was overreacting, or worse, my boyfriend would find out I said something. I was truly scared he might kill me if I got him in trouble. I was falling behind on a paper and I didn’t want this professor to think I wasn’t trying.
I barely said anything, just that my living situation was chaotic or something like that. His response was amazing. He asked me to explain and he listened to me without pushing too hard or telling me what to do. He asked me what I needed to feel safe. He also helped me get time to get away from that situation and get back on track with school.
Most importantly of all, he believed me. He didn’t minimize what was happening or blame me or freak out. He just listened. He told me that my wellbeing was more important than school, and that I deserved to feel safe, especially in my home. I told a friend and eventually my parents because of how he responded.
Sadly, after I opened up about it, I did find a lot of people victim-blame and even more just don’t want to know. I can’t imagine where I would be if he was one of them. If he didn’t bother to ask. I’m safe and I’m still in school because of him. I wish I had the courage to say that to him in person, but I started crying even writing this. In so many ways, he saved my life.
A student told me her friend was pregnant. Both of them were only 15 years old. I went and spoke with the guidance counselor, who knew the girl in question, and she said she would take care of it. The girl never missed a significant amount of school, so I assume it was a false alarm, there was a miscarriage, or there was an abortion.
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…
Don’t You Forget About Me
I’m not a teacher, but a sleep-away camp counselor. I feel like my two cents will fit here nicely. Last year, there was this 11-year-old who was crying on my shoulder for about 30 minutes because he was homesick. After holding him and calming him down to the point where he could talk to me, he finally confessed it all to me.
As he did, he expressed his fear and anxiety about going home and finding that his parents didn’t love him anymore. He was also worried that his sister wouldn’t love him anymore and intrinsically that his family wouldn’t care about him anymore. He said he was totally unsure of his life and didn’t feel secure.
I was able to convince him of the truth: That lots of people care about him (including myself, which I said to him), that he’s part of an amazing program (Boy Scouts of America), and that he had value to many people. But most of all, that his family would still love him just as much when he went home.
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.
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.
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.
Music to My Ears
I was the student in this case. It was about 5 or 6 years ago, but my music/performance teacher, who later became my senior advisor in my last two years of schooling, saw how upset I was one day—even though I was trying my best to hide it. Once he clocked it, he took me into another room and just listened as I told him everything.
While I bawled my eyes out, he helped me get through my depression and anxiety through music and introduced me to the technical side of live performances. I never really told him I was struggling, but I think he just knew. He was the kindest teacher I have ever had and he always believed in me. Thank you so much.
To Tattle or Not to Tattle
I’m not a teacher, but I did confide a secret to my own teacher. Before I tell this story, I’d like to say that everyone—literally everyone—said I did the right thing by coming forward with this information. Still, at the end of it all I didn’t really feel like I actually did the right thing at all, and I still don’t. In any case, here it all goes.
When I was in 11th grade, I had just come off of being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, and my best friend at the time was in my math class. For his part, he had epilepsy and severe seizures, so we both missed a lot of school. I had also heard a rumor that his father wasn’t very responsible and another reason he didn’t show up was because his dad couldn’t get him out of bed in the morning for the bus.
Anyway, one day this friend invited me to go bowling. When his dad picked me up, his car smelled of cigarettes and it had junk stacked high in it. After we went bowling, I went to his house and saw that there was junk everywhere, literally everywhere. The whole house also had an overwhelming odor of cat urine and cigarettes.
After my mom and I left, we both had never wanted to take showers so bad in our lives. My mom even contemplated calling CPS. Pretty soon afterward, I told my teacher all about what I saw and he got my friend moved in with his grandparents. For a bit, it really did seem like it might have been the right decision, but that didn’t last long.
The reason I feel like I didn’t do the right thing here is that 2 years later, I reached back out to him and we started hanging out again. This time, I met his grandparents. At the beginning, we were like family, and I even had a good friendship with my friend’s dad. Then later, the grandparents had a change of heart. They never let me see my friend again, or his dad for that matter. Then it got worse.
Turns out, the grandparents were really neglecting my friend. He almost died because his grandparents refused to take care of his epilepsy or take care of him in general. He’s okay now because the cops intervened, but when I found all this out, I had instant regret for telling on his dad. All this because I complained about a bad smell. I feel like I ruined my friend’s life, and it still haunts me to this day.
Share the Love
My mom had just lost her job. Meanwhile, I just got a new girlfriend, I didn’t have a job, and Valentine’s Day was right around the corner. My school nurse, who was very chill with all the students in a good way, pulled me aside and paid for a few things and gave me a new teddy bear to give to my new girlfriend.
She is still one of my all-time favorites for helping out a poor kid just to bring a smile to someone who he’d probably, and did, break up with. Thank you for doing what you did!
Not a teacher, but the student. In 9th grade, I was kicked out of my parents’ house. I slept in various green houses and inoperable buses between crashing on couches. I worked a part-time job and finished school. I wouldn’t, and couldn’t, have done it without my teachers. They even gave me access to the staff room and fridge to keep food and do meal prep.
A friend worked at a butcher shop and provided me with a lot of great-quality sausage. My teachers provided me with food pretty regularly. I contemplated and performed a lot of self-harm back then, but I probably would have done even worse if not for the support some very kind people gave me. Took me about nine years to stop living out of a backpack, but I did it.
Tired and Wired
When I worked as a teacher, I was honestly surprised at the amount of students who worked 20-30 hours on the afternoons and weekends to help bring in extra income for their family. Fast food restaurants, gas stations, the mall, you name it, they were doing it. There was even one girl who worked nearly 40 hours on top of going to school. I can’t even imagine.
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.
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.
Highs and Lows
I’m a student, not a teacher, but I went to class once when I was, let’s just say, “not sober.” I was having a bad day as I had gotten in a fight with my boyfriend at the time. A friend offered me something, and I said yes just because I couldn’t be bothered anymore. It was a huge mistake. Turns out that was the day that we started learning about differential equations for cylindrical objects.
I was so confused and flustered that I almost started crying. My teacher pulled me aside after class and asked me if I was okay and what class I had next. I told him it was Art. He just nodded and said, “Listen to some music and try to calm down. If you need help with anything later just let me know. I hope your day gets better.”
I didn’t realize until years later that he 100% knew I wasn’t sober, and genuinely wanted to make sure I didn’t have a bad time.
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!
The Internet Is Forever
I teach professional writing classes in college, and I always give a talk about how important it is to Google your name periodically so you know what shows up in your search results. That way, you can deal with anything that you don’t want people seeing, because it’s common practice for potential employers to Google your name.
After class one day, a girl came up to me and asked if it’s really true that employers will Google you as part of the job search process. I assured her it was and her eyes went really wide and she said, “Okay, thank you” and left. So naturally after she left, I Googled her name. I wasn’t prepared for what I saw.
The first thing that came up was her arrest record for trying to break into a warehouse while drunk.
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.
You will never read this. I was your teacher’s assistant in kindergarten. I was the one you told when your dad beat you. Sorry about all the CPS stuff. I know they didn’t do anything. I know your Mom lied. I know you got in trouble. I know with your family background, poverty level, and race, you are all prepped to be a terrible statistic.
On volcano science day, you cried on my shoulder and told me you will never be smart enough to be a scientist. You could be, but I know that it’s a long shot. I know I did everything I could to make school feel like a safe, loving space. So that when you’re older, and you want to run from your situation, maybe you will run to school.
I know that you are such a sweet boy, and I would adopt you in a heartbeat. Some days, I pray you get put in the foster system, because I’d have you in my family so fast. I know your life is going to be a struggle. I want you to know you’re loved.
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.
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.
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.
This Impression Doesn’t Hold Water
My little brother once went to nursery and told his teachers about how his dad acts at home. To demonstrate, he pretended to drink from a bottle, loudly said “glug, glug, glug” then fell over backward. My step-dad isn’t at all an alcoholic, and hardly ever drinks, especially not at home.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Behind Closed Doors
I had a girl in my class as a sub that was a complete nightmare. She basically told me that she wouldn’t do work, she didn’t care, etc. She was oppositional to everything I said for no reason and at one point she was up writing on the whiteboard and wouldn’t sit down. The whole lesson was her distracting other students, just generally being a jerk, and enjoying that she had a sub she could infuriate.
I gave her detention for lunchtime the next day and she just laughed and said, “As if I’m going to come.” For some reason, she got to me more than students usually do—last period on a Friday, probably. I was stupidly angry at her, mostly internally. After class finished I went to add a behavior incident for her on the school system we use for disciplinary things.
The way it works is you can see the student’s history of incidents and refer your incident to head teacher, welfare teacher, deputy etc. When I found out what was happening to her, I was stunned. It turns out she had recently had a bad breakup and her ex was now harassing her, her family, and her friends. This includes turning up at her house with a gang in the middle of the night and threatening her with various things. The police were even involved.
I honestly just closed the classroom door and cried at the hopelessness of the whole thing and I didn’t even end up writing the incident. I felt guilty for being so angry, completely lost that this was a reality for a 15-year-old kid, and terrified for what the future is going to hold for this girl. It’s depressingly likely that she will end up a domestic violence statistic and there is nothing I can do to intervene.
What Lies Beneath
Just last year, I had a girl in my 11th grade class. Very bright, studious, had two other girls she usually was with, but overall not very noticeable. The thing is, she was absent a lot, to the point where she was only at school for a day a week or less. It was quite troublesome, as her parents didn’t ever send a mail or write a note for why she had been gone from school, but as stated earlier, she was pretty smart, so her grades didn’t suffer that much.
I used to talk to her after classes to ask her what was going on, but she would usually just apologize politely and promise she would do better. Fast forward to around Christmas time and she hadn’t been to school for two weeks. That month was exam month, and she was missing out on a lot of prep days she needed to be present at. Fed up, I marched to the principal’s office and told him her absence was really ruining for her, and that I should call the parents and inform them of the consequences, as is norm in the situation.
To my surprise, the principal was completely against it. That’s when he told me the dark truth. As it turns out, her parents had arranged for the girl to be married away to a man from her homeland against her will. The reason she had been gone those two weeks was because she had been picked up by child services and had been moved to a safe location. Shortly after it was revealed she had been absent all those days because her parents wanted her to stay home and take care of them, not because she was sick.
She was abused by her parents, and she was constantly monitored so she couldn’t stay at school after hours or do other activities like hang out with friends. She didn’t realize any of this was wrong until her friends at school talked to her about it. So this wasn’t really drama, but it was quite a shock for me and all her teachers when we were told.
It’s been a year now and she’s doing great. She got a restraining order against her parents and she got a little dog she saved from a shelter. But its safe to say that she’ll never have the life a normal 16-year-old is supposed to have, and that makes my blood boil, but she is very grateful for her new life it seems and she’s safe, and that’s all that matters.
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!
I work in IT support for a school. Being as unspecific as possible, but a kid had his school provided tablet rescinded for having DDoSing software, network penetration software, and even software for doxxing on it. This kid is 11 years old. Anyway, he kept coming back into the office asking for his account/tablet back, which was obviously a no. Then he suddenly stopped. We thought he’d just given up.
Nope, turns out he and his family have upped and left to Iraq. Welp. That was both unexpected and terrifying.
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 had two students, Semra and Fatima, who would get to school uber early—dropped off by her father—go into the ladies’ toilets, remove their hijabs and chuck makeup on. I didn’t think much of it, although I knew that was pretty taboo. Anyway, one day I see her having a huge screaming match at recess with a student a year ahead of her.
He stormed off as I came up. She was visibly shaken, it turns out the bloke recognized her from the local mosque and was incensed she didn’t have her traditional kit on. Then, at lunchtime, I see Fatima’s dad is dragging Fatima to his car by the hair kicking and screaming. We never saw her again after he threw her in the car. Semra attended for another week, with her hijab on, before she disappeared too.
She wouldn’t tell us what happened to Fatima, and this was long before Internet was readily available. I still think about what happened to her on occasion, and where she was now.
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.
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.
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.
Recently two people at my high school got into some drama. It ended up with one of them dumping a jar of baby powder that was supposed to resemble an illegal white powdered substance on the other. One of our teachers called the police and got the dogs to sniff around. They very quickly discovered that it was baby powder—but then the dogs made another discovery.
At least 12 other students had illegal substances in their lockers and they all got busted. Just like, 15% of the class in one fell swoop, gone.
Hypocrisy in Action
I used to go to a Catholic high school, and I didn’t discover a student’s home life. It was actually my beloved guidance counselor. Out of nowhere, she got suspended without pay and fired. Like one day here, the next day gone. When I found out the reason why she was fired, I was heartbroken. She was let go because she’s married to a woman. It turns out her sister-in-law got upset and forwarded some wedding pictures to my school.
They fired her because it “went against Catholic morals” or something like that. But, the guidance counselor is now suing my school for discrimination, not because they fired her for being gay, but because they haven’t fired any other teachers for “going against Catholic morals.” There were divorced teachers, another gay teacher, a few who had kids out of wedlock, and one who got her naked pics leaked.
As a result, the president and principal were suspended by the archdiocese. The case is on its way to trial.
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.
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.
I had students named Matt, Mitch, and a girl named Amal. They were all very close. Amal was Muslim, but acted like the polar opposite. Lots of makeup, black metal shirts, pot, and she dated Mitch. Mitch, while a great guy, was not a parent’s dream. They dated for a few months, then Mitch, visibly upset, asked to talk to me.
It turns out that Amal’s parents found out about Mitch and were not happy. Apparently, her parents were threatening to take her back to Pakistan. The next day, her Facebook was deleted. Mitch said she sent him one last text, telling him how much she loved him, how her parents were kidnapping her, and how scared she was.
Mitch tried for months to get a hold of her. But he hasn’t heard or saw her again. Amal was wonderful, and did not deserve whatever awaited her. I sometimes wonder if I could have done something different, but she was gone in a matter of hours.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The L-Word: High School Edition
My fellow teachers and I noticed that the female students had been highly interested in each other, and we joked with one another that we thought experimentation happened in college. Only later did we find out what was really happening. A parent came in to ask her daughter’s teachers, principal, and counselor for advice on what to do with her child.
That’s how we found out that her daughter had not been coming home at night because she and all her friends were hooking up.
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.
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.
Forced Out of the Closet
We have a gay male student who was beaten up by a group of the tough jocks for telling all of his friends about having a crush on one of the top sports players in the school. But then, the truth came out. As it turns out, he had been secretly meeting this guy in parking lots and secret locations for months for hookups. After the jock let his friends beat him up for the “rumors,” he posted screenshots of their conversations and NSFW pics on all social media platforms for the whole student body to read.
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.
Pet Shop Boys
A girl came to school one day with five bunnies in her book bag, and by the end of the day had sold every bunny for $25 apiece. Every day, teachers would be stopping kids and looking through book bags and lunchboxes. It was chaos. And the bunnies were still being sold! Occasionally you’d see someone with a lump in their jacket with an ear poking out—bunny. A cracked lunchbox—bunny.
Eventually, this turned into a full black market bunny selling ring. The leader had recruited other sellers, and they had designated bunny-trading spots. Our school is infamous for gangs and dealing, so this was a pleasant surprise to most. Over time, the bunny selling trickled to a stop, but occasionally one still pops up.
When Toys Aren’t for Kids
We were talking about the difference between men and women, men have penises and women don’t, blah blah blah. That one boy goes “My mum has a boy part too,” and we are going “Oh no sweetie she doesn’t,” but he insists, and it starts becoming uncomfortable. After a while he says, “my mum HAS one, only it is not attached to her body, she keeps it in the drawer by the bed.” Kid-logic is so precious.
Silly Rabbit, Tricks Are for Kids
I was 15 or 16 and teaching the 2- and 3-year-olds at church. It was Easter, and one little boy comes in crying up a storm. Nothing that my friend and I do can console him. About halfway through he stops and just sniffles. At the end when the parents come and pick them up, he sees his dad and starts crying again, telling his dad that he doesn’t want anything to do with him.
His mom comes and gets him, and my friend and I tell her about her son. She was trying SO HARD not to laugh and told us why. The boy’s dad hit a rabbit on the way to church this morning, and the boy started to cry, thinking it was the Easter Bunny.
Cut Out for the Classroom
I was in fourth grade. The teacher asked, “What do we call the distance all the way around the outside of the circle?” The class began yelling out a bunch of wrong answers. That’s when I yelled “CIRCUMCISION!” And of course, I was the only one who actually raised my hand and got the teacher’s attention before answering.
Age Is Just a Number
Two students who happened to have been fraternal twins arrived at our school when they were both 15 years old. One looked older than the other, but that just happens sometimes. Then one day, a rumor started going around that they were not actually twins, but just ordinary sisters. I tell the Behavior Support workers, who look into it. As it turns out, one of the sisters was actually 22 years old. The parents had lied about her age to get her into the school, which they had needed to do in order to be allowed to stay in the country. Whoops!