20 Teachers Share The Harshest Truth A Student Has Ever Taught Them. Wow.

Good teachers teach. Better teachers also learn.


Thanks for the teachers who shared their experiences on Quora. You all deserve an apple!

1/20. While handing out the literature list for the upcoming year of high school, I casually asked the students in my class what they thought about it. One girl raised her hand and said:"Are you at all surprised we don't read but watch tv when teachers hand out these kinds of reading lists?"

Vicky van der Zee

2/20. I was trying to rush through an explanation of a complicated physics concept before the bell rang, and the top student in my class raised his hand and said, "You know, just because you're up there teaching, doesn't mean we're learning."

I'm sure many students have thought something like this in millions of classes around the world, but they don't say anything (it would almost always be terribly impolite). The only reason this student said it, and got away with it, is that he was my 16-year-old son.
John Krehbiel

3/20. Nothing I do matters if the child is not ready to learn.

As captivating as I can be, when a child doesn't have a place to live, regular sleep, food, warm clothing, and LOVE; processing my words is impossible.
Ellen Burchett


4/20. One guy in my class got his work back. He was not a very diligent student, but had probably done the best he could. His English left quite a bit to be desired, and I had painstakingly corrected every smaller and bigger mistake in his work with a red pen (of course).

He got back his paper, looked at it with a tired glance and said so everyone could hear it.

"Gee, who has poured blood all over my paper?"

With my back turned to the student, I just froze. I was delivering some other kid his paper, and I felt this kid's pain. Here he had done the best he could do, and I, stupid teacher, had to correct and show him everything that was wrong.

Torgeir Solberg



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5/20. I was at the beginning of my academic career, teaching an undergraduate course on Mathematical Programming. I just completed a very complex formal proof in class. It took me over 20 minutes of very boring and dense algebra. Then this student raises his hand and tells me: "Perhaps this job could be done in this way..." He was able to prove the same result in two minutes, with a very clear verbal argument.

He taught me that I was not as smart as I thought.

This story happened 25 years ago. That student is now a well respected colleague and frequent co-author of mine. Last, but not least, he is also a very good friend, who has been generous enough to teach me many other things over the years.
Miguel Jerez

6/20. That I had no business being in front of a classroom.

It was my first year of teaching junior high band. Well into the school year I discovered that one of my clarinet players had no clue how to play the thing and through pure embarrassment simply faked playing.

Rather than dealing with her privately I spent most of the rest of the class trying to catch her up with two months of work, with her classmates giggling behind and her turning red with embarrassment and anger. I then realized I was teaching the subject and had no idea how to teach students.

J. W. Bruce Shaw

7/20. I learnt a very harsh truth in a very harsh way! I was teaching French to a bunch of school kids. This was my first (and only!) interaction with school children.

The moment I entered and addressed the students, one of them very rudely asked me - "why should we listen to you?"

Point blank. Straight. I was stumped.

My first internal reaction was a tad bit of anger at his audacity to ask a teacher something so rudely. I swallowed it.

My next reaction was, a point blank answer which came to my mind and that was was - "You listen to me because I am your teacher."

I swallowed that as well. Didn't make sense to me. I was employed to teach them but that didn't make me their teacher or mean that they should listen. to me

I smiled because I realized I had been asked a fundamentally brilliant question!

I asked him if he liked French? Had he heard the language? He said no. I asked him would he like to listen to it? Perhaps a song? I asked him if he would give that song a chance and then decide whether he wanted to listen to me or not?

He was a teenager who was possibly interested in provoking a very young teacher! This was 5 years back and I was just 21 years of age. He totally did not expect a sweet response to his rude question. What's more I offered an entertaining activity to begin with. Listening to music.

He said OK meekly. I played the song. Taught them to sing it with me.

My first class of French was teaching a French song when the kids didn't know a word! I just asked them to enjoy the feel of the language on their tongues. It would certainly be alien and fun! They did it. They loved singing something after me without understanding anything.

But I learnt my first extremely important and harsh lesson.

Just because I was paid to teach them doesn't mean they have to listen. Every class was my challenge. Every class was my responsibility. And every class meant that I had to engage with my students. Get them to engage with the subject. Do everything in my power and hands to make sure that they benefit and learn.

Tejasvita Apte

8/20. That I am not the unbiased person I thought I was.

Let's call him Bubba was in a required freshman year experience class that all faculty rotated teaching. I normally teach statistics and research methods.

Students are required to write a paper on any topic, as a method of our gauging their knowledge of things like APA style and that a sentence begins with a capital letter and ends in some form of punctuation. This assignment allows us to intervene early with students who simply cannot write and refer them for tutoring in their first semester.

Bubba sat in the back of the room, cowboy hat tipped down, boots on the chair in front of him, chewing tobacco. Never said a word.

The title of his paper was something like "The Use of Allegory and Metaphor in the Works of John Steinbeck."

I assumed he had copied or paid for it. There was no way this kid wrote it. I consulted a senior professor about what to do and she said, "Invite him to your office to discuss it. If he wrote it, he'll be flattered. If he didn't, he'll be busted."

So, I did. Bubba tips back his hat, looks me in the eye and says,

"Well, ma'am, when I was on the rodeo circuit, my partner gave me this book, The Red Pony, because I had to do a school book report and since it was about a horse, me and him figured it would be good. When I read it, though, it was about a lot more than a horse .... "

Bubba went on at great length about all of Steinbeck's books that he had read and what they meant to him personally.

I was SO glad I had followed the advice to ask him about his paper instead of accusing him of cheating, and did I ever feel like an idiot!

AnnMaria De Mars


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9/20. I've learned so many wonderful things from my students. I wish you hadn't asked for the harshest. The harshest lesson I have ever learned as a teacher (and I don't think it'll ever get easier) is that you can't save them all.

I was teaching at an inner-city high school and Iban was one of my students though he rarely came to class. A lot of teachers had given up on him, but one of the assistant principals had given me his back story and, oh, I wanted to help him. I wanted to make him see that focusing on his education was the answer, that we were on his side, that we had his back. But I couldn't get him to change his priorities and I lost him to the streets and it still hurts. And it always will. And I will always regret the ones I lose...

Liz Shinohara


10/20. On a rainy Tuesday afternoon, my first grade students were roaming about the classroom, choosing activities as they saw fit for themselves.

Since the students were busy I took the opportunity to straighten my desk.

About ten minutes in, I noticed Niko was next to me with a pile of crumpled papers. I stopped what I was doing and looked at him. He was still mashing and crumpling papers into balls.

I said, "Niko, I'm cleaning up my desk. And I think you know where that pile of paper balls goes." I pointed at the trash can in the corner.

He looked at me with his green eyes wide, "But Kathy, this isn't trash!"

"No?"

"No! These are origami rocks. I'm making you a rock garden!"

Its all matter of perspective. I no longer see crumpled papers the same way.
Kathy Hsu

11/20. One student asked if she can have a private tutoring session after school so I agreed. Feeling honored and proud that a student is asking for a 1-on-1 session, I was so eager to stay an extra 30 mins after school just for her.

She arrived in the classroom and sat down with her head down. I thought she was sad or had a bad day. I pulled up next to her and opened up with Hows your day?

Not so good, Mr. Lam, said the student. My dad is threatening to take away my phone if I dont make grades.

But, you just started 9th grade a few weeks ago. Youre doing okay so far in my class, I responded.

Its not just your class, but all of my classes. If I dont make grades, my dad will take away my phone and Ill never get it back. She said with the look of someone about to lose the most precious thing in life.

I spent the next 30 minutes calming her down about her phone situation, grades, and dad. I was ready to leave, but I wanted to wrap this issue up. I asked her Whats more important? Grades or phone?

My phone.
Bruce Lam

12/20. It was my third week as a teacher and I was struggling to keep my disruptive seventh grade in control. Since my students were from unprivileged background, I decided to make 'cool' powerpoint presentations and show them youtube videos to teach them history. I hoped technology will blow them away.

After 45 minute of lecture on Social and Economical impact of Akbar's rule On India, I was beaming with pride that there was no disruption , and whole class was listening quietly. I took feedback from the most 'notorious' kid and he bluntly told me that my class was boring. I was devastated and shocked.

I went home with a bruised ego, researched best practices ,and saw Ryan Gosling's Half Nelson. I realized that the 'pin drop silence' in my class was the whole problem. Instead of taking their opinions , I spoon fed them facts from the text book via the 'cool' presentation.

A teacher's job is to facilitate and encourage learning. If you try to shove facts into a kid's throat, he or she will vomit them away.
Tushar Bajaj


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13/20. Students will always know more than you do about something, and that's not a bad thing. I try to make my students aware that if they know something and want to share that knowledge, I'll facilitate that as much as possible - luckily I teach English which allows for lots of tangents!
Poppy Holmes

14/20. School is not the most important thing in every student's life.

Early in my career, as an idealistic, demanding history teacher, I had a student (10th grade, so 15-16 years old) who was struggling to keep up with her homework and was at risk of failing. I berated her one afternoon for continuing to come up with excuses and for continuing to ask for extensions and not meet my expectations.

I happened to catch her on the news later that week testifying in front of the state legislature, in support of a bill that would protect victims of sexual abuse. The bill carried her name.

Taught me a small dose of humility and a large dose of humanity.
Anonymous

15/20. My aunt is an teacher and she shared this incident with me.

She used to take tuition for some neighborhood kids. One of her student got his English answer sheet and was showing it to my aunt. He had scored 23 out of 25. My aunt asked him, what happened to that two marks and why did you lose it. He didn't say anything and sat down.

After sometime he asked her this, "Which is greater 23 or 2? ". My aunt replied, "Definitely 23". Then he said, "Then why are you so worried about that 2 marks and can't you look at that 23 marks and appreciate it."

My aunt was dumbstruck, she said that was a great lesson and a harsh truth that she learned from that boy.
Amala Paulson

16/20. When I was teaching a high school class at an international school in Mexico, I thought I was superior to my students. I had an Eastern education, English was my first language, I had a solid moral background. There was little (I thought) that my students could teach me. One day just before class a student by the name of Nicolas came and asked me if he could go to the bathroom. I told him yes, but to hurry back because class would begin in five minutes. He said, "Don't I need a pass?" Our principal was very strict and required every student to have a pass if he or she was out of class. I told him, "Just go! Hurry up back." Then I began writing the lesson on the board.

He returned about ten minutes later looking very dejected. I asked him if he was okay and he said, "Yes. No problem." So, I continued with the lesson. But at the end of the period as students were leaving, I noticed he still looked dejected.

"You okay, Nick? You look depressed." He replied, "Well, I got put on detention by the principal for being in the hall without a pass."

"But didn't you tell him that I advised you to go ahead without one?" I asked.

"No," he replied.

"Well, why on earth not?" I asked exasperated.

"Because I didn't want you to get in trouble, sir," he replied.

I realized then that here was a student who was superior to me in sensitivity and caring. I could never have imagined doing such a thing when I was a high school student. I was humbled. The incident showed me not to underestimate the existing values of those whom I presumed to teach.

Michael Hogan


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17/20. I was teaching in Cameroun. 70 in my class and I barely knew their names. Middle of the year and I was taking attendance. I called a student's name.

"Henry Ndu?"

Someone yelled out, "he's dead."

It didn't register with me. The student said he had malaria and died.

And I realized that nothing I was teaching meant as much as having that student back.

Rob Menes

18/20. This small incident happened more than 20 years ago.

One of my students told me this.

"I don't know why you are trying so hard to make us understand and love your subject. You know most of us aren't going to end up as programmers. We will hire others to do it"

He was a nice kid. I liked him, but what he said almost broke my heart.

I taught in a very exclusive school at the time. Most of the students come from a well to do families.

Ahmed Balfaqih

19/20. The harshest truth my music students have taught me is that no one is ever perfect, no matter how much you teach them. I used to have students play the same song over and over, telling them they had to be better, they had to learn the song perfectly. I wish I could go back in time and take back my words.

Tiffani Armstrong

20/20. Ironically, I didn't know that a student could fail to understand the most basic concept until I start teaching and the student asks a question. And I realized that it's me who took everything for granted and didn't bother to introduce the premises. For instance, when we were doing the preparation for a moot court, we discussed the choice of courts in that case. Everything went well until one student timidly asked: why bother? what's the difference between those courts?

Everyone else became very surprised: Don't you know that one court's ruling couldn't be enforced in another country"?

To that the student replied: "No. Nobody has told me that."

She's the only sophomore in that team, and I conveniently forgot that she never took International Law before joining this team.

Vick Chao


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When you're a kid most adults will tell you one thing or another is "cool" and "fun." Odds are you're too young to form any kind of opinion on the matter one way or another. You're a kid, right? You don't know what you're eating for breakfast. However, when you get older and form that larger worldview, you realize that yeah, maybe that one time when you were a kid actually wasn't fun.

These are those stories.

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