English Teachers Share The Most Disturbing Assignments Students Have Submitted
Is this homework or 'Exhibit A?'
It's often been said to write down your feelings and your thoughts. Putting pen to paper can free you of life's emotional strongholds. It's always surprising to discover the freedom one finds when telling their story in a form of third person. You can feel the pain but it can't hurt you. Every once and awhile a simple homework assignment can turn into the vigorous waving of a red flag. And once that flag is flown the teacher tends to become the therapist. Educators really should be getting dual checks.
Redditor u/MyNameAlexUgh wanted to know from English teachers about warning signs in the work of their students by asking.... English teachers of Reddit, what is the most disturbing story/assessment a student has ever submitted?
It's too depressing....
Abuse, and more abuse.
Assigning anything that asks them to reflect on something personal or write something creative has a high chance of yielding stories about abuse. Those stories very likely reflect real experiences. Many a visit are paid to the guidance counselors and school therapists.
If you don't work with kids, you might be shocked to learn just how many people are abused in some fashion. If you add in how many kids aren't abused but just have a bad upbringing, it gets really, really depressing. srslymrarm
My Life This Moment
English teacher here. Had an 8th grade student write a "My life at this moment" letter to themselves that they write at the beginning of the year, and read to themselves at the end. I always have a rule that they get full credit if I can just see writing on it and see it's coherent English. Though if they definitely don't want me to read it, they should staple it and I'll just look for writing. I had a girl who went over the top to look, act, sound, and be a boy. She wasn't trans, so I was a bit confused on how exactly she wanted to be viewed, so I just pretended she was tomboy-ish. She was also INSANELY defiant to her male teachers, and I worked my butt off to build a relationship with her. She wouldn't have it, though I was as kind as I could be.
Anyway, the time of year came for me to pass back their letters. By this time, this girl had been moved to a digital learning lab and had been isolated from the Gen Pop. I passed all the letters out and found her's had been left unstapled, though I didnt remember reading it or noticing it wasn't sealed. Curiosity overcame me so I opened it.
My heart broke when I read her rather detailed desire to be away from her step-dad by the end of the year and her goal for that year was to "Escape the godforsaken hell hole." Long story short, that letter ended up being used in court to put her step-dad away for viciously assaulting her for many years. I felt bad for her, but hopefully she's been able to move on, though I doubt it. konigragnar
In 11th grade we had to write about a "Lifeline" in our lives. Most people wrote about their parents or even a pet. I wrote about my best friend, and girlfriend for a while, that saved me while I was in the depths of anorexia. It was incredibly personal. I let my friend read it and she convinced me to read it out loud when our teacher asked us to share. I panicked when I realized everyone's was positive and not "hey I'm crazy and this person kept me from dying." But my friend pushed me to read it. My teacher was impressed and I had people come up to me for days after with their own stories or praising me for being open. My voice shook the entire time I read it, but it's one of the pieces I'm proudest of. megash36
The Killer Perspective....
Students were annotating old news articles about a very famous axe murderer from the late 1800s. One student includes an annotation about how the article reminded her of her father. She helpfully included his name for me to Google, and yep, that is how I found out my student's dad is literally an axe murderer.
Second place goes to a student who wrote from the POV of the Zodiac killer for a creative writing assignment. It was incredibly well written - if it hadn't been, it honestly might have not been so disturbing! But being in the killer's head as he ties up and stabs young couples to death? No thanks.
Oh, and last week someone submitted a horror story in creative writing. I swear to God, she could be a writer for 'Saw' movies. The deaths were graphic and gruesome and... creative? I had to take breaks while reading it because I'm pretty squeamish. whateverreddit88
Matt.... can you hear me?Giphy
It might get buried, but I need to chime in, mostly in the hopes that this student finds my comment and knows how much his story stuck with me. The first paper assignment of the semester was to write about life at the university through a sociological lens. This guy who was social, well-liked, in a frat turned in this shocking story.
He was writing about how hard his life was. How he had to scrounge for meals from the trash while seeing all the other students eat happily in the dining halls. He described how he'd seen his friends struck by cars on the winding mountain roads on campus. I was so taken aback, and I kept reading anxiously to see if his story would take a turn.
... A squirrel. The student was writing from the perspective of a squirrel.
This kid was a GENIUS. I told him later how impressed I was, and he shrugs in a very "bro" way, stating "that's the worst thing I've ever written." If you see this, Matt, that's still my favorite paper by a student!! charred_bourbon
Second hand account from colleague submitted during workshop in a undergraduate non-fiction writing class:
Story was about 18 pages, and was submitted by a 50-ish male. Talks about a twelve year old girl who is not the man's daughter but belongs to him and his wife. Talking about how they like to stroke her and caress her naked body and make her eat things out of their hand. The rest of the class read the story for workshop and in disgust and horror e-mailed professor (colleague) who immediately cancelled the workshop and contacted administration about the student.
The thing is - everyone was so shocked that no one got to the very last line in which it is revealed that "the girl" ...is a cat.
Obviously the student was looking for some sort of reaction, which he got. sitsontoilets
Had a student submit a paper about growing up with an addict teen brother. He had the room next to her and sometimes when getting clean the parents would lock him in his room and he would have raging withdrawals. She was very young so I imagine there was a lot of medical care and therapy going on that she didn't know about, she just remembered that her brother was screaming and crying in the next room and she would sit in her closet all night long terrified he was going to break through the wall and get her. It was such a heart-rending story and it made me view what families go through in such a different light. Sssnapdragon
A Training Period...
Not an English teacher but when I was in junior college I was a TA for a Psych instructor and I read and graded essays. There was an assignment for students to create an experiment where they trained themselves to create a habit by rewarding themselves after the task (think Pavlov). One male student wrote about his experiment- he chose to train himself to masturbate more often and his reward was masturbating. And he wrote about it in detail. Very sustainable system but so weird to submit to your instructor! vvarmcoffee
"Mary's" Defining Moment....
I have my HS students write a "Defining Moment" memoir about a moment where their lives changed in a significant way. I generally see some stories about childhood abuse and things of that nature where I make sure our social work team is aware of their claims, they're getting support, and that's basically it.
However, I did once get a story about the first time a girl in my class had smoked marijuana. EXCEPT, the whole thing was written with the weed anthropomorphized as a beautiful woman named "Mary" that she met and took on a beautiful all-night date.
This thing was about 3 pages long and graphic — we're talking full anatomical descriptions of lesbian sex as an analogy for the experience of getting high for the first time. It just kept going and going, and it was extremely well-written to the point that I was really uncomfortable reading it and had to put it away.
The worst part is she was so excited for me to read it and came in the next day like "Did you read it? Did you like it? I'm super proud!" And I had to basically say, "yea it's super well-written but honestly I just can't be reading something like that written by one of my students." true_spokes
Basically a manifesto about how the student felt ostracized from the school and how he wanted revenge. This was a community college, and he was a freshman.
Over the semester, I could tell he struggled yet he was also insanely talented. Some other students in the class bullied him in my presence, and let's just say I didn't tolerate that at all.
I spent extra time talking to him and trying to help him one-on-one.
One day, he turns in an assignment talking about his desire to exact revenge for his marginalization. He was triggered when everyone on his floor conspired to trick him to go outside (at night and the middle of the winter), then they locked him out of the dorm. A**holes!
I spoke with him immediately about it, and he assured me it was just hyperbole. Regardless, I did have to notify my supervisor. I also spoke with his RA, but the RA couldn't care less. The student ended up dropping out shortly after this. We stayed in touch for a bit, but after awhile, I don't know what happened to him. He was probably the smartest student I had in that class, yet he couldn't make it because of his own personal problems and torment from other students. Ugh. jorocall