It’s the end of May and teachers everywhere are as done as the kids they teach are. It’s grueling to try to get students to learn anything for the last few weeks of school, much less impart actual wisdom to those same said kids. Seriously: everyone’s totally checked out.
So we thought it would be nice to take a breezy walk through u/xtra_why‘s question on Reddit:
“What did that one teacher do to you that you’ll never forget?”
After all, it’s almost summer!
1. Not Speaking English
She outed me for pretending to not speak English to my mom. I am mexican American, but I am one of those lame “border crossed me” ones who was really a native American if we are being honest.
At any rate, I ignored my kindergarten teacher so much she assumed I didnt speak English. I had skipped state testing because I had been to 6-7 elementary schools as my mom was skipping out on rent. Middle of 1st grade, a random teacher realizes I am reading library books brought from home in the back and not doing work; not common in a special ed classroom. She called my mom and teacher to a meeting, had me tested as gifted, told my mom that I was pretending to not understand my teachers, and told us that in 2nd grade I was going to be in her room. I was in trouble for the first and last time in school.
Looking back, this is such an impactful memory. She was the only teacher who cared about me at all. When they opened my backpack at the meeting, I had it packed with random books. I had encyclopedias from my grandparents house, stuff from 3 school libraries, magazines.
Mrs. Judah changed my fucking life because she cared enough to ask the librarian what language I spoke to help me pick more age appropriate books. I was reading a high school level novel because the school had just been converted from k-12. It turns out high school books were appropriate for me; not age appropriate but reading level. I love her and will never forget the stash of books she kept for me when they converted the library for k-5.
2. Math struggles
I faked my way through 4th and 5th grade math. I never understood how to do long division, but managed to hide that from the teachers and answer test questions by reverse multiplication – basically guess a number and multiply it out and see how close I would get, and keep doing it until I got the answer.
My 6th grade math teacher figured out that I was faking, and had no idea how to actually divide anything. She had me come in one afternoon to “help with cleaning the erasers” (all the kids fought for this privilege , so I was thrilled), sat me down and tutored me until I grasped the concept. Bless you, Mrs. Gillespie!
3. Didn’t take the no
At my high school, we had an annual week long science trip, fully paid for by fundraising. Only 4 people were selected to go each year. My sophomore year, I was chosen. I knew there was no way I was going to be allowed to go. I had never been out of the state, never been on a single vacation, never been on a plane and never been away from home for more than 24 hours. My parents were incredibly conservative and immediately said no. I had a science teacher who just didn’t accept the no. Instead of just giving up and selecting someone else, he called and tried to convince my parents. When that didn’t work, he came to my house and had dinner with my family to convince my dad that I would be an asset and he would be doing me a disservice by not letting me go. He sat and ate my mom’s terrible cooking and talked to my parents for over 2 hours until he got a “we’ll think about it”. Then he just kept following up.
I had never had someone in my corner like that before, who was willing to go to bat for me like that. He wore them down and it was the best week of my teenage life. I’d never seen the ocean. 20 years later and I can still recall every detail of that trip. It was a major pivot point for me.
4. Found the money
My physics teacher in high school hosted an annual trip to Walt Disney World in Orlando for 15-20 kids for over a week. I was one of the better and most interested students in his class. He was an incredible teacher who found examples in physics everywhere. He also used to work for Disney prior to teaching.
Since my family was not so well off and I could not afford the trip to Walt Disney World, I declined when he asked me if I was going to join. He probed a bit and he somehow found the funds to have me join without me even inquiring. I don’t know if he pulled school money or there was a surplus, but either way, that was one of my best memories from that school.
made us make paper cranes for hall passes…20 years later i can still make a top notch crane
6. Pin drop
In high school one of my teachers had this duck-bill whistle (literally shaped like a duck’s bill and it made a quacking noise). She used it to get the class’ attention. One time I guess we were being extra rowdy and she blew the everloving shit out of it and the class went stone-dead quiet. She got this shocked look on her face, and then took her hair pin out and dropped it and the whole class heard it hit the ground and she got this big grin on her face and we all just busted out laughing.
7. Drove me home
My band teacher drove me home several times after the 7pm Jazz Band practice. My Dad was supposed to pick me up, but several times he fell asleep and didn’t answer the phone when I tried to call.
The professor I had for my calculus 100 class in university was awesome. He was a good teacher and funny and engaging. If it was a first year class with over 100 people in it. I was just a face in a big crowd. I was on campus after hours a couple years after I graduated (they run programs for kids in the evenings and was dropping off my oldest) and I saw him. He stopped, looked at me hard, and said “<first name> <last name>. Not a bad student. Not great. But definitely not bad.” And kept walking. This was a good 6 years after I graduated. Absolutely amazed he would have remembered me at all after teaching how many hundreds of students in between. That is just crazy.
9. Earn this
When I was in 5th grade in 1975, my parents were divorcing and I was living with my abusive father. If I didn’t get B+ or better on my report card, I got the belt. Not a little, mind you. A full-on beat down, and probably denial of meals for a while. The ’70’s with an abusive parent were a very different time.
My father had quite a reputation in the small Pennsylvania town I lived in (McKean, PA). He was known as an incredibly strict person, and our neighbors all hated him. But this was a different time, and that sort of behavior was ignored in public.
My 5th grade math teacher, Mr. Cunningham, scared me. He looked a bit like my father, and didn’t suffer any nonsense in his classroom at all. I struggled with mathematics, and it just didn’t make sense to me.
We got our first report card in 5th grade. These were the days where you could carry a card with you for the day, and the teacher would write your grade on the report card. You would then have to take it home, and have a parent sign it to acknowledge that they had seen your grades.
So far, through the day, the grades were good. A’s, mostly, an A-, but all good.
Math was my last class of the day before I had to catch the bus.
When my report card came back to me, I froze in terror. I recall this moment like a photograph. The grade was a D, written in pen, right there on the report card. I knew what was coming. The blood drained out of my face.
Mr. Cunningham dismissed the class, and I was frozen in my desk. Scared of what he would do, and even more scared of what my father would do.
All the other kids had left the classroom, and my world around me was gone – just me, my books, and the D staring at me telling me that my 10-year old self was going to suffer. Badly.
I felt a hand on my shoulder, and I shook and started crying.
Mr. Cunningham looked at me. He took my report card out of my hand, and walked up to his desk. He called me up there. I was still terrified, probably shaking, definitely trying to hide my crying and failing.
He got out a black pen and changed the D into a B+. He didn’t say anything, he just looked at me. He knew. He could see the signs, and he knew how terrified I was and why.
I had no idea an adult could be so compassionate, and had no idea it was even possible to change something like that.
He handed my report card back to me, and said two words that have stayed with me to this day. “Earn this.” He put his hand on my shoulder and said, “I know. It’s not fair, and I’m sorry. You’re a smart kid, and you can get this. Just ask me for help.”
It was a simple act of kindness, and it’s stuck with me to this day. The math grade didn’t matter – I’m successful enough in my 50’s to not have that come up on my permanent record. But the permanent change of my impression of Mr. Cunningham is still very much with me.
If you have power over other people, you have to wield that power with compassion. You have to tailor that power to meet the needs of the individual. That is the lesson I learned that day from Mr. Cunningham.
The next terms I got a B+ or better. I assume it’s because I worked really hard, and Mr. Cunningham helped me out at lunch – or, he was kind because he knew.
Thank you, Mr. Cunningham. This was 45 years ago, and I still remember you.
3rd grade-Mrs Jones. My dad had just deserted us and we were suddenly destitute. She bought my school pictures for us and paid my lunch bill all year. She never said a word about it. Only found out later. Bless her
11. You’re smart
Told me I was smart and could succeed. I had spent the past couple years at a private school, trying so hard to prove myself. Despite doing well academically, I didn’t fit their cookie cutter mold, so I was looked down on by other students and administration. When I told the guidance counselor that I wanted to be premed and go to medical school after college, she pretty much told to lower my expectations because I wouldn’t succeed. At the end of my college math class my senior year of high school, I ended up in my professors office to look at what I had missed on my final. He told me that I had done well, and that I could my PhD in math if I wanted. That was not what I wanted to do, but when I told him I wanted to be premed, he looked at me and said you’re going to well in that. I know you will succeed. 6 years later and I’m halfway through my second year of medical school, and his words still ring in my mind.
12. Called the cops
Had the police come to the school because he had “reason to believe” I was smoking cigarettes and using drugs in 7th grade. No… both of my parents smoked in the house. I didn’t even know I smelled like cigarettes until the police told me why they were searching my backpack, desk and locker.
13. Spotted it
in my senior year, my english teacher asked me if i was manic depressive after turning in a personal essay, only for me to get diagnosed with bipolar disorder a week later
He knew my homelife wasnt the best. He saw a bright kid but someone who struggled with just…ya know. Following orders
He wrote home as I was Failing and spoke more kindly about me than most had ever done. It was very nice
15. Wood shop
He had one of those haircuts that was popular in the mid nineties where you have long fringe (maybe 5″), but skinhead the rest. He was a skateboarder.
Anyway, the wood shop teacher decided that the haircut was an health and safety hazard and swiftly cut his hair in front of the whole class meanwhile berating him “kids today” etc. etc.
My brother was 12 and came home from school crying. My father was less than pleased, and apparently went up to school and made a right kerfuffle – as he should. My mother was very embarrassed by it all. I’ll never forget.
My RE teacher tried to keep me behind for no reason. I’m a complete goody two shoes and he gave me my first ever detention for asking my friend about what textbook page we were reading after coming to class late following an appointment. The guy tried to make me pick bits of paper and rubber bands off the floor as he watched me do it. I walked out, with zero consequences.
When I was in third grade the teacher of my gifted program class (extra class we were pulled from mainstream to do a few hours a week) started berating me over raising my hand too quickly to answer questions saying I needed to think longer and give others the chance to answer. She went on and on about how I had an attitude. I got upset and she made me stand in front of the class when I started to cry. “I know you’re crying and I don’t care”. It was my birthday.
It was a class of about 8 students. One guy told me in high school that that day was one of his clearest memories from elementary school.
18. Fed me
Had a highschool art teacher who would let me stay in his classroom during lunches. Always gave me half his sandwich and other extra food because he knew I didn’t eat much otherwise.
I can’t remember what I did but in first grade my teacher got mad at me and said “you wanna act like a baby? Fine come over here” . She made me sit in a corner on the floor and gave me two little toys to play with.
Called my mum while she was at work to tell her I’d written one of the best things he’d ever seen as a teacher.