English Teachers Reveal The Strangest Personal Details Their Students Have Written About
Working with kids can be awesome and awful at the same time. They can be hilarious, inspirational, creative geniuses - and they're typically wired for honesty so if you're having a bad hair day, you'd better believe they'll tell you. As trust deepens, students tend to open up even more and that can lead to some uncomfortable moments. One Reddit user asked:
And we immediately thought: **STORY TIIIIME! **
When I was super young, my school had an assembly about alcohol abuse. We had to write an essay afterwards. I divulged in my essay that my grandmother used alcohol literally every night and sometimes even made me use it. I talked about how I hated it because it was stinky.
My grandmothers house had terrible air conditioning. She would put rubbing alcohol on her skin and sleep with an oscillating fan on to keep her skin cool. Sometimes, she'd sprinkle some on me or on the sheets if I slept over.
Nobody had bothered to explain during the assembly that rubbing alcohol wasn't the same as alcohol for drinking. Nobody in my family drank alcohol aside from my grandfather's occasional glass of red wine; so I had never heard the word "alcohol" used to mean anything other than rubbing alcohol. The assembly scared the bejeezus out of me and had me convinced my grandmother was going to die if I didn't get her help for her "alcohol addiction."
There were multiple meetings with multiple authorities after that one. Rightfully so. I was lucky enough to have teachers and administratros who took this seriously. I was clearly in no danger, but if I had been, I would have wanted the adults to react the way they did.
My parents took it well; they still make fun of me for it at every opportunity possible.
I teach English as a second language in an Asian country. One of my students wrote her final senior speech about her older sister who died as an infant. In a pile of fluff essays, I really did not expect to come upon such a deep topic.
She wrote that they still celebrated her sister's birthday and her mom bought a cake every year. She also described how sad her mom was after her sister's death and how hard it was for her to continue to have children. I went up to the girl in the next class and told her if she wanted to talk more she could come to me any time. She seemed surprised I said anything. When she gave her speech to the class everyone was really respectful and she ended up placing in the top 10.
The Ineffectiveness Of Vaginal Douching
First time poster, but I finally have a story I can share. I'm a social studies teacher but teach English in Summer School. Practicing state test essays with the kids and one of them asks: "Mister, can we write an argument about whatever we want or just the topics on the essay prompts?" Not thinking anything of this I told her that as long as she had evidence she could argue whatever she wanted.
About a week later, I get a gem of an essay, fully sourced, about the ineffectiveness of vaginal douching. Hands it in, totally straight face, eager to get my feedback. To be fair, this girl was an immigrant and perhaps it wasn't as strange in her country to mention that douching doesn't work for you to a teacher, but I wasn't sure how to respond.
She ended up getting a pretty good grade on the assignment because her argument used solid anecdotal and medical evidence from online and personal experiences. I also ended up learning a lot more about douching than any man needs to know.
My college application essay had to be about an adversity that I faced. So I wrote about how my boyfriend committed suicide. I made it up. He did not commit suicide, but he did threaten to commit suicide. I think he had borderline personality issues.
I realize now that I was being emotionally abused and manipulated, and that's f^cking plenty of "adversity". At the time I was still going through it, and I thought I had never really faced any adversity. I thought this was no big deal. I had a good childhood, my parents are still married, no one had ever even died (at the time), no one is chronically ill or anything, I'm white and middle class. These days we would call that highly privileged. It leaves you with a really odd insecurity about yourself, like you're somehow not worth sh!t unless you've suffered something and "faced adversity".
I still hate that stupid f^cking prompt to this day, even though I could trot out plenty answers to it now.
In Japan I worked with a junior high student named Taro. My job was to help him prepare for a speech by translating it from broken English to proper English, and helping him rehearse. The first line of his speech was:
**"Some days I don't want to be alive, I think it would benefit everyone if I was dead, but I can't. My mom won't let me." **
I had to put it down leave the room and have a big cry.
The speech was about how he has autism and how difficult it is for him to understand people and for people to understand him. Ultimately, he ends up doing or saying the wrong thing and he feels like he hurts people around him. He attempted suicide, but his mom found him and begged him to never try again. At the end of the speech, he asks people to try and accept people like him and if they see someone acting strange to remember they might be like him. Maybe they need more understanding.
He encouraged the audience to just ask him, he will explain his autism to them. He also asked them to forgive him, he is doing his best and to remember
"10 people, 10 colours" - it is okay to be different. Different allows us to broaden our minds.
At 14 Taros feeling of being a burden but were like what I felt. It took me until I was 20 to accept those feelings and not hurt myself. He has done it at 14. I told him I was proud of him and that I understand those feelings. We both cried a little. He asked me if I wanted a hug. Instead of just saying yes, I asked him if he wanted to hug. He said no, but he had learned that hugging is what people like to do when they are sad.
We didn't hug.
Damn it Taro! You are my hero!
My creative composition professor once had a student write a very graphic vignette about how said professor fell down a flight of stairs and broke every bone in his body. The student got an A because of how well written the piece was.
"Ladies, I'm Single."
I was in my public address class and someones first persuasive speech was about why you should rebel against society. Sounds like a cool idea right?
Well, he somehow mixed into his speech the fact that makeup causes violence because women cant afford it and go crazy killing people. He also brought up the fact that his parents are swingers and tell him about their "lifestyle activities" regularly.
His conclusion? "Ladies I'm single." Full finger guns and clicking sounds included.
You could say the speech was entertaining at least. 10/10 would be persuaded again.
One of my students here in Mexico wrote "noodle fight" in the middle of her written report, it had nothing to do with her report and it came out of nowhere, to this day I still don't know what she meant! BTW, I'm an English teacher here in Mexico and this happened at a university, the students were learning English as a second language!
I'm not an English teacher, but I read and advise current high schoolers on their college admissions essays and portfolios. One in particular stands out in my mind.
This boy, was quiet and reserved, as far as I could tell. He seemed smart, and had good grades. After a few attempts at college application essays that were "meh", I encouraged him to write about something that really meant a lot to him personally. He agreed to write another essay, this time writing from the heart, "with no filter."
I was excited---I have read a rare few superb college essays, and so I can tell when a student is inspired. A week later, we meet again, and he hands me his draft, looking a little uneasy. I expected something personal, like something about his family. Instead, as I read it, I realized that I was reading a literal manifesto.
It started out strong---talked about how he felt like an outsider because he had strong opinions, but believed that nobody would agree with him. After the intro, he basically outlined his entire political philosophy, in detail. First, economics: all currency should be abolished, production should be controlled by the state, and citizens should be given only what they need. Okay, I thought, Marxism is a little unusual.
Then, he went into society: all people should wear the same exact thing, uniforms, every day; all languages besides English should be outlawed; people should be sterilized at birth and permitted to breed only at the behest of the government. I was absolutely f---- up at this point, and this wasn't even half of the essay. It went on for maybe 2,000 more words (WAY over the word limit), and described a global government ruled by twelve people chosen for their IQ, wherein all people are assigned careers based on aptitude tests, and "dissenters" (his word) are "removed" from society and forced to live in labor camps. Basically, this kid spent several pages outlining a civilization somewhere between The Giver and 1984. Your textbook dystopian nightmare.
I didn't have any idea what to say, or where to even begin, so I just told him it was very interesting, but didn't talk about himself enough. I suggested we take a look at his previous draft.
He got into an exceptional school, and is now studying political science.
I may have enabled future Hitler.
Ms. Hunter Quits
I've actually had the reverse happen before, where an English teacher revealed a personal issue to our class through an assignment.
It was 6th grade. My English teacher was a young, peppy woman that always made time for her students and always had some sage advice for her them if you made the effort to ask. As a problem child myself, she was one of the few teachers I can recall being comfortable talking to about my own personal issues. One day, I remember the class getting a week long assignment where we had to write a short essay about something we were struggling with (be it personal, something relating to school, etc.), with the catch that it can be done anonymously. Over the course of the week, we submitted them, and she would read them out loud. Some people we could guess wrote what, some people we couldn't, as is the nature of these kinds of assignments.
That Friday, the assignment is pretty much winding down, and as she finishes reading what we think is the last essay, she says "Actually, one other person submitted an essay." hesitates a bit, and starts reading it. At first, no one is really sure who it's about and I could see a few people zoning out a bit. It wasn't until the words "nicotine addiction" popped up that people started listening and everyone noticed that our teacher was actually fighting back tears while reading it. As it turns out, reading our papers over the course of the week inspired her to confront her own nicotine /cigarette addiction. Everything ended with a big class group hug. She actually did manage to quit.
Hope you're doing okay out there, Ms. Hunter.
Horrible Beginning, Happy End
Between 16 and 21 I was a TA, then later, guest speaker in my high school health class.
I was both because I had grown up in an abusive home, had a history of drug addictions and alcoholism plus I had my first son when I was 16. So I would talk to the class about the importance of using a condom / birth control, the difficulty of parenthood as a teen, How to deal with abusive and dangerous home situations, As well as running a lot of group activities on the dangers of drug addiction and alcoholism.
The end of every quarter the teacher would ask them to write a thank you note for me. For both my TA stuff then guest speaking.
One girl wrote me a 4 page letter about how much it helped her and made her believe she could fix herself too, and that she didn't need to kill her self that summer.
She had hated her self and blamed her self for everything. I told her teachers that I HAD TO talk to her, and I grabbed her out of her next class after reading her letter and we spoke for the rest of the day. She went into great detail of everything that had been happening for the past 9 years. We made a plan and got her out of her house, into drug counseling.
She and I still talk to this day and she is doing very well. Shes getting her degrees to become a child psychologist specializing in helping children recover from abuse. She's become one of the most well adjusted young women I have ever known.
He's Never Been In The Military
I wrote my SAT essay about my dad who had died in Iraq. He's never been in the military. I may be an awful person, but I got a great score on it and I wouldn't have done it if it wasn't just between me and the person grading it... And now the whole internet I guess.
Because She Was Drunk
For one of my journalism classes last year we had to write a piece about a life changing moment. Every single one of us wrote about someone in our life who had died, except for one girl, who wrote about a time she accidentally drank a bottle of olive oil because she was drunk
"He Shouldn't Be A Teacher"
I teach in South Korea. One of my 6th grade students keeps a personal journal in English that he's very proud of. He is just starting to learn English, so his entries are usually very simple things like:
**"Today I went to the park!" **
One day he showed me his journal and one page had a detailed description about how the science teacher hit him hard in front of the whole class because he couldn't do one of the experiments properly. That page was longer than any other page in that journal, and more complex too. I remember the sentence:
"I feel bad every day in that class because my teacher is a horrible man. He shouldn't be a teacher."
The Poetic Love Triangle
Two years ago I put my students through a poetry unit which involved the writing of a LOT of poems. I think each student probably wrote ten to fifteen poems in a month in a variety of styles and lengths, with different amounts of editing.
At the end, we produced a poetry wall where everyone's poems went up and hung there for the rest of the year. One day as I was reading over the wall, I realized that - if you knew the kids involved - you could TOTALLY follow the course of a grade nine love triangle through the poems.
You could read about how happy Jane had been with John, but then about how much of a dick John had become. Then they changed to Jane's discovery of how nice Tim is, and how much she liked spending time with Tim. Meanwhile, Tim's poems start off being all lonely and then observing John and Jane from a distance, getting to know Jane, happiness with Jane and finally overwhelming joy when Jane leaves John and starts to date Tim.
John, for his part, showed some understanding in his later poems, his earlier stuff being mostly dark and accusatory. Ultimately, John realized that Jane was probably better off with Tim and came to know that he, too, would be okay and was a better person for going through it.
Of course it was all symbolic and didn't have any names attached, but if you knew the kids, and knew the fact they'd had this little love triangle, it was almost painfully obvious what they were writing about.
I didn't experience this a teacher, but as a student. We had to give a presentation in our communications class about our guilty pleasures. Some people did chocolate or keeping up with the Kardashians.
An international student did hers on "GV, aka, gay videos." She did indeed mean pornography. I mean slides with images and everything.
Something Bad Can Turn Out Good.
In high school, my son had to write about how a bad thing turned out to be something good. The bad thing was his mother's death. He gave me a copy. I'll hold onto that forever.
His mom turned into a much different woman from the person I'd married. She'd become addicted to opioids, was angry all of the time, and took the slightest incident and magnified it all out of proportion. We were in the process of getting divorced when she died of an overdose. According to his essay, the good was that she wasn't yelling at us any more; that I'd met the person who is now my fiancée, and was much happier. Also, instead of her being a non-working financial burden, I was receiving SSI survivors' benefits for him and his younger brother. That meant I didn't have to work as many hours, and had gotten a better job, so I had nights and weekends off to be with the family instead of working mall hours.
It's been a couple of years since I've read it, so I don't remember the details, but that's the gist of it. We're all happy now. We weren't before.
About A Boy
Not the teacher, but wanted to share this story. In tenth grade, we were assigned to write a paper about a major moment in our life. At one point, we had to present our rough drafts to the entire class. A friend of mine started her essay with something along the lines of
"I remember standing there. Knowing HE was in that room. That HE would change my life. That HE would -"
And my teacher cut off her. Called her out in front of the class, told her off for "writing about something as unimportant as a boy"
My friend was shaken up, then flatly announced her paper was about the day she met her biological father and what it felt like to be told to never contact him or his new family again.
_The teacher was mortified. _
I believe she pulled her out later to apologize, but there wasn't much coming back from that.
Mom Chose The Boyfriend
Students (grade 3...9ish y/o) had to write a poem that goes like
I am happy when\__
I am excited when_
I am angry when\__
I am sad when*__*
One girl wrote "I am angry when" but never finished it. There were multiple erased words. Then:
**"I am sad when my mom's boyfriend comes over" **
I saw it when she turned it in - as they were being dismissed to gym.
I asked her to stick around. I went line by line through the poem asking her to explain each point. She couldn't explain why she erased the "angry" part, just saying she couldn't find the right words. She said:
"I don't know what word fits for angry all the time."
She said that moms boyfriend makes her cry, and he grabs her too hard. I asked her why he grabs, and she said he grabs her when she's being bad. I asked her to point to where, and she pulled up her pink sleeve. She had bruises on her arms.
I asked if she wanted some juice, or a treat before gym to keep the conversation moving away from what evidence I uncovered. She had a hard candy and we walked to gym together while she happily enjoyed it and we talked about her favorite gym game.
After I dropped her off, I went right to the principals office, and told them the situation and we made notes on the conversation. We had to follow protocol, so child protective services were called, they saw the girl half an hour later, and she was taken to their day center while the mom was contacted.
Her mother refused to leave the boyfriend, and the child was relinquished into protective services. She was forced to change schools, the whole bit. The last time I saw her was guarding a bowling pin from being pelted by dodgeballs. She had a big smile, mishapen only by the candy she still had tucked in her cheek
My heart still hurts in all kinds of ways thinking about it. I have never talked to friends or family about it. This is the first time I've said anything in over a year.
Never Asking That Again
As a first assignment to a composition class I would have students do a personal essay where they had to discuss something that happened to them earlier in their life and how their perspective on that event has changed over time. It was natural that a lot of students would pick tragic events but usually it was when their grandma died or something like that. They could sometimes be a bit hard to read but were generally not too bad.
But then I had a student tell a story about her younger sister getting sucked into the propellers of a speedboat and chopped to pieces. The next semester I cut that assignment from my curriculum and have never used it again.