Teachers have the ability to make or break a student’s childhood. It’s part of their job to keep the class under control and figure out if there’s anything serious going on outside of the classroom. Unfortunately, a lot of students undergo trauma in life and their stories are enough to break your heart.
#1 Getting Out
I had a student who frequently lingered in my classroom after school. She often looked ill and was always very weird. One day, she opened up to me and said that her mother and her live-in boyfriend ingested substances every night. I told my principal after she spoke to me and she informed me that CPS was already involved.
A few days later, the same girl told me that her mom and boyfriend would force her to take the same substances. They would also tell her that she couldn’t tell anyone they were still doing it because she would get in trouble for doing it too. She asked me to keep it a secret (which I obviously couldn’t) because she was worried she’d get arrested.
#2 Both Her Parents
I once had a student walk up to me and say, "Mary won't be here today, her mom passed away last night.” I was taken aback and asked, "Wait, didn't her dad pass away a few weeks ago?" The student replied that yes, he did. Both of her parents passed suddenly within a few weeks of each other from different medical conditions.
#3 Filing a Report
One of my students who was always in a good mood came into the class looking very down. She was not acting her usual self. I had to get onto her several times for being on her phone (again, very unlike her). She asked if she could speak to me in the hallway. She apologized for being in a bad mood and then asked if she could tell me why, which I obviously agreed to. She proceeded to take off her cardigan and showed me welts that she had gotten the night before. “I don’t know what to do.” Sadly, it was not the first time I had to report.
#4 Turning in a Paper
I teach pretty much exclusively college freshmen and by that point, they all have that fatalistic sense of humor anyway. But it gets real sad when they get to the end of their rope. Nothing specific that I can remember, but a lot of “Why did I think I could make it in college?” and “I’m too stupid for this. I should drop out.” They actually mean it.
A student asked to talk to me before class and said, “I know this paper is important and all and I don’t want you to hate me but I couldn’t get my paper done...” I’m used to this sort of thing, I mean, it’s just natural. But then he took a deep breath and blurted out, “My dad called me last night and told me he was leaving my mom and moving away. So, he’s leaving me too and I just couldn’t deal with it. I’m really sorry if you’re mad at me.”
I don’t know, it really just hits me hard when they have to deal with more than they should. Not to mention, on top of everything that they’re experiencing, they think I’ve formed a personal opinion of them and that I’m going to think badly of them based on something like this. I just feel really bad for them.
#5 Sicker Than Sick
A five-year-old preschool girl with a 103-degree fever, sicker than sick. She begged the nurse, "please don't send me home." She was allowed to sleep in the nurse's office until the end of the day. That was about two and a half years ago. A few months later, she was removed by CPS and has been with a foster family (me) for nearly two years now.
#6 Keeping the Lights On
"Ms., do you know how to get [a local electric company] to turn your power back on? I get paid today, but they pay me on a card. So, do I get out cash and get a money order, and where do I take it to?" The kid was only 16. But that kid got their power turned back on, that day, all by themselves. I didn't do anything but teach them how to talk to people in call centers and make the introduction to the CSR.
#7 Next Meal
The story that comes to mind was back in middle school. All of the kids went on a field trip and one kid was quite upset because they wouldn't be at school, so he wouldn't get lunch. The kids were obviously fed at the field trip, but he was actually very concerned that he wasn't going to get fed at all that day.
#8 Those Are My Trophies
My mother was a teacher for nearly 30 years. She spent the last 10 years at a middle school that was pretty hard up in the Tulsa public school system. She had a very good student who came to school every day in the same clothing. We can call him J. The clothing was always washed but around halfway through the year, his clothing became tattered and stained. The other students began to notice and make comments. The school tried to give him clothing, but he refused. He would not accept a hand out.
A few teachers came up with a plan for the school and put on a contest where the winner was given some new, very nice, school clothing. This contest was set up for J to win. This way, he could have new clothing and not feel as though he was given anything. J won the contest. He accepted the new clothing gladly. The next day, he was still wearing his old clothes. My mom asked him why he was not wearing the new clothing. "Those are my trophies. I have them hanging on my wall." Rips my heart right out of my chest.
#9 Not Waking Up
I had a student walk up to me and say, "My sister didn't wake up today." Her sister complained of headaches the night before because she hit her head. Her parents didn't think anything was seriously wrong. They took her off life support a few days later and she was only nine years old. Her sister? Five years old.
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#10 A Few Examples
I can think of a few examples. A 15-year-old student once asked me, totally serious, “Can you be my mom?” Another student once said, “This is my real family” when referring to the teachers and friends at school. “I don’t deserve this” was once said by a teen when given a sweater on a very cold day. I hear a lot of this stuff. I wish there was so much more I could do.
#11 Having a Hard Time
"Why should I even try? I'm just stupid anyway." A student of mine has a learning disability and has a hard time with reading. That's not to mention his ADHD with ODD (he sees a therapist every week and is way better). This trickles down to just about every subject he has. It broke my heart when he said that.
#12 Drawing His Heart
A six-year-old preschool kid took my hand and wanted to show me something he had drawn. The drawing was in dark colors and sort of angry-looking. He explained that he had drawn his heart, which was broken and hurting very bad. He said it wasn't any fun when his heart hurt like that. He was often being excluded from the group by his classmates, sometimes even bullied. He didn't have the social skills to communicate well with his friends, which led to him being very misunderstood, even though he always meant well.
#13 Getting Punished
A student once told me, “I want to play with my friend today, but her dad passed away, so she can't come over. I told her that I was very sorry to hear that and she replied, “Yeah. My mom said God is punishing her.” I explained that "God" does not punish people like that and it is not her friend's fault that her dad passed away.
#14 Had it All
I’m a middle school teacher and have been for nine years. I also teach in a very poor district here. I have had students whose siblings lost their lives to gang activities, attacks from authorities, have had homeless kids, a pregnant seventh grader in my class, and letters about inappropriate behavior. I've had it all.
#15 String of Stories
I had a kid read a story about a dog being cloned, but she latched onto the part where the dog passed away and started bawling. I took her out for a walk to calm down and asked her if she had any pets. She used to have a dog, but it chewed a shoe so her parents gave it away. She used to have a cat, but it scratched her dad, so they gave it away. They had a lizard, but parents forgot to feed it and it passed away. On and on went this string of horrible pet owner stories. I really regretted opening that can of worms, but it did take her mind off the story and she stopped crying.
#16 Your Greatest Fear
I’ll never forget this one time when a student innocently asked me why I didn’t have any children of my own. I merely replied that I didn’t necessarily want kids. They then replied, “But you’re going to be alone when you pass away!” There’s nothing like a nine-year-old throwing your greatest fear right in your face.
#17 Bawling Together
I once had a student ask me to adopt her my first year teaching. She was in the process with a nice lady who lived in the next county over (unfortunately, it didn't work out) and was nervous about the move. We bawled together because here I was thinking that the kid didn't like me because I was a strict teacher.
#18 Sibling Rivalry
I ran holiday science workshops, filled with brainy kids as you'd expect. There was an 11-year-old girl who was brilliant at everything, the content was clearly beneath her. Very quiet, respectful, well-liked by the other kids. Her parents were moving soon because she received scholarships to a prestigious school. Whenever her dad came to pick her up, he was obviously proud, telling me about all her achievements, how she was in advanced classes, just won all these sports awards too, etc. He also showed videos and photos of her winning all these soccer games.
They enrolled her younger brother in similar sessions. He gave it a go in the first few but really struggled, always the last to finish and felt his work didn't look as good as the others. He looked embarrassed to ask for help. He screamed at his sister when she tried to fix his circuit. Eventually, he just began acting out, putting off the work, challenging me to get a laugh out of the other kids, messing around. After a disastrous month, he stopped trying altogether.
He just came in one afternoon and sat there, not doing anything. I tried to engage him in the activity and said if he didn't like what the other kids were doing, we could pick anything else he wanted to do. He said something like, "What's the point? My parents will never love me as much as they love my sister."
#19 Making an Arrangement
We had a student who was large for his age. He came from a poor household with an addicted, sick mom. He was never clean and similar with clothes. He had maybe four outfits that he rotated but didn’t really wash them. We discovered the water was recently turned off at his home. He didn't want new clothes, so we came to an agreement. He would arrive during breakfast serving, grab a quick, free meal and head straight to the locker room. He would shower and while he showered, his clothes were washed in the PE washing machine with all the loaner uniforms from the previous day. It worked well and he showed significant improvement in emotional well-being.
#20 Home on Fire
So, this technically isn’t something he said, but it stuck with me regardless. I was tutoring a Somali refugee student who was about 15 years old at the time. The students were told to draw pictures of their background, their lives, or something along those lines. This one student drew pictures of houses on fire.
#21 Classroom Introductions
I'm not a teacher, but when I was in school, I remember we were asked to introduce ourselves so we could all get to know each other. When it was her turn to go, a classmate of mine said her name and that her parents passed away when she was young, which is why she lived with her aunt. Then she just sat back down.
#22 Naughty in My Brain
I've only been teaching for around nine months, but one sticks out. I do a lot of one-on-one work with a reception-aged child who has quite severe ADHD and needs constant supervision. I get to take him outside and do gross motor work with him, and I've really taken a shine to him. It broke my heart a couple of weeks ago when he was stopped by the deputy head and told off for running down the corridor. He burst into tears, which is completely unlike him, and said, "I just can't get the naughty out of my brain."
#23 Trouble at Home
There was a student who constantly said some pretty sad stuff like, "My mommy doesn't like me," "I'm not getting presents for Christmas," "My mommy attacked my daddy last night." Turns out, her mother was toxic to her (and her husband) and refused to even touch her. (There was also a lot of other terrible stuff.) Her parents have split and she’s now in a safe home where she’s loved. She was only four at the time.
#24 Kind Heart
I (as a student with severe mental health problems) confided in my professor four years ago. I went to her office the day a big term paper was due and just told her that I was completely overwhelmed. I hadn’t even started the paper because I was dealing with frustrating run-around trying to transfer universities, trying to sort out my apartment lease, ex-girlfriend troubles and trying to explain to my family how miserable I was. All of that on top of four other classes-worth of homework. I was almost crying because I was in so much emotional pain.
I am so thankful that my professor had such a kind heart. She understood my need to take some time to myself to get things figured out. She talked with me for almost an hour and allowed me an unlimited extension on the assignment (I could take as long as I needed, as long as it was turned in before the last day of the semester). I turned the paper in two weeks later and got an A-.
#25 The Bad Twin
I co-taught a class one year and we had a few twins in our classes (split between different periods). With one set of twins, one girl was a fantastic student. She was bright, conscientious, diligent, and was a joy to have in the classroom. Her sister, on the other hand, was a mess. She never knew what was going on, had a terrible attitude, was completely disorganized, and was often disruptive.
If I ever called on her, she'd roll her eyes and say, "Ugh, I don't know.” It was like I was unreasonable in expecting she’d be able to answer a question about something I said three seconds earlier. My co-teacher met their parents at parent-teacher night. Apparently, the parents spent most of the time talking about the "good" twin and actually called the other one "the bad twin" when they did talk about her. I felt bad after hearing that.
#26 Forming a Bond
I’m a high school teacher at a school for at-risk youth so I get a lot of depressing stuff. I really bonded with one student about comic books and even let him borrow my first edition Umbrella Academy comics. He was homeless and living at a friend's house on a yoga mat on the floor for the better part of a year. He asked me to adopt him. My students are the reason I want to become a foster parent.
#27 Makes Me Sick
I was treating a little girl’s knee after she accidentally scraped it. As I was helping her, I said to make sure she shows her mom when she gets home. “My mom’s gone. She was hit by a train last week.” I knew about the accident and can’t fathom why it came out of my mouth. It makes me sick every time I think about it.
#28 Summer Break
My mom was a bus driver and asked a boy around 14 if he was looking forward to summer break. He laughed and said, “Not really. At least during school, I get to eat regularly.” My mom hired him to help out on our farm. He became a treasured family friend and is the proud papa of three mini-hims. They don't go hungry.
#29 Low Attendance
It’s depressing, but my teacher said it to me. “Why don’t you have any friends? Do you want me to talk to the other kids to add you to their group?” Nothing changed. I never changed until the end of school and rarely had someone to even sit with me in class. This was one of the reasons why I had such low attendance in school.
#30 Making Jokes
During a class in elementary school, we were joking about our teacher's age (she was middle-aged, but we'd just make old jokes because she was very old-fashioned). Some idiot in our class shouted, "You're so old your parents are probably gone!" 100% wasn't funny, you could hear a pin drop after that. Turns out, her mother passed away early in her life.
#31 Boosting Their Confidence
Any time a student says anything like, “You’re the only one who cares about me,” “You’re the reason I come to school,” “You’re the reason I graduated,” or something along those lines. It crushes me every time. Anyone can graduate high school, but they lack the confidence in themselves to see it. I try so hard every day to let them know they can do it, but they go home and get the opposite from their parents.
#32 In the Running
I have a couple in the running. "My boyfriend was attacked in front of me and passed away in my arms. The ambulance we called never arrived." Another student once told me, "Mom went to go stay with my older sister [three states away] for a while. She told me I'm in charge of [his twin 15-year-old brother] and we need to make sure we stay at [a specific shelter].” She never came back.
Another time, a visibly sick student in class said, "Mom said she's working, and I tried to call my dad. He hung up on me... He doesn't care about me anyway." On the first day of school (and the first day of my career), I asked, "How was your morning?" A student replied, "Dude took two to the chest on his front porch on my way to school. Don't worry though, I didn't see his face. What are we doin’ today?"
#33 Looking Something Up
One morning, two students came in early to my room and asked if they could use my student computer. I said sure and figured that they just needed to finish a project. Nope. Turns out their best friend was attacked two days before because he wouldn’t give his money he earned to someone trying to rob him. His family needed the money to not be homeless, so he lost his life trying to look out for his family (and for $80 or something).
My students were creating flyers and a GoFundMe so they could try to help the parents not be homeless and to afford a funeral. To make matters worse, the kid was attacked on a Saturday. The person who did it came to my school on Monday as if nothing had happened. Authorities pulled him out of the class in the middle of the day once they had figured out it was him.
#34 Notebook Entry
I had a student write his will in his notebook. I was walking around at the start of class, checking to make sure students were starting their bellwork (responding to a prompt). I didn’t believe what I saw at first. I immediately talked to him outside and sent him to the counselor, but it was one of the most depressing yet jarring things I’ve seen. He was 12 years old when this happened. Thankfully, he’s still alive and well.
#35 Mom’s Bad Word
This four-year-old kindergarten student said to me, “My mom said a bad word.” I replied, “Hmm, adults can do that sometimes. What did she say?” He then told me, “She said she hates me.” It was heartbreaking. So I just said to him that I’m positive his mom loves him dearly and just said it in anger. He didn’t even seem bothered by it, he just said it in passing.
#36 Do They Hate Me?
I have a student with severe ADHD. He's always talking and interrupting in class but doesn't seem to be able to stop. He'll also get up and bother other students, etc. His parents have refused to try any way to help him. "All the other kids hate me, don't they?" It breaks my heart because it's true. Oh, this kid is also eight.
#37 In the Sun
My student told us that her mom was taken by ambulance to the hospital the night before after she stopped breathing. The other kids pressed her on what happened and she just shrugged and said her mom would be okay. Two days later, I got the word that her mom was on life support and her daughter had no idea. That Friday afternoon, I let the kids have an extra recess and watched my student play and laugh with all the other kids in the sun knowing that she might not be happy like that again for a long time.
#38 Back of the Paper
When I was in seventh grade, I sat next to a kid in my English class who didn't have any friends and wouldn't talk to anyone who tried. He got back a paper with a D on it and the teacher had written some questions on the paper about whether he'd had trouble with the assignment (I don't remember exactly). Underneath her question, he wrote, "Because I am stupid and useless.” At the end of the class, he walked by her desk and put it in the pile. When she looked at it I thought she was going to start crying. One day, he just wasn't in school anymore.
#39 A Smart Brain
I taught students with intellectual disabilities. Some people use the term "mentally challenged." I can't remember what we were doing, but I had a student who had a hard time stringing complete sentences together. He looked at me and said, "I don't want to be stupid. I want a smart brain like you." It was heartbreaking. Most of them knew they had disabilities, and understood just enough to feel inferior. I was speechless, but if it happened again, I'd remind this child of his remarkable gift of humor and bringing joy to others.
#40 Can I Stay?
“Can I stay for tutoring? When I go home, my mom is going to hurt me.” They came in the next Monday with a black eye. We contacted CPS and the investigation never amounted to anything. A few months later, the kid had a broken arm and CPS was contacted again, but nothing happened. The student’s mom removed him from our school because we were “lying on her.”
#41 Birth Mother
Last week, I asked my freshmen what their weekend plans were and one kid said he was finally meeting his birth mother. He was nervous and excited and said he had so many questions to ask her. Monday rolled around and I saw that he looked sad. I asked him how the meeting went and he said in the saddest voice, “She didn’t show.” I wanted to cry right there.
#42 Lump in My Throat
I was playing Would You Rather with my kiddos to get to know them better. I asked, “Would you rather have the power to be invisible or time travel?” The group started separating until one boy shouted, “Oh! I’d want to go back in time so I could see my dad again!” And one by one, every child in the class yelled, “Me too, me too!” until they were all on one side of the room. It was a second and third-grade class. I got such a lump in my throat.
#43 Good Grades
When I started teaching music lessons almost a decade ago, one of my students (12 years old) told me that his mom still spanked him if he didn't get good enough grades, or forgot to do chores. He wasn't a bad kid, either. Very smart, and polite. Just a pure, honest kid. He did his best in his lessons, too. I hope it stopped soon after, and his mom found a more sensible way to correct whatever he was doing wrong.
#44 Stress Leave
I’m not a teacher, but my third-grade teacher was having a really bad day with many kids behaving badly. She had us line up and go to her desk one by one and tell her (quietly) if there was something upsetting us that day. I don’t know what the other kids told her but I told her that my mom had shouted at me that morning, “No one will ever love you!” Knowing my classmates and the area we were living in, I’m sure she heard some sad stuff. She went on stress leave shortly thereafter.
#45 Mother’s Day Gift
I’m a pre-K teacher. We were working on a gift for Mother’s Day and the majority of my kids were working away. I walked up to one student who wasn’t really participating and asked, “What do you love about mommy?” They simply replied, “I don’t love mommy. I don’t really see her. I love you because I see you more.”
#46 Paying the Rent
I give private instrument lessons and was teaching a fifth-grade girl how to play the saxophone. She was so talented, already far exceeding many of my older students. I last saw her two weeks ago, only for her to come in and say she couldn't take lessons anymore because her mother sold her saxophone to pay for rent. The look in her face as she told me absolutely destroyed me.
#47 In All Seriousness
I’m a student-teacher. As a prompt, my teacher had the nerve to ask my freshmen, "If you could pass away at any age, what age would you pick?" Some played along and said something crazy like 526, but this one quiet kid looked me in the eye and said, in all seriousness, "13." Needless to say, we had to report him to the counselor for support.
#48 Overworking Themselves
I'm a first-year elementary school English teacher in Japan. I try not to ask the kids questions that are too personal, since it's not my place to overstep those boundaries. But my students often come to school even if they're sick. I once asked one of them why they didn't ask to stay home if they were feeling so bad, and they told me, "I don't have a choice."
There's a huge societal pressure to attend school or work no matter how bad you're feeling. If you don't go to the hospital, you "aren't sick enough" and become a topic of concern. That's the mentality for everyone, including the teachers and salarymen that overwork themselves to the point of physical exhaustion and illness. It breaks my heart.
#49 Living Situation
One of my mom's high school students revealed that she was actually living in her car to stay away from her addicted mom. My mom was pretty upset by that and that's when my parents started considering officially fostering her. It didn't come to that, but they did help to get her in with one of her grandparents.
#50 Swimming Lessons
I was a swim instructor and I had one girl who had her nanny take her every time. She refused to get in the water until her mom was there and the nanny had to explain she wasn’t coming. The girl refused to get in the water after that. The nanny continued to take her and she would sit on the edge with her legs crossed, refusing to even touch the water.