There are plenty of downsides to teaching: Rowdy kids, terrible pay, test-marking all-nighters, horrible cafeteria food, students who don't appreciate you. Teaching can be draining, but every so often, teachers come across a moment that makes them think their job is worth it. When a seemingly dumb student says something really smart, they know they've done their job right. Teachers let us in on the good stuff in the stories below.
Don't forget to check the comment section below the article for more interesting stories!
#1 A Dinosaur's Legs Are...
I had a kid who is kind of never quite paying attentions. We read a dinosaur book and were answering VERY basic first grade questions in the back of the book. It literally had a brachiosaurus and said:
The dinosaur's legs are:
He pretty much got stuck here and didn't move on. To me, it was the easiest question in the book but some of the students are low-level English learners so it is possible he just couldn't understand the words long or short. After like seven minutes of doing my rounds and assisting other students, I came back to him. He had written in:
c) "Long" and "short" are both opinion words.
#2 How's Chess?
I used to teach chess to elementary level kids. We would run "Chess Camp" over the summer. About 20-40 kids would come in every day for a full "school day" but every period was basically a chess class. It lasts a week. On the first day, I would tell kids they need to lose to get better, which is true in a game like chess (especially in the beginning). I would tell them, "You have to lose 50 games before you can improve in chess."
Well, on about day three I was walking from the field to the class and saw one of my students, a second grader, walking the other direction. I asked him off-hand, "How's chess going?" He responded, "Well, I've lost all of my games so I guess I'm doing great!"
#3 Smart Kid
In a college music history class, we were discussing the differences in sound between a harpsichord from the High Baroque and today's grand piano. One student, who normally contributed little, said: "The reason the two instruments sound so different is because harpsichord strings are plucked by quills, whereas piano strings are struck by hammers—and, you'd make different sounds, too, if plucked or struck!"
#4 Stranger Danger
I worked in the school admin office in an elementary school for a while. We had a cop come in to speak to the kids, basically to warn them of stranger danger. The cop was great and told the kids how they should always be careful, and that some bad men might take them away from their moms and dads.
One kid put his hand up and asked, "So what will happen if we go with one of these strange men?” The cop wasn't prepared for that question and just said how sad it would be and how his parents would miss him. A few days later, a new buzzword was going around the school which phonetically sounded like “peed-or-file." The kid had looked up online or spoke to someone and then told the other kids in schools about what pedophiles do. It scared some of the kids and the principal had to come to each class to calm the kids down.
#5 Centaurs Are Insects
When learning mythology, one kid said: "Mister, if centaurs have two arms and four legs, does that make them insects?"
#6 He Speaks the Truth
I have a student in my class with autism. He is very high-functioning but he is a couple of years behind his grade level. We were discussing the American Revolution and one of the vocabulary words we had was "tyrannical leader." I jokingly told the class that if I was ever the leader of the country, that’s the kind of leader I would be.
I went on to say that all of your teachers would be that way too. Most of the class looked at me blankly but this one kid with autism understood what I was saying and looked at me and while trying to contain his laughter. He said, “Well, that’s because all teachers have a superiority complex.” I just couldn’t help but laugh in front of the class for the next five minutes.
"If you were an inch taller you'd be round!" You just can't punish wordplay like that.
#8 Kids Are Dogs
This kid isn’t dumb, but most of the things he says are. He told me that he really wanted to get a dog, but his parents wouldn't do it because there would be no one home to take care of the dog most of the time. The rest of the conversation went like this:
Me: "That makes sense. Puppies and dogs need lots of attention. It wouldn’t be nice to leave them home alone all day."
Kid: "Well we could bring it to doggy daycare."
Me: "Every day? If someone is taking care of your dog for eight hours every day, is that even your dog?
Kid: "Well that’s what they do with kids!"
So real and so sad. That moment has stayed with me for a few years now.
#9 He's Not Wrong
“I remember ‘circumference’ because it sounds like ‘circumcised’!”
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#10 Are You My Daddy?
My school has "extras", which is something in addition to the basic school lunch, like an ice cream sandwich. I was on lunch duty one day and a middle school boy jokingly said to me, "Mister, you wanna buy me an extra?" I replied with "Do I look like your daddy?" He replied, straight-faced, "I don't know, you might. I ain't never met him." I bought him an extra.
#11 You're Not Pretty
I was teaching a class of seven and eight-year-olds. A pair of girls gave me a drawing and said it was really pretty. Another girl who had learning delays heard this and came up to me saying, "I don't think you are pretty." I was taken aback but kids are kids and they don't always have filters. She saw the look on my face and followed up quickly by saying, "I think you are kind and smart. Being pretty doesn't matter. Girls can be more than pretty. Are you going to stay as our teacher forever?" And that was the moment I knew this profession was for me.
#12 He Was Right
"I don't understand what's going on in class because you explain things so only the smart kids understand." He was absolutely right. I wasn't meeting my students on their level and building them up. I was immediately expecting them to be on my level, and that just wasn't realistic. Five years ago, as a brand new teacher, this was an important thing for me to hear. It completely changed the way I planned lessons and I'm a much better teacher now because of what he said. I still think back on that moment. Sometimes the students impact our lives just as much as we impact theirs, and teach us important lessons.
#13 Mermaids Aren't Math
I was making a joke about mermaids to a six-year-old: "If a mermaid is a person on top and a fish on the bottom, is a person-on-bottom fish-on-top a mermaid too or is it something else?"
The kid paused and said, "Well, no, it's not a mermaid because if you have a fraction like 1/2 its not the same as 2/1." I thought that was both the cleverest answer to that question I had ever heard but also it made no sense. Mermaids aren't math. I ask that question to a lot of kids and that's by far my favorite answer.
#14 Mind Blown
Fifth-grader: Gets negative for a volume answer.
Me: "Negative volume? Think about that for a minute."
Fifth-grader: "Couldn't that be for a black hole?"
#15 Tell Me the Answer
One day, a pretty bad kid was actually putting forth some effort in math (or so I thought). He raised his hand because he was “stuck” so I helped him in the same manner that I help all of my students, which is guiding them towards the answer while not giving the answer. After I helped him, a few minutes passed and he was really excited. He said, “Mr. H, I have the answer!” I said, "-17?" And he said, “Yeah now I have the answer!” He proceeded to never let me live down the fact that he finessed me out of that answer for the rest of the year!
#16 Find Me a Dinglehopper
I don't even know exactly what the topic of discussion was, but I think we were defining some basic ideas related to social ethics. One mediocre student asked how we will know when we've arrived at the right definition if we have no knowledge of it beforehand. This student didn't realize he had inadvertently stumbled upon an epistemological conundrum that has troubled philosophers going all the way back to Plato, if not further. It would be like asking someone to go out and find me a dinglehopper. Well, if you have no idea what a dinglehopper is, then you can't very well know when you've got it.
#17 Sticks and Stones
“I’m not going to fight him. I’m an adult now and adults don’t use their hands to hurt people; they use their words.” A seventh-grader said this.
#18 Enjoy Your Snowballs
In a college American Literature class, there sat in the front row a student named Jeremy Lucas who dressed like a Rock-a-billy, always ate Hostess Snowballs, drank chocolate milk, and never said a word. One day, after drawing blanks from all of us regarding the narrative themes of The Great Gatsby, the professor turned and said, “Perhaps Mr. Lucas, YOU could enlighten the class on your views of the subject.” Jeremy replied, “May I stand?” After the professor granted him the floor, Jeremy then took over the class and delivered a 45 minute lecture on Gatsby and Fitzgerald’s view of a post-WWI America. It was interesting, informative, and better than anything the professor had done all year. At the end of the lecture, the professor turned to Jeremy and, laughing, said, “Enjoy your Snowballs, Mr. Lucas.”
#19 Matter of Opinion
I teach life skills to kids. I have to give a pre and post-test to the kids every year. I personally think it’s extremely poorly written, and kids usually struggle because it was obviously made by someone who doesn’t work with kids. I help them through it as much as possible without giving the answers. It’s all true or false. A lot of the questions use logical fallacies, such as saying, "Most people my age...” which again, is too high level. One fourth grade kid, who is very smart and a little impulsive, raised his hand and said, “Um, Miss, isn’t that a matter of opinion?” I about fell over
I'm teaching in an elementary school. We were talking about what's typical for boys and girls and about whether these stereotypes are really true. A boy, who was interrupting class the whole year and didn't take much interest, raised his hand and said, "But isn't this totally stupid? Isn't it most important that your happy? It doesn't matter if boys wear dresses. If they like it, they can wear whatever they want." I was really proud of him.
#21 The Pill
I had a student in ninth grade biology named Manny. I told my kids if they would get through mitosis and meiosis, I would answer any questions they had about the mechanics of reproduction. One girl asked about birth control. I answered, and Manny, who had never heard of birth control said, “Wait. You’re telling me, there’s a pill that girls take and they don’t get pregnant? Then why are all these girls pregnant!"
#22 There's Only One of Me
I had a set of twins in my class one time. I knew them from around school but I didn’t know that there were two of them, I just thought there was one who was really fast or whatever. So, on the first day, I was calling out roll and I saw two similar names with the same last name. I called the first one. The girl said she was there. I asked if there were two of her. She responded, “Um, no, there’s one of me. But I do have a twin.”
#23 We In It
I told him, "Sorry kiddo. I know. The struggle is real." Without missing a beat, he replied, "Yeah Miss, but we in it."
#24 Deep Statement
There was this kid in my biological themes in film class who would always try to crack jokes and didn't get any of the deeper themes of the movies we watched. However, when I showed them Lorenzo's Oil and I remarked how the parents were just trying to make sure the child was as comfortable as possible before he died, the student replied, "Isn't that how everyone lives?" I had to take a second to think about how strangely deep that was coming from this class clown.
#25 This Is True
"I realize I have a better chance of going to a trade school. College is overpriced, even for the academically inclined."
#26 Lost My Marbles
I teach ESL (English as a second language). I had a student who was about seven years old and we were all doing the workbook. The lesson revolved around things like big and small, old and new, clean and dirty, as well as toys, like dolls, balls, yo-yos, and the words this/that/these/those. It is easily one of my least favorite lessons because it really is a lot for young students to understand.
The photo was a boy pointing to a desk with a few small, round objects on it. The girl was taking forever, but she always seemed a bit slower in class, and so I wasn’t too shocked. I was checking the other students. I figured she would finish in time and I would help her at the correction stage.
Finally, she made it up to my desk to show me the picture. The obvious answer was “These are small balls.” What did she have though? “These are marbles.” The kids hadn’t even learned that word! How she came up with it left me absolutely baffled, but from that point on, I never questioned her intelligence. I figured she just knew different things, but it didn’t mean she didn’t understand. She clearly just spent 30 minutes wracking her brain for the best word for “small balls."
A kid was answering a question and used the word “vernacular.” Everyone just stopped and looked at him and he was like: “Yeah, that’s right. I know words.” This was grade nine.
#28 Harry Potter Fan
When I was teaching second grade, I had a mug that said, "I teach muggles because Hogwarts wasn't hiring." A boy noticed the HP-font and asked what it meant. I translated it for him and he said, "But you don't even know if we are muggles or not! We might get a letter at eleven years old!" I was quite impressed with that quick thinking.
#29 This Is Amazing
Just this past Tuesday, I had a student struggling with science homework. He was almost mute about what he needed and what he didn't understand, no matter how much I tried to guide him through unit conversions. The study period was ending and I had to let him go with little progress made. As he was packing up, he told me, "I'll try it again after art class. I'm usually smarter at this after I do some art."
I thought that was an interesting observation, and I asked him why he thought that might be the case. He said, "I'm pretty good at art. It's easier to try hard stuff while I still feel like I'm good at something because I want to keep feeling like that." That's the entire educational psychology argument for fostering a sense of competency in the support of intrinsic motivation, in the fewest words possible.
#30 I Love Horror Films
I was studying gothic novels with my low ability, special needs group and they were asked to say how they feel about horror films. My student came out with, "I love horror films because they make me more aware of my surroundings." I was very impressed.
#31 What Day Will the Tornado Be Here?
I'm an English as a second language teacher. I specifically work with new-to-country students who have only just arrived in the U.S. One day, a few years ago, I was trying to explain to my class why we were practicing a tornado drill. Many had never seen or heard of a tornado so I found a quick YouTube clip to show what they are.
After we finished, one girl was visibly freaked out but very clearly wanted to be prepared for this monstrosity. So she took out her planner and asked me what days the tornado comes to the city. I tried to be consoling but inside I was laughing so hard!
#32 Yeah, Why?
“Why can we eat some plants and not others?”
#33 Smarter Than He Seems
The student I work with is incredibly clever. He is autistic and at about a first-grade level. We were working on sight words and reading, and he'd stare at the word for a few seconds, then at me. I'd sound it out for him and then he'd say it. It started happening way more often with words he definitely knew, so I made him start sounding them out alone repeatedly until he figured out the word. After two days of this, I said "sound it out" and he actually rolled his eyes and said the word. He'd just been lazy and wanting me to do it for him. Since then, I've found a lot of things he's capable of but people underestimate him and do it for him, so he's gotten stubborn and lazy.
#34 Very Smart
When I was teaching subtracting across zero (507-254) to second graders, one kid said: "It's like when your mom needs milk and you go to your neighbor and no one is there so you go to the next door."
#35 Smart Dumb Kid
A few kids in my class were having a disagreement on their group assignment. I instinctively called out the naughty kid (whose whiney voice is ingrained in my brain and is the first voice I often notice). He jumped up and screamed that his group are egotistical idiots who can't even decide on a topic two days into their assignment. I was impressed by his vocabulary but more so by the fact that the small amount that had been done on the assignment already was completely his work. I still had to send him to the principal's office, along with the other kids.
Some of my fifth graders were playing with a basketball in the hallway. I told them to stop, and they did for a second, then they continued. I said "Guys, WHY do you keep bouncing that ball in the hallway?" One of them just looked at me and said, "If you were 10, you'd do it too."
#37 With Respect
I'm a scout leader. I was doing first aid with some cubs and I asked one kid, "How do you treat a burn?" He replied: "With respect."
#38 Fat Cheetah
It is genuinely difficult to tell who is the stupidest. Kids are smart some days and clueless others. Some grow out of it. Anyway, we were talking about cheetahs being the fastest land mammal. Some kid swelled up and said he can beat a cheetah in a race. The class laughed. The kid didn't let it go. Finally, he just said, "I can beat a FAT cheetah in a race." And I just thought, "Yeah, maybe!"
#39 There Is Hope!
I was a teacher at an inner city school for a time where almost all of the students had free breakfast and lunch. Lots of the kids realized and knew they were in a no-win situation and a downward spiral in terms of education. Quite a number of them tried their darndest though to get out of it.
Lots of times, the kids don't know what is awaiting them at home. Many parents don't read to their kids or help them with homework. Or they are in just bad, bad situations. One student came in and said that their mom chose to pay the cable tv bill over the hot water bill. Later, the same mom chose to pay her cell phone bill over electricity... That student had enough and decided to start studying and try to climb out. There is hope!
#40 A Nin-Jury
I had a Bandaid on my elbow (one of the big ones) and my student was trying to work out what it was. I said ninjas had got me. He said it sounded like a "nin-jury." I laughed out loud.
#41 English, Not German
I'm teaching English as a foreign language and one of my students hasn't been attending for a year. When he finally came, I gave him an essay to write. He wrote it in perfect German because he thought that we were studying German. The guy had been learning German all year long only to learn that we were studying English. This is both the smartest and the stupidest thing I can imagine.
#42 But Why?
On a swelteringly hot day, one of my kids asked me why prisons had air conditioning but our elementary school did not.
#43 Just Wanted Dad
When I was teaching fifth grade a few years back, I had a student who really struggled academically and misbehaved a lot. During one of his "punishments" which was washing dishes with me from our morning breakfast time, I straight up asked him why he kept getting into trouble. The boy admitted that he just knew that if he misbehaved he would get to spend time with me one on one, and we would talk about life and his hobbies and such.
I found out later on that his father had been incarcerated for pretty much the entirety of the boy's life. So, the "stupidest" and most misbehaved kid in the class was actually just playing the system the whole time, and really just needed a positive male role model in his life.
#44 Being Good is Hard
One of the students who struggled most in my high school math class once turned to me and said, "Sometimes, being a good person is very difficult."
#45 Silly Teacher
I was complaining about how dark it was in the room to my very young students and this little girl said, "The lights are off, Ms. Marisa." I felt so dumb. I had just begun working there a couple of days prior to that incident and I was still getting used to where everything was. I had forgotten to turn the lights on after nap time because the windows made the room fairly bright.