Teachers see their students almost every day, and sometimes, even more than their parents do. So, it's not uncommon for teachers and caregivers to have children of all ages confide in them for various reasons. But what does a teacher do with the information they're given is so awful?
Teachers of all grades, share the secrets they've been told, or read, that broke their heart, and made them want to help a student struggling. Content has been edited for clarity.
A Real Life Miss Honey
“A 5-year-old preschool girl had a 103 degree fever, and was 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 years ago. A few months later, she was removed by CPS and has been with a foster family (me) for nearly two years now.”
All Over $80
“One morning, two high school juniors 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 and knew I always got to school early.
Turns out their best friend was murdered just 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 died trying to look out for his family (and for like $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 murdered on a Saturday. He was left to bleed out and die, to be found the next morning. The murderer CAME TO MY SCHOOL on Monday as if nothing had happened. Cops pulled him out of the class in the middle of the day once they had figured out it was him.”
Neglected Is An Understatement
“I was an assistant for a second grade teacher, and during the second grade lunch break, the preschoolers were going to recess, one would always stop in our classroom and I became his best friend.
One day, I asked him if he was excited for spring break, and he said ‘Noooo.’ I asked him why not, and he said he didn’t have his own room and his mom lets random people stay at their house all the time. He also said someone is supposed to wait for him to get off the bus but is usually never there. So, he walks home by himself. Plus, he can only eat at school, so he hates weekends and school breaks.
It explained his odd behaviors, whenever he would win a prize or get a good grade on a test the students would get candy, but he would always ask for fruit or actual food. So, the teacher I was an assistant for would always keep a bag of oranges, granola bars, and other snacks for him to get when he stopped by to see us during recess. We of course reported what he said, but I have no idea what happened after that.”
Silently Cried Into Her Hands
“The morning after the 2016 presidential election, my co-teacher and I were planning prior to the start of the school day. Classrooms are off-limits to students during morning planning. But this day, one of our African American students walked in, cautiously. She was whip smart, the only fifth grader I ever taught who could tell me all about Loretta Lynch, for instance. We looked up and, trying to gauge where we stood, she softly asked, ‘Y’all mad?’
Doing our best to remain impartial, I think my co-teacher just said something like, ‘It was a late night’ or something to that effect. The student then approached our work area and her voice changed, suddenly uneasy.
With total sincerity and with fear in her eyes, she asked, ‘Is he going to send us back to Africa?’ We began shaking our heads no but she continued, breaking into tears as she said, ‘My mom says if you believe in god he can’t do that.’
My co-teacher rose out of her seat and embraced her- our student was sobbing uncontrollably now. It was way too much for me to handle. And I’m usually on top of my game around students, keeping it real at all times and trying to be the one they could rely on to be emotionally in check. But I silently cried into my hands. I just couldn’t believe that was the point we were at in America, where something seemingly so insanely outlandish was suddenly something a typically smart fifth grader could consider as potentially realistic.”
Didn’t Wake Up
“‘My sister didn’t wake up today.’ Her sister complained of headaches the night before because she hit her head. Parents didn’t think anything was seriously wrong. They took her off life support a few days later, she was nine year old.
Her sister? Only five years old.
I always told her if she ever needed any hugs, she didn’t even need to ask. She was always a sweet girl. And t broke my heart.”
“So I Can Be Gone”
“I used to assist at a school for young kids on the autism spectrum. Most students were dealing with multiple issues tho, like Downs Syndrome and other disabilities. We helped out with kids considered to be the lowest functioning and none of them spoke.
One day we get a new girl. She’s about 6, cute as a perfectly dressed button and chatty! I didn’t understand why she was with our class; her communication skills were miles from our most advanced student, but I was just an assistant so no one explained stuff like that to me. So a few days in, and she’s super friendly, super bubbly, and addicted to big hugs. I sit with her to help her through a ‘Life Skills’ lesson and this is what she says:
Girl: ‘I think when I go home I’m going to get a big knife from the kitchen and slice up my parents. I’m gonna laugh and dance when I do it.’
Me (obviously stunned): ‘Why would you want to do that? Don’t you love mom and dad?’
Girl: ‘Yes, but if I kill them then a judge will tell people to kill me.’ (I want to note she was smiling at this point. It wasn’t even a creepy smile, it was the same smile a kid gives if you tell them they can have an extra cookie)
Me: ‘Why would you want that?’
Girl: ‘So I can be gone. Everything is too hard.’
Of course, I reported it immediately to my supervising teacher who didn’t even bat an eye. It was then that I was given some real basic notes from therapists/previous schools/etc. Poor kid had been having a sort of suicidal ideation since she could communicate, and she was put in with the lowest functioning students due to the level of supervision she required because of it. Parents switched her schools again about two months later, so I have no idea if she got the level of care she required or what happened.”
Likes To Pretend
“The assignment was to write a poem about something you liked to pretend. Students poem started ‘I like to pretend that I have friends.’ This was in first grade.”
Never Love Him As Much
“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. 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. 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 are 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.’
Trying to cheer him up, and show him some attention, I asked him what kind of things he enjoyed doing, and he said he liked drawing. So I sent him next door to the art workshop. The art tutor mentioned later that he perked up a bit, definitely did heaps more in her class. Got covered in paint.
When his parents picked him up, I mentioned he didn’t really enjoy the science workshops, maybe he’d be better off next door. And that he was very creative, funny and clever. They said it would grow on him, which does often happen. But instead, he spent the next month being upstaged by his sister and looked miserable.”
“Asked Me To Keep A Secret”
“I had a student that 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 shot up every night. I told my principal after she spoke to me, and she informed that CPS was already involved. A few days later the same girl told me that her mom and boyfriend would shoot her up too, and 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 for illegal substance use.
She no longer lives at home thankfully.”
Contest For Clothes
“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 even so around halfway through the year, his clothing was becoming 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 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.”
Not The First Time
“I taught high school, and one of my students (14 years old) 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.
Kid: ‘I’m sorry for being in such a bad mood today. Can I tell you why?’
Me: ‘Of course.’
She proceeded to take her cardigan off (she had a tank top on underneath) and showed me welts that she had gotten the night before from her mother beating her with an electric cord.
She said, ‘My mother beat me for no reason last night and I don’t know what to do.’ She was an only child, but the day after she told me she came to my classroom during my conference period and hugged me for a very long time.
Sadly, it was not the first time I had to report.
Afterwards, she got to move in with her father (MUCH better situation) who lived about an hour and a half away. And she was able to finish the school year with us (her dad would drive her that long distance every morning!). And then the next school year, she started at her new school. Apparently, the abuse had been going on for a while.”
He Drew His Heart
“A 6-year-old preschooler 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.”
First One To Treat Him Like A Normal Person
“I did a month as a teacher assistant during work experience.
Throughout the time, I treated them all as people, not as students. Having a joke with them while they got on with their work.
About a week in, one student, let’s call him Oliver, suggested to the teacher I take out four or five students to continue work in another room which was agreed on for every lesson from that point.
Every lesson Oliver requested to go out to the other room but obviously sometimes he couldn’t. A week passes, and I speak to the headmaster about Oliver wanting to constantly go with me, and he suggested letting him go every lesson. He wasn’t able to say exactly why.
So the next few days, Oliver continued to go to the other room along with a few other students and got on with work, while we all talked about different things during it.
On the Friday of the second week, Oliver stayed over as he wanted to ask the teacher if me and him could have a one-on-one session for one lesson to help him catch up. The teacher instantly agreed but also couldn’t say why.
So the Tuesday, I invited him in to a session to help him with his literacy. As we got half-way through the lesson, he looked up and asked me how old I am.
I said I am 17, which I was at the time.
He then asked how long until I’m 18, and I said still a good year to go which he sighed at. I asked why and his reply always gets me.
‘I’ve never had a big brother before and I live in care, I just wanted you to be my big brother.’
That was just the saddest thing I’ve ever heard.
He said he has been in care for 10 years and every time he gets close, a case of bad luck happens. It causes him to do bad at school and get terrible results and being constantly moaned about. I was the first person to treat him normally and not as a kid.
Since that session he still continues to be a part of the group sessions and getting along with his classmates.
As I approached my final day, I knew it would be a tough one. I grew close to the whole class but I knew Oliver would have a hard time that day as this has been the first time he has had someone truly properly talk to him. The final lesson approached and he looked visibly upset. I knew something had to be done so while a group session happened that day, the last 10 minutes I got Oliver in a room to talk to him.
He didn’t want me to go (even campaigning for me to get a job there during one assembly the previous week) and he asked if we could stay in contact. I said that would be unlikely as I wasn’t close. I just gave him the best advice I could with a promise that if he ever needs someone to talk to, let the school know, and they can get something sorted.
So after the month was up, I returned to sixth form and with a couple years of pretty bad luck with no idea what I wanted to do.
I got a message on Facebook from him a couple of weeks ago asking if I could come to his results opening. I agreed, and we caught up and when he opened to all as it was as if my old child just opened their grades. He started to cry and thanked me and said words that I keep in my head whenever I feel down: ‘You were the best teacher I had and the best friend I had.’
Now his 18 and I really couldn’t be prouder. The fact that I helped even just a single kid will always help me.”
Wanted 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 look at me and say, ‘I don’t want to be’- he said the r-word, ‘I want a smart brain like you.’
It was heartbreaking. Most of them knew they had disabilities, and understand 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.”
His Final Wish
“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) and 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 is still alive and well)”
“I’ll Never Forget How Pained She Looked”
“I’ve only recently started my teaching career. But when I was student teaching, the district I was in had a lot of welfare students and unsupportive parents.I teach art and don’t see the kids often – just once a week.
I’ll never forgot a little girl who grabbed onto me crying saying her feet hurt her. Apparently, she’d outgrown her boots but her mother kept making her wear the shoes because she ‘wasn’t getting any soon.’ Her feet were all blistered up, and luckily the school got her some shoes. And I’ve heard things from other teachers of really depressing things but honestly, to me, I think about that girl a lot. I’ll never forget how pained she looked coming to my class and I hope everything has gotten better for her and her family.”
Wanted To See How The Other People Live
“I teach in a local school in Hong Kong. Two very close friends (both are grade 7), but one comes from a very wealthy family (we will call him Richard), the other not (we will call him Greg). Richard always comes to school in a Mercedes driven by a chauffeur while Greg comes to school by MTR (the public train system) and then walks to school by himself. After school or on weekends, they always go to Richard’s house driven by his chauffeur because obviously he has more space and toys and what not.
One day, I noticed Richard looking quite sad, so I approached him. He told me he asked his mom if he could take the metro transportation to school alone and then go to Greg’s house by the train. She immediately said no and told him off for even suggesting taking the metro, when they have a chauffeur. I asked Richard why did he ask that? He said because he wanted to see how Greg’s life was like compared to his own, to see how tough Greg has it. I said you could tell your mom the reason as she might understand why as she knows Greg’s situation as well. In the end, Richard told me he talked to his mom, but she flipped, saying stuff like do you want to be seen as a poor person on the metro.”
“I’m a music teacher, and I 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 killed me.
Proud Of All Student, But Especially This One
“‘Ms. Spidey, do you know how to get [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?’
Kid was only sixteen.
But the kid got their power turned back on, that day, all by himself. I didn’t do spit or biscuits, but teach them how to talk to people in call centers and make the introduction to the CSR.
And then later their power bill got reduced, because the school social worker has programs for that sort of thing. And the local power company sent them some energy-saving free stuff, including some light bulbs (the kid and siblings had been short some lights at home for a while) and we got their water and sewer discounted as well. The school social worker is a pal. And the family’s surviving parent was trying, it’s just hard for a parent, who isn’t well, that has a lot of kids and two fast-food jobs.
The kid is in college now, and pretty much got a full ride in funding. He commutes from home to save money, and puts his housing stipend towards the family rent, utilities and gas for his own old Toyota. And the parent looks like they just took their first breath in ten years.
I’m proud of all my students, but especially that one.”