I’ve been around some bad students during my schooling as much as I’ve been one myself. But sometimes, even the worst student can give you the best burn. Let’s take a look at some of the clever things that came from the mouths of problem students.
1. The Affiliation of Art and the Soul
Just this past Tuesday, I had a student struggling with science homework. He didn’t understand the work, no matter how much I tried to explain it. Class was ending, with little progress made. As he packed 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 interesting, and I asked him why he thought that. 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.”
2. Feel like a Kid Again
Some fifth-graders were playing with a basketball in the hallway. I told them to stop but they continued. I said “Guys, WHY do you keep bouncing that ball in the hallway?” Their response blew me away. One answered, “If you were ten, you’d do it too.”
3. Words of Wisdom
Someone once told me, “I don’t know enough about that to talk about it.”
I had an annoyingly talkative student last year. He seemed to just enjoy the sound of his own voice because he never said anything on topic. One day, I was fed up with him and asked him why he spoke when he had nothing to say. His response: “I plead the first.” Touché.
5. Big Talk
I was showing Cosmos in a break between classes and one kid seemed particularly enthralled by the tardigrade, so his witty friend says, “Small minds are amused by small things.” The kid got his revenge. He retorted, “Why do you think I hang out with you?’ The whole class went bananas and even I went over and high-fived that kid.
It was a great class; the victim was laughing as hard as anyone. I miss those kids.
6. Saved by his Words
There was literally thirty seconds left of class, and my buddy starts to pack up. The teacher didn’t seem to mind, but when the bell rang and buddy got up to leave, the teacher said the classic line: “The bell doesn’t dismiss you, I do.” Then buddy just continues to leave, gets in the doorway of the class and says, “If it decides when I come, it decides when I leave,” and leaves the class.
7. If You Tossed It some Food and Ran Away?
We were talking about cheetahs being the fastest land mammal. Someone swells up and says he can beat a cheetah in a race. The class laughs. Kid doesn’t let it go. Finally, he just says “I can beat a FAT cheetah in a race.”
I had a friend who got into an argument with their teacher about the whole “I” before “E” except after “C” thing (and if it sounds like an “A” it’s “ei”). My friend told his teacher that wasn’t always true. So, she got defensive and started going off about her literature degree and how she knows more than him. His response was, “No, seriously, there are some weird words where that rule doesn’t apply.”
She kept saying that it wasn’t true and he kept saying the same thing over and over. “There are some weird words where that doesn’t apply.” He said this numerous time and finally she snapped and yelled “LIKE WHAT?” He just yells “WEIRD!!!” But worst of all, her response was chilling. She permanently kicked him out of her class.
Not a good teacher.
During preparation for exams, the math teacher reduced a given problem to a simpler form and challenged the students: “So this expression doesn’t fit any of the given standard forms for us to find the particular integral. So, what do you propose we do?” A kid from the back shouted, “The next question!”
10. Playing It Cool
Let me point out that I’m female teacher. I taught in an inner-city school. We were talking about prime numbers so I would have kids give me a number and we’d work out if the number was a prime number on the board. One kid wasn’t paying attention so me being a young teacher I thought I’d catch him off guard and call on him. It went something along the lines of:
“Marc, do you have a number?”
“I need your number.”
“Daaaang, play it cool, girl. We can talk after class.”
The whole room lost their minds and I turned red from embarrassment. They then laughed at how red I got.
11. Learn From Mistakes
I used to teach chess to elementary level kids. I would run a “Chess Camp” over the summer, which lasted a week long. Twenty to forty kids came in every day for a full “school day” but every period is basically a chess class. 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’m walking from the field to the class and see one of my students, a second grader, walking the other direction. I ask him off-hand, “How’s chess going?” He responds “Well, I’ve lost all of my games so I guess I’m doing great!
“If you were an inch taller you’d be round.” You just can’t punish wordplay like that.
13. I’d Love to see How This Kid Earns a Paycheck
In a high school physics class, we were learning about friction and what varies how strong it is. So, the teacher asks: “So as an engineer, what would be some of the hard parts of designing, say, racing tires?” Some kid in the back says, “Getting out of bed in the morning.”
14. Life Sentenced
I don’t think I could declare any of my students as the stupidest, but one who wasn’t the best at algebra definitely got me in the best possible way. I was working with another teacher in an incarceration setting for teenage boys. These young men would often ask questions to test boundaries, force reactions, etc. It’s jail school–so it’s a bit less formal.
Anyhow, in a room of about ten students, my co-teacher and I would do a funny man/straight man routine. Typically, this would fall along the lines of me absolutely agreeing with anything my co-teacher said he knew about me (that I had a criminal record, that I used to weigh 320 pounds, that I’d been married four times, etc.) Then, as the straight man, I’d play along and fill in details of what should have been obvious absurdities.
One day, my co-teacher went beyond the bounds of believability for our students when he said I had a tattoo of his name at the base of my right buttock. I maintained that this was true, that it was the result of a lost bet on a football season, but several of the boys weren’t buying it. One of them said, “Mister, for real, you got ANY tattoos?”
Nearly all of my students had several tattoos, typically visible. I was forced to admit I had none, but chose poorly in explaining myself. “Okay, you’re right. I don’t have any tattoos.” “Why not? You have something against tattoos?” said a student. “No. No, not at all. I just don’t think I could make a decision like that.” “Like what?”
“You know,” I said, “Saying, ‘This is what I want for the rest of my life.’ “A pause. “Wait. Mister. Ain’t you married?”
This was while working with nine-year-old kids. We’re doing number problems and a kid is having trouble with a sum. The sum is “You have forty sweets. You give half your sweets to your friend. How many sweets do you have now.” I grab forty counters, and say to the kid “Here are forty sweets. If you give me half, how many will you have left?”
Kid turns to me. His deadpan reply was unbelievable: “I can’t give you the sweets. You aren’t my friend.”
16. Eh, Ma?
In high school, one of my teachers was having a disagreement with a student. Eventually, the teacher asked him if she wanted her to call his mother. The student replies, “Do it then. My mama will agree with me, too.” The teacher then asked him to leave her class. The student says, “You know what, I’m gonna call my mom for you.”
He then whips out his cell phone and calls his mom on speaker. “Hey, ma, this teacher wants to talk to you.” The whole class just lost it.
I witnessed this in an upper-level French class where you can only speak French. If you speak English, the teacher scolds you in French. My friend walked in a few minutes late for a quiz and wasn’t allowed to take it. My friend looked at the teacher and said (in English) “That’s bull.” The teacher looked back angrily and said (also in English) “What did you just say?”
Oh, he got him so good. My friend replied: “En Français, Monsieur.” He got kicked out of the class. Worth it.
My math teacher said: “If you don’t understand, ask me. There are no stupid questions.” A guy in my class quickly responded: “Is that so? Do you cut your toe nails with a chainsaw?”
19. He’s Got a Point
This kid isn’t that dumb, but he talks a lot and likes to argue. He told me that he really wanted to get a dog, but his parents won’t do it because there would be no one home to take care of the dog most of the time. “That makes sense,” I said, “Puppies and dogs need lots of attention. It wouldn’t be nice to leave them home alone all day.” He responded, “Well we could bring it to doggy day care!”
“Every day?” I asked, “If someone is taking care of your dog for eight hours every day, is that even your dog?” I’ll never forget his reply. “Well that’s what they do with kids!” he exclaimed. Touché.
20. Set Yourself up for That One
I have a student in my class with autism. He is very high-functioning, but he is a couple 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 and 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. He looked at me and while trying to contain his laughter 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. It was a nice moment.
21. More Money, Less Debt?
A student has said, “I realize I have better chances going to a trade school. College is overpriced, even for the academically inclined.” That…kind of blew my mind.
I was a student in an Anatomy and Physiology class. We were studying human reproduction. Our teacher was discussing how measuring your basal body temperature to determine ovulation. She recommended that women take their temperature at bedtime, “Just as your head hits the pillow.” One of the seniors piped up, “Wouldn’t that ruin the mood?”
Our teacher had to go out in the hall, she was laughing so hard.
23. Growing Pains
I was teaching a class that was studying to help people with disabilities, addictions or even in prison. They’d help those people become more independent and support them with things they couldn’t do. The first year these students started at a facility focused on people with several disabilities. These people all had mental and physical disabilities and are unable to live without help.
I had one student who isn’t very smart academically. He has concentration issues and is easily distracted. What might seem easy to understand for us, wasn’t for him because he couldn’t keep his head in one place. At the beginning of the year, he said he didn’t want to work with this group of clients, but he had to. In the end, he came to appreciate the work and actually had a great connection with the clients.
But what he said at the end will stick with me forever. Because of the difficulty this work has, this student said: “If you can work with these people, you can work with anyone.” He said this because he knew how difficult the work is, but also because he came to appreciate his clients and learned how to understand nonverbal communication, which he wasn’t really aware of before.
24. A Stick up on the Stuck up
In my high school chemistry class, one of my classmates was quietly working on an assignment with headphones despite the school policy against it. He wasn’t bothering anyone but since the teacher was a harsh disciplinarian, he approached the student.
Teacher: “Give me your iPod.”
Classmate: “Give me your wallet.”
25. Don’t Worry, Be Happy
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 raised his hand, but I was immediately suspicious. He’d been interrupting class the whole year and he didn’t take much interest in the lessons. So I wasn’t looking forward to calling on him. Except I was so wrong.
“But isn’t this totally stupid?” he said, “Isn’t it most important that you’re 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.
26. Welcome to the Jungle!
A buddy walked in class late, and our rather stern teacher asked: “Do you know where you are?” Without a beat he said, “You’re in the jungle, baby!”
I used to be a teacher’s assistant at a public school. I used to take children with behavioral problems out of class and work with them one-on-one. With one kid in particular, I would reward him for an hour’s worth of work with ten minutes of shooting basketball outside. One day while we were out, we saw some transition (preschool, aged five) children walking around.
It was class time so they shouldn’t have been out. One of them is a known brat. I approached them and instructed them to both return to class. The brat looks at me, plants his feet, squaring his shoulders towards me, and looks up defiantly: “You go back to class.”
28. Scratching the Surface
I teach twelfth-grade Creative Writing, and this one came from one of my incredibly talented and intelligent but tragically lazy students. Student: “I don’t have anything to write about.” Me: “Write about whatever is on your mind right now.” Student: “There’s nothing on my mind right now.” Me: “If you have a pulse and brainwaves, there’s got to be something on your mind.”
This is where is got a bit heated. Student: “I swear, there’s nothing on my mind.” Me: “Then write about the complex contradictory conundrum that is you.” Student: [pause] … “Okay, but I’m going to need a heck of a lot more paper.”
29. Don’t Interfere With Creativity
I was drawing in art class in third grade. The teacher was horrible. She was an old lady who had nothing better to do than to make kids miserable. She was even famous for drawing over your creations and “making it better” for you. So, I showed her my sea canvas one day and asked for permission to color it in, and she takes her big fat pencil and draws a boat smack in the middle, and says to color it in.
I’m pissed off. So, I take it back to my desk, get some crayons and start drawing. Except I erased the boat from the middle of my painting first, and colored it in all blue instead. When I was done, I showed her and told her I was finished, and she asked me, “Where did the boat I added go?” My response, “Oh, it sank.” Mic. Drop.
The class erupted in laughter. She yelled at me, but I didn’t even care. Worst art teacher ever.
30. Can’t Be Allergic to Life
I teach fifth-grade general education and while reading our novel for the quarter, I asked the kids why they thought a certain character was scared of blood. This produced a hilarious moment and the highlight of my year. One of the kids responded with, “Maybe he is allergic?” One of my students who is normally quiet and has difficulty with processing gets the funniest look on his face.
Then he responds, “We are all filled with blood!?”
31. Bless His Heart
One of my fourteen-year-olds from my special educational needs class last year made a surprisingly perceptive comment during our first few lessons studying Of Mice and Men. This child had autism, had very little in the way of empathy skills, didn’t speak English as a first language, and had the average reading age of a seven-year-old.
So, reading was not generally amongst their favorite activities. We’d just finished looking at the bit where George says how he and Lennie keep getting chased out of towns because of the things Lennie does wrong. The child got really quiet in the discussion. I went over to privately ask what was wrong, and he turned to me and said the most heartbreaking thing.
He said, “Why are they being so mean to him? Don’t they know he has a disability?’” I replied, “Well bud, people in those times didn’t necessarily understand as well as we do today about those sorts of things.” He looked at me and whispered, “They don’t always understand them today either.” I swear, my heart grew two sizes.
That class ended up loving that book, lots of them really identified with Lenny and got really into the story!
32. I Guess That’s…True?
One seventh-grade student said, “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.”
33. A Man of Three Words
A professor at my university once told a story about a student who was attending a philosophy exam. The topic was “bravery.” A few minutes after the exam had started, he stood up and turned in the exam. No one knew what was going on—until they read his note. The exam was completely blank, but on the last page there was a single sentence written: “This is bravery.”
34. Don’t Mix Work With Play
I had a group of working-class kids to look after at an art gallery. As we waited for our tour to begin, we played on the playground. A prep school kid in a uniform approached two of my boys and said, “I bet I’m smarter than you are!” I watched to make sure that there was no fighting—my students can hold their own pretty much anywhere, and they don’t accept insults casually.
But they were cool, as one said, “No, you’re not. Are you in grade two?’ The prep school said he was indeed in grade two, and then one of my boys said, “Okay, so then we’re all grade two—so, then we’re all grade two smarts,” and then went back to climbing the monkey bars. But the prep school kid continued, saying., “I know I’m smarter. Let’s do some math and I’ll prove it.”
Their comeback was savage. The toughest kid in my room looked this kid square in the eye and said, “Well, I’m smart enough not to do math when I’m having fun on a playground.”
35. Eh B’y?
My history teacher would spend half the class making jokes directed at the students. One student in particular always took the jokes on the chin and never really made any comebacks. Eventually, the teacher called him out and jokingly lectured him about standing up for himself. He ended his rant with, “You’ve gotta be a man. You’ve gotta be like me.”
The student replied with the greatest burn I have ever heard. “Well, which one? Do you want me to be a man or do you want me to be like you?”