Teachers have a tough job. They have to take a room full of students, all at different levels of knowledge and ability, and find a way to teach them all whatever they need to know. As patient and caring as most teachers are towards even their weakest students, there will still always be those times when students say and do things that are so outrageous, ignorant, and incomprehensible that the only reaction a teacher can possibly have is to throw their hands up in the air, facepalm, and wonder “How are my students this dumb?” Here are 42 moments that made teachers feel the need to react that way.
1. I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter
One of my 16-year-old students asked, while starting a multiple-choice test, if it mattered what letter he chose. I just stared at him. Sometimes there are no words.
2. Everything Is Bigger in China?
While I was a student teacher in a local high school in my area, I once had a student put up his hand to ask where Texas was on the map that I was projecting onto the screen. It was a map of China…
3. What Planet Was She On??
I once had a girl in my class who thought that there were people living on Venus, and that we just couldn’t talk to them because they didn’t have access to phones.
4. Jumping for Joy
I teach swimming lessons and lifeguarding courses at a local swimming pool in my area. During one of the lessons, I was trying to teach them how to perform CPR and, instead of showing them first, I asked them to show me what they already knew about it. I then proceeded to observe about fifteen 16- to 20-year-olds do the weirdest stuff you could imagine to those poor training dolls.
My favorite, though, was the kid who did a two-foot jump onto the chest of the dummy. The dummy slid out from under his feet like a cartoon banana and he landed on his rear end on the pool deck. Good times!
5. Four Score and Twenty Classes Ago
I have a funny poster on the wall in my classroom that says something about not believing everything you read on the internet, and it attributes the quote to Abraham Lincoln. It’s obviously just meant to be a silly and harmless joke. Nevertheless, a student came into the classroom one day, read the poster, and—in full seriousness—said, “Wait, did they have internet back then?”
6. Taking Technologically Challenged to the Next Level
I am a college instructor, and you would be shocked at how stupid some college students are and how ridiculous some of the things they say and do can be. Just last year, I had multiple students who were not able to save Word docs as PDFs despite clear and simple instructions, as well as a bunch of students who would take smartphone pictures of every single slide that I showed while I lectured even though I would always upload them all to our course website for everyone to use.
My personal favorite, though, has to be the time when I asked the class to insert a picture into a Word document, so one student printed the Word doc, printed the picture, physically placed the printed picture on top of the printed Word doc, took a smartphone photo of it, and then uploaded that photo as a new file and submitted it to me. I gotta say, I sure do miss my millennial students!
7. Try to Set a Better Example
I once asked my students to write a sentence and give an example of something. One of the students (age 12 or 13 roughly), in full seriousness, asked: “What’s an example?” As surprising as that was, even more surprising was how hard it was to try and explain the concept of an example to a teenager who had somehow never heard of one.
8. Can’t Argue With That!
I don’t know if this really counts, but I was a teaching assistant for a semester in a grad school program (never again). One time during that school year, a student submitted this paper to me that I will never forget for as long as I live. Basically, the student was arguing that an author who he was writing about was wrong because he happened to find his writing style “boring.”
In trying to explain and disprove the author’s argument, he got almost every single part of it completely wrong and then proceeded to say that he had a better argument to offer in its place. He then went on to describe the exact argument that the author had actually been making in the book to begin with.
9. I Put a Spell on You
While dictating for a spelling test last year, I said a word three times before a student put up his hand and innocently asked, “Miss, how do you spell that word?”
10. Where Have You Been for the Last Three Weeks?
My class was three weeks into the process of writing a major research paper. Me: “Okay class, so today we’ll continue working on writing the body paragraphs of the essay.” Student: “What essay?”
11. A Fight They Will Never Win
I teach students at the college level, who often think that they know everything and try to convince me that dumb stuff is true—when it almost always isn’t. At least once a semester, without fail, a student will try to fight with me to convince me that Africa is a country.
12. Screen Time
I’m not a teacher, but I work in a school. Every semester, at least one class comes into my computer lab to take a test on the computers. The teacher reminds them all that no sites other than the test page are allowed. Nevertheless, there’s always one kid who, without fail, pulls up Google the first time he doesn’t know an answer. It’s like clockwork.
I guess they don’t realize that we can see their screens…
13. Greece Monkey
Student: “Athens? Isn’t that the capital of Africa?” No, no it’s not…
14. Adios and Au Revoir
My sister is a French teacher. Everyone in the class had a fairly lengthy piece of French homework to do, and one student had clearly just put the entire thing into Google Translate. The only problem was that they accidentally translated it into Spanish instead of French.
15. Quite the Memorable State-ment
I wouldn’t call him dumb per se, but I did stop and stare at him thinking it was a joke when I first heard this. When I was student teaching last year, one of my students made a comment about the 52 states. I corrected him and said that there are only 50 states. He asked me if I remembered to count “the Washingtons”—as in Washington State and Washington, DC.
16. Which One Crossed the Line?
In a university course, I once had to mark a paper on the topic of witches. Amazingly, the student had misspelled the word “witches” as “whiches” consistently throughout the entire paper. But that wasn’t the worst part. She even footnoted a phone number as a source! Marking those papers absolutely broke me.
17. Making Demands
“You should give me special treatment because I’m depressed!” said a student who had been laughing and disrupting the class all day, before finally being asked to politely shut the heck up.
18. Strap Yourself in for This One!
One of my sixth graders had a brain fart moment recently where he couldn’t remember the word for “suspenders” when trying to mention something about them. He called them “farmer straps,” complete with hooking his thumbs through his imaginary suspenders and moving his hands up and down, like an old guy wearing suspenders might do. I laughed so hard I cried and almost fell out of my damn chair!
19. When Life Gives You Lemons
We were playing a guessing game when I said, “I’m thinking of a fruit that is yellow and very sour!” One student replied: “Is it chickenpox?” Not sure how I was supposed to respond to that…
20. A Cite to See If There Ever Was One
Many years ago, I taught a third-year engineering class at my local university on the subject of petrochemical engineering. I started the students early on in the semester on their term project, which was a large scale research report that they each had to write. I told them that they had to find at least five credible academic sources to reference for their chosen topic.
I was very clear right from the beginning that Wikipedia was not considered a credible or acceptable source for this project and that they were not allowed to cite it as one of their sources. I told them that they could feel free to use it as a starting point for their research process, but that they should follow the reference links and make sure that their info was coming directly from credible academic sources.
I checked in with them multiple times over the course of the term and kept reminding them over and over again not to cite Wikipedia on the final assignment. Nevertheless, when the time came for the papers to finally be submitted to me, I was stunned to discover as I began reading through them and grading them all that at least five students out of the 20 who were in the class still ended up citing Wikipedia as one of their five sources in their final submitted reports, despite the crystal clear instructions and all the repeated reminders and warnings.
You couldn’t make this stuff up if you tried!
21. I Don’t Know Where I Am!
I once asked my class of fifth graders what city they live in, and the first response I got was “Texas.”
22. Gender Neutral Stupidity
One of my students came to me and said, “Coach, I just walked into the weirdest restroom. There were weird toilets attached to the walls with no stalls around them. I couldn’t figure out how I was supposed to pee in them!” I replied, “I think you walked into the men’s bathroom by mistake. Those were probably urinals that you saw.” I couldn’t believe it when she then asked me, “Oh…so then how exactly do men pee in them?”
23. Breaking the Glass Ceiling…Retroactively?
I was doing a lecture on diseases for an Intro to Healthcare class. When discussing polio, I like to ask “Which President had polio?” expecting “Roosevelt,” because I like to follow that up with “Which one?” I once had a student raise his hand and say “Eleanor!”
24. A Wild Imagination
I used to be a private writing instructor. A couple of years ago, I had a student ask me if commas were real or imaginary. He was equally dubious about semicolons, which he referred to as “imitation periods.” Since I know people are probably wondering, he was 26 years old and very serious about his questions.
25. Town and Country
One of my students was genuinely shocked to learn that Islam is not a country.
26. They Come in All Shapes and Sizes
I once had a student ask me “What are those pyramid-shaped things in Egypt called again?” I have never seen a class laugh that hard before in my life.
27. Mother Earth
I once projected a picture of the Earth onto the whiteboard at the front of our classroom. A student raised his hand and asked, “How are astronauts able to stand on a planet like that?” To be clear, this was an eighth-grade student, being totally serious, and not under any noticeable influence of illegal substances.
28. It’s All in the Game
I’m not a teacher, but I was once helping my friend, who was a Teaching Assistant at our local campus, go over some first-year essays. We read an essay about video games and, aside from the proper essay format being nowhere to be found, one of the first sentences was something along the lines of “There are many examples of video games, such as the Wii and the PS4 and Zelda”.
Again, this was a student at the college level. Unfortunately, my friend wasn’t allowed to grade any papers below 50%. This student got 50%.
29. The Three Amigos
One of my students once asked if I had been to “all three Mexican countries.”
30. Full of Hot Air
I’m not the teacher in this story, but one freshman in my class last year took a rip of his vape in the middle of the classroom and got caught by the substitute teacher. He tried to deny it by saying that he knew how to make vapor appear from his mouth out of nowhere.
31. Some Questions Are Better Left Unanswered
A less than super intelligent classmate of mine in elementary school once had this exchange with our fairly impatient and annoyed teacher. The teacher asked, “What’s the answer to this [multiple choice question with only 3 choices]?” The kid asked, “Is it A?” The teacher replied no. Then the kid then asked if it was C. The teacher said no again.
Then the kid, getting visibly confused and frustrated, yelled, “I don’t know what it is!!”
32. Bringing Out the Animal in You
As a high school biology teacher, a 16-year-old student in my class once asked me, “Wait, aren’t rhinos made of mud?” I had absolutely no idea where he could possibly have gotten that idea from, nor where to even begin to try and answer his question.
33. I Did It My Way
I was asked to show this 13-year-old kid some video editing techniques. He opened the software on the laptop and was asking me how to do different things. At one point, I was going to show him how to drag a video clip into the software so that he could use it. I asked him to restore down the window. He had no idea what I was talking about so I showed him how to do that.
Then, I asked him to move the window; as in, just a simple drag of the window. Apparently, he didn’t know that was a thing. However, he did have his own unique, elaborate, and convoluted way of dragging a window. He moved the mouse pointer to the edge of the window until it turned into the double-sided arrow, then resized the window so it was smaller. It was very complicated.
Then, he moved the mouse to the other side of the window and stretched the window back out on the other side until it was roughly the same size as before he made it smaller. I was like, “What are you doing?” He simply said, “This is how I do it.” I tried to show him how to drag the window, but he wanted to do it his way and didn’t want to learn a different way to do it.
In trying to teach him some things, we had to go through Windows Internet Explorer a few times, and that was just a nightmare because everything that should have been a simple click was made incredibly difficult by his insistence on doing it the way “he wanted to do it.” This went on for about an hour and a half until I had to go.
They said that I was welcome to come back and teach the kids again anytime I wanted. I said thanks, but that I never planned on going back again. It was such a rough experience.
34. I Think I’m About to Explode…
After a lengthy explanation of the effects of volcanic eruptions on human communities, I had a grade six student put up his hand and ask me, in full seriousness, why on earth people even make volcanoes in the first place if they can do this much damage.
35. Using Her Noodle
A girl in my honors science class once asked the teacher, and was 100% serious, if ramen noodles grow on ramen trees.
36. So Much Educating to Do, So Little Time!
I have been fortunate enough to have had many students over the years whose intellect levels have made my jaw drop from time to time for all the wrong reasons. Here’s just a small sample of some of the things I’ve heard them say to me over the years: A tenth grader asked, “George Clooney was the first President of the United States, right?”
A high school-aged girl asked, “Hey coach, our bio teacher was talking about menstrual cycles today. What is that?” An eighth-grader asked, “What was Vladimir Lenin’s first name?” I replied Joseph just to mess with him. And finally, a ninth-grade boy in history class actually asked: “Does a male octopus have eight testicles?”
37. Does Not Compute
I teach in a district where kids get iPads in middle school, and then laptops when they get to high school. They literally don’t know how to do anything on a computer. Cut and paste, print, tab—it’s all totally new and confusing to them. It’s crazy what they never learned!
38. I Guess He Was a Leg Man
Last year, I was a Teaching Assistant for a Gender Studies course at a reasonably well-ranked university in the United States. I asked the students to write a short story about how life for humans would be if we reproduced in a different way, and how it would affect society. For example, if we grew our babies in jars in the hospital, how would that affect society?
I told them not to write anything that they wouldn’t want the old lady teaching team to read. From one student, I got four pages of explicit spider-themed smutty fiction.
39. Maybe He Knows Something We Don’t…
Student: “You know, they can upload your entire brain onto a computer now!” This student thought that your entire memory, personality, and everything can be stored on a computer. This was a college student.
40. That Name Doesn’t Ring a Bell
In a high school writing class, we used to do an exercise where I would write a topic on the board as a prompt and the students would have to write whatever the topic made them think of. One time, I wrote “Pearl Harbor” on the board as the prompt. A student responded by saying “Who the heck is Pearl Harbor?”
41. We Need To Talk About Kevin
It’s not uncommon as a teacher to have students who are a bit behind the curve in certain areas, but 99.99999% of the time they are at least keen on something else to make up for it. They might not understand how to identify a noun or what a theme is, but they somehow know how to make a mean plate of nachos. You learn pretty quickly not to judge the fish for their tree climbing ability, ya know?
I thought this was the rule when I was teaching…until I met Kevin. Kevin isn’t his real name, but it doesn’t matter because he can’t spell it anyway. Kevin was a student of mine during my last year of teaching. He came to my classroom with very little to show for his academic past. He had moved a few times and thus was missing a lot of typical test scores that we use to try and ballpark their ability.
Don’t worry, it was just a ballpark. We didn’t make major decisions until we actually had a chance to talk and work with a student for a bit. I thought “That’s fine. I’ll just do some one-on-one with Kevin and see what’s up.” One-on-one with Kevin was like conversing with someone who had forgotten everything in a freak, if not impossible, amnesia incident.
There was no evidence that he had learned anything past the second grade, despite the fact that he was now in the ninth grade. Flabbergasted, I figured that we needed to get more serious with this. If he was going to be in my class, I needed to know why and how. I decided to meet with him, his guidance counselor, his parents, and another teacher to see what was really going on.
This is where it all became clear. It was by some incredible fluke that his family hadn’t been wiped off the face of the Earth years ago. Odds are that his entire heritage was based on blind luck and some type of sick divine intervention that miraculously saves his family every time a threat presents itself. Kevin was the genetic pinnacle of all this null achievement.
Even my instructional lead, a woman who could find a redeeming trait in absolutely any person, failed to see any explanation of how this kid or his family could be alive today. So, here’s a list of events that made it abundantly clear that God must exist and be looking down and laughing uncontrollably from the heavens:
Kevin frequently forgot when and where his classes were. On more than one occasion, I had to go over and retrieve him from other classrooms. Kevin once ate an entire 24 pack of crayons, puked, and then did it again the next day. This is ninth grade. I have no idea where he even got the crayons from. Kevin’s dad wrote tuition checks and mailed them to me…his English teacher.
This was a public school. When I gave the check back to Kevin, voided, and asked him to give it to his dad with a brief note explaining that this is a public school, Kevin got in trouble for trying to spend it at a 7-11 after school. Kevin was removed from the culinary arts program at our school after leaving a cutting board on the gas stove and starting a fire…on two separate occasions.
Kevin once threw his lunch at the School Resource Officer and tried to run away. He ran straight into a door and then insisted that it wasn’t him who had thrown the lunch. Kevin once stole my phone during class. I called it. It rang. He denied that it was ringing. Not that it was his, not that he had taken it…no, he denied that the phone was actually ringing.
He tried this again another three times before the end of the year. Kevin called the basketball coach an inappropriate name during gym class. Basketball tryouts were that same afternoon. Kevin tried out. It didn’t go well for him. Kevin’s mom could never remember which school he went to. She missed several meetings because she drove to other schools by mistake—none of which he had ever gone to.
Kevin once tazed himself in the neck before a football game as a joke. Kevin kept a bottle of orange Kool-Aid in his backpack for over 4 months. He thought it would turn into alcohol. He drank it during class one day and threw up on the floor. Kevin stole another student’s phone, then tried to sell it back to them.
Kevin didn’t understand that his grade was dependent on tests, quizzes, homework, classwork, and participation. Kevin finished his first semester with a 3% average. He tried to bribe me with $11. Kevin spit on a girl and said, “You should get out of those wet clothes.” The girl was the Spanish student teacher. Kevin didn’t know that dogs and cats were different species.
Kevin almost always had gum in his hair. Practically every single day. Kevin regularly tried to cheat on assignments by knocking the pile over, grabbing one before I had picked them all up, and then writing his name on it wherever there was room. Kevin had several allergies, but neither his parents nor he could remember what they were exactly.
They were very concerned that “the holiday party” (it’s high school, we don’t have those) would have peanuts. When they finally got a doctor’s note, we realized that it was amoxicillin that he was allergic to and not peanuts. That seems like something they should have known. All in all, Kevin just never failed to make me shake my head and wonder how it was possible that he had even made it this far.
42. A Fairy Tale Romance
A student once asked, “Are mermaids real?” Before I even had the chance to answer, she aggressively blurted out, “I don’t believe in dinosaurs.” She was 16 years old.