Students often take their teachers for granted. They vilify and demonize them, not realizing they’re just human beings with feelings and lives of their own. Every once in a while though, a teacher makes a gesture that transcends the student-teacher dynamic in a way that can have a life-long impact, for the better or the worse! Here, Redditors recall those teachers who did something above and beyond the classroom and changed their students’ lives.
1. Teacher Was No Quack
In high school, one of my teachers had this duck-bill whistle (literally shaped like a duck's bill and it made a quacking noise). She used it to get the class’s attention. One time I guess we were extra rowdy and she blew the whistle hard, and the class went stone quiet. She got this shocked look on her face, and then took her hairpin out and dropped it and the whole class heard it hit the ground and she got this big grin on her face and we all just busted out laughing.
2. Wake Up Call
My band teacher drove me home several times after the 7 pm jazz band practice. My Dad was supposed to pick me up, but several times he fell asleep and didn't answer the phone when I tried to call.
3. He Gave Me Wings
One teacher made us make paper cranes for hall passes. Twenty years later I can still make a top-notch crane!
4. Words And Letters
Senior year I was placed in a freshman typing class. Everyone was chatty and goofed off, but I wanted to learn to type, so I put in a lot of effort. I had only two classes in the morning, and the rest of the day I was a waitress, as I was pretty much on my own in my senior year. I got called into work on the day of our class final, so I went to work and missed the final.
When I showed up to class the next day, I apologized to the teacher for missing the final. He asked me, "Do you want to know the grade you got?" When I replied yes, he said "I gave you an A because if you had been here, that’s what you would’ve gotten". I never forgot that. Thank you, Mr. Wyatt.
5. Nightmare Scenario
I had a teacher in first grade who was superstitious and stuff. One time she told us if we slept with our feet out from under the blankets someone would break into our house, cut off our feet, and then leave them on our front porch inside our shoes. It wasn’t even near Halloween or anything, she was just saying it like it was actual advice, and it scared everyone in the class.
6. Mrs. Jones And Me
Mrs. Jones in Grade 3 stands out. My dad had just deserted us and we were suddenly destitute. Then Mrs. Jones did the kindest thing anyone's ever done for me. She bought my school pictures for us and paid my lunch bill all year. She never said a word about it. I only found out later. Bless her.
7. Stupid Is As Stupid Does
I called somebody stupid once when they got a question wrong and the teacher instantly made me stand up and spell "stupid" backward. Got it wrong with the pressure and learned a lesson that day.
8. Insightful Essay
In my senior year, my English teacher asked me if I was manic depressive after turning in a personal essay, only for me to get diagnosed with bipolar disorder a week later.
9. Praise And Pride
He called my mum while she was at work to tell her I'd written one of the best things he'd ever seen as a teacher.
10. A Fine Example
I wrote a term paper in a psychology class and got an A. The following year my girlfriend had the same class and the teacher passed around a copy of my term paper as an example of what he expected; a rubric. That was a great feeling.
11. Teacher’s Pet
This teacher was extremely strict and hated my class, but loved me because I was one of the few who respected her and did well in her class. When school ended, she gave me a crystal bear. Nothing too fancy or expensive, but I felt as if I was glowing leaving that classroom with that gift in my hand. I still have it and will treasure it forever.
12. A Life-Changing Moment
I was anorexic when I was in school. She took me aside after class and told me that if I didn’t stop doing what I was doing to myself I was going to die. That my body was going to start shutting down, my organs would fail, that it would not be beautiful and I was going to die awfully and painfully. I still catch myself slipping back into that mindset 10 years later. But I will never forget that. She saved my life.
13. Where There’s Smoke...
One teacher had local law enforcement come to the school because he had "reason to believe" I was smoking and using illicit substances in Grade 7. I wasn’t, but both of my parents smoked in the house. I didn’t even know I smelled like it until the officers told me why they were searching through my backpack, desk, and locker.
14. Puppy Love
I was sad because a dog of mine had been stolen. Several teachers sympathized and acted as they cared. One of them contacted my mom and gave us a puppy her dog had just had. She was a good person. The only teacher who modeled what it's like to be good beyond your job's duties. I am a teacher now and hold raffles to give underprivileged kids cool stuff.
15. A Connection
He knew my home life wasn’t the best. He saw a bright kid but someone who struggled with just following orders. He wrote home as I was failing and spoke more kindly about me than most had ever done. It was very nice.
16. A Friend In Dark Times
I had a teacher who took every phone call no matter the time of night while I was in rehab. If it wasn’t for her being there at my lowest time, I probably would not be here today.
17. Lending A Hand
He made me write with my right hand. I'm a lefty.
18. A Lesson In Compassion
I had just gotten out of an emotionally abusive relationship around 16 and was worried about my ex hurting herself so I confided in my English teacher. He listened to what I had to say and express, then secretly got in touch with my parents, school administration, and her school's administration to make sure we were all okay. My parents told me about this about a year after graduation.
I was taken aback by the fact that he did all of that to make sure we were okay. I'm Facebook friends with the teacher and want to buy him a drink one day.
19. An Understanding
I broke up with my boyfriend the night before my final exam. As I was walking to class to take it, my teacher, seeing me, told me that I could take it the following day with his afternoon class without me even saying a word. He was a great teacher!
20. Above The Grades
I was a bright student, especially in chemistry. When my grades went down, my parents only bashed me whereas my chemistry teacher understood it was due to my mental health issues and talked to me and calmed me down. It felt so good. I felt like somebody legit cared and understood me then. My family only cared about my grades!
21. Teacher, Teacher
There was the pretty old economy teacher who always talked about his fishing trips, who gave me an extra point for drawing a Dead Kennedys logo on my test. Then there was the history teacher who turned out to be a creep, who I had a whole conversation with about fur coats. Then there’s the art teacher who was always pregnant (and still is according to my friends who still go to that school).
22. Who Could Predict?
A teacher told me to stop dating my boyfriend when we were 13 because, "It’s not like you’re gonna marry him". We stayed together and got married.
My teacher tried to keep me behind for no reason. I’m a complete goody-two-shoes and he gave me my first ever detention for asking my friend about what textbook page we were reading after coming to class late following an appointment. The guy tried to make me pick bits of paper and rubber bands off the floor as he watched me do it. I walked out, with zero consequences.
24. A Big Incident
When I was in Grade 7 there was a teacher at my school who was essentially a love child of Santa and an elf. The dude was 5'2" tall, over 300lbs., and had a beard that would put Gimli in The Lord of Rings to shame. My first ever conversation with this man ended with him saying, "Now you go get yourself something to eat, big man". It caught me so off guard, I didn't realize what he had said until after I walked away.
25. "Kids These Days"
I had one of those haircuts that were popular in the mid-90 where you have a long fringe (maybe 5"), but the rest was super-short or even bald. I was a skateboarder. Anyway, the woodshop teacher decided that my haircut was a health and safety hazard—but his reaction was utterly deranged. He swiftly cut my hair in front of the whole class while berating everyone with a speech about "kids today" etc. etc.
I was 12 and came home from school crying. My father was less than pleased, and went up to school and made a right kerfuffle, as he should. My mother was very embarrassed by it all. I'll never forget.
26. Food For Thought
I had a high school art teacher who would let me stay in his classroom during lunches. He always gave me half his sandwich and other extra food because he knew I didn't eat much otherwise. He would also keep a drawer in the classroom stocked with snacks so that I could swing by and grab something between classes if I needed it. No, he never did anything "questionable," and no, I never "fell asleep" after eating the sandwiches. He was just a kind person.
27. Think About It
When I was in third grade the teacher of my gifted program class (the extra class we were pulled from mainstream to do a few hours a week) started berating me over raising my hand too quickly to answer questions, saying I needed to think longer and give others the chance to answer. She went on and on about how I had an attitude. I got upset and she made me stand in front of the class when I started to cry. "I know you’re crying and I don’t care". It was my birthday.
It was a class of about eight students. One guy told me in high school that that day was one of his clearest memories from elementary school.
28. Terrible Teacher
One of my most vivid memories of high school is of an old battleax of an English teacher mocking a fellow student's nervous stammer as she did her presentation in front of the class. It was so cruel, I'll never forget it. When the student started crying, that old teacher mocked her crying, then failed her for not completing the presentation, because she was crying. We used to joke that we hoped that old, dried up woman would drop dead in front of the class.
29. No Toying Around
I can't remember what I did but in first grade, my teacher got mad at me and said, "You wanna act like a baby? Fine, come over here". She made me sit in a corner on the floor and gave me two little toys to play with.
30. The Dreaded C-Word
In Grade 3, I said, "Aw, crackers!" when I got tagged out during a game of baseball. A little girl covering the base screamed "Teacher! She said the C-word!" So I got put on detention and yelled at for the rest of the day until I finally snapped at my teacher at the end of the day and said "Listen, teacher, I don't get it, all I said was ‘crackers’ and I didn't even know that that was a swear word!"
The teacher replied, "Oh, I'm so sorry, I thought you said the other C-word". I said, "What is the other C-word?" She said, "Ask your mother". At the end of the day, I got into the van and told my mom what happened. She broke out laughing and explained to me what the other C-word was. I went to school the next day and said to all my friends, "Hey guys, guess what word I just learned?"
31. Tea For Two
I had a student come to school and tell us he got tea-bagged by a classmate at church the night prior. All grade level teachers had to get together between classes that morning to figure out what we're supposed to do about a potential molestation by a classmate off school grounds. Before moving forward, we asked the student to tell his story one last time, then asked him to define what tea-bagging meant to him.
He did a curtsy as a southern belle might. His classmate curtsied in his direction at church the night prior, it turned out, and the student thought that was tea-bagging, I guess because the classmate dipped like a tea bag might.
32. An Apple (Pie) Of My Teacher’s Eye
I was in my senior year of high school. I was on the wrestling team and I had cut about 30 lbs. that year, from 170 lbs. down to 140. I happened to have the same math teacher three years in a row so we got to know each other. First name basis and all that. She knew how much weight I cut for the season, I told her and it was also obvious just from my face.
I wasn't fat before my cut either, and I had a six-pack. She had a strict no-eating in the class policy. That'll be important in a minute. The day after the wrestling season ended I walked into math class and sat down. She walked over to my desk and put a whole apple pie right in front of me (she knew it was my favorite), handed me a fork, and said she'll ignore the no-eating rule for one day. I finished that whole pie in maybe 30 minutes.
Linda, I'll never forget that. You made my day.
33. Capital Moment
My freshman English teacher in college had a last name with two capital letters in it. It was something like "McConnor". On top of one of my first papers, I wrote "Mcconnor," and he told me that I misspelled his name. Now obviously this confused me because the spelling was indeed correct and it took a few minutes of back and forth confusion before he told me what I did wrong.
However, like a typical 18-year old I kind of just shrugged it off, like, "Ahh who cares?" His response was essentially, "If you don't care enough about your writing to get it correct, why should somebody else care enough to read it?" The response hit pretty close to home. Not initially of course because I was an 18-year-old, but now, 15 years later, I still think about it from time to time and it does force me to put more effort into many of the things that I do.
34. No Support
My computer science teacher would belittle me in front of other students and even asked me why I showed up for class. I hated his class and failed it because he made me believe I was dumb and incapable. I'm currently working on a Master of Science (MS) in Computer Science at a top 10 computer science school and have plans to apply for PhD programs in computer science next year.
35. A Free Ride?
I had a teacher who once erased parts of my answers for multiple tests to give me a 4/5 instead of a two.
36. Extra Effort
When my mom was in high school she missed a lot of class due to being pregnant with me, and after she had me her math and science teacher used to stay after school, order takeout, and teach her on his own time with me in the classroom sleeping in my stroller. Good teachers are hard to come by now.
37. Singing Together
It wasn’t so much what she did to/for me as it was something she did with the entire class. It was a Grade 8 language arts class. The teacher was a very cool person and never looked at you with judgmental eyes. She treated everyone the same and with respect. Anyways, the one thing that sticks out more than any other was the very first day of school, she made us all listen to a song.
She didn’t tell us why. It seemed kinda pointless and lame at the time. On the last day of school, we played the same song. I can’t even describe how it felt. The school year always seemed to drag on and on. We couldn’t wait for summer. But when she played the song at the end of the year, it kinda brought the whole year together and made it seem like you had just walked in the door for the first time last week.
I wish I could remember what song it was.
38. Extracurricular Activities
My Grade 8 art teacher always let me and my friend stay in her room during study hall and she let us make bracelets. She was also the yearbook club leader so she let us join and she would always let us organize her closet and she gave me a muffin once.
39. Class Divisions
I faked my way through Grade 4 and Grade 5 math. I never understood how to do long division, but managed to hide that from the teachers and answer test questions by reverse multiplication. I would guess a number and multiply it out and see how close I would get, and keep doing it until I got the answer.
My Grade 6 math teacher figured out that I was faking, and that I had no idea how to divide anything. She had me come in one afternoon to "help with cleaning the erasers" (all the kids fought for this privilege, so I was thrilled), sat me down, and tutored me until I grasped the concept. Bless you, Mrs. Gillespie!
40. Sheltered Childhood
At my high school, we had an annual week-long science trip, fully paid for by fundraising. Only four people were selected to go each year. In my sophomore year, I was chosen. I knew there was no way I was going to be allowed to go. I had never been out of the state, never been on a single vacation, never been on a plane, and never been away from home for more than 24 hours.
My parents were incredibly conservative and immediately said no. Then something magical happened. I had a science teacher who just didn't accept the no. Instead of just giving up and selecting someone else, he called and tried to convince my parents. When that didn't work, he came to my house and had dinner with my family!
At dinner, he tried to convince my dad that I would be an asset and he would be doing me a disservice by not letting me go. He sat and ate my mom's terrible cooking and talked to my parents for over two hours until he got my parents to say, "We'll think about it". Then, during the days that followed, he just kept following up.
I had never had someone in my corner like that before, who was willing to go to bat for me like that. He wore them down and it was the best week of my teenage life. I'd never seen the ocean. Twenty years later and I can still recall every detail of that trip. It was a major pivot point for me.
41. Magic Kingdom
My physics teacher in high school hosted an annual trip to Walt Disney World in Orlando for 15-20 kids for over a week. I was one of the better and most interested students in his class. He was an incredible teacher who found examples in physics everywhere. He also used to work for Disney World before he began teaching.
Since my family was not well off and I could not afford the trip to Walt Disney World, I declined when he asked me if I was going to join. He probed a bit and he somehow found the funds to have me join without me even inquiring. I don't know if he pulled school money or there was a surplus, but either way, that was one of my best memories from that school. I still keep in touch with him 15 years later.
42. Reading Into Things
I had a teacher who outed me for pretending to not speak English to my mom. I am Mexican American, and I ignored my kindergarten teacher so much she assumed I didn’t speak English. I had skipped state testing because I had been to six or seven elementary schools as my mom and I went from place to place, as she was skipping out on rent.
In the middle of first grade, a random teacher realized I was reading library books brought from home in the back of the class and not doing work; which is not common in a special ed classroom. She called my mom and teacher to a meeting, had me tested as gifted, told my mom that I was pretending to not understand my teachers, and told us that in second grade I was going to be in her room.
Looking back, this moment absolutely changed my life. She was the only teacher who cared about me at all. When they opened my backpack at the meeting, I had it packed with random books. I had encyclopedias from my grandparents’ house, stuff from three school libraries, and magazines. Mrs. Judah changed my life because she cared enough to ask the librarian what language I spoke to help me pick more age-appropriate books.
I was reading a high school level novel because the school had just been converted from K-12. It turns out high school books were appropriate for me; not age appropriate but reading level. I love her and will never forget the stash of books she kept for me when they converted the library for K-5.
43. More Than A Face In The Crowd
The professor I had for my calculus class at university was awesome. He was a good teacher and funny and engaging. It was a first-year class with more than 100 people in it. I was just a face in a big crowd. I was on campus a couple of years after I graduated and I saw him. He stopped, looked at me hard, and said my name.
He said he remembered me as, "Not a bad student. Not great. But not bad". And kept walking. This was a good six years after I graduated. Amazed he would have remembered me at all after teaching how many hundreds of students in between. That is just crazy.
44. Forget Me Not
I was in band class while I attended senior high school. I was walking down the hall with two of my friends who were also in the band. At this point, I had been in band with this teacher for almost four years, saw my instructor every day, and had one-on-one auditions and regular individual performance exams with him.
He saw us walking by and greeted us "Hey John! Hey Jennifer! Hey.."... drawing a complete blank on my name. I didn’t take it too personally. He was nice but he was one of those people who was focused on the music to the exclusion of everything else and was kind of flaky. I wouldn’t be surprised if he identified us all in his head by our instruments and the sound of our playing first and faces and names a distant second.
45. An Unexpected Encounter
In Grade 5 I had this very gruff teacher. Most of us didn’t like her because she was so serious about discipline and homework completion. She wasn’t mean, but she wasn’t nice either. Then I found out my parents were getting a divorce. I showed up to school one day visibly upset, kinda shaky, and had been crying. She told me to come out into the hall with her.
I was not in the mood to be scolded and I knew I was a mess, so I stomped out into the hallway. She told me she knew what was happening at home, asked me if I was okay, then listened to me bawl and break down about how I felt. She hugged me and asked if I wanted to spend an hour or so in the library since she knew I loved books and then I could ground myself.
It was so unexpectedly kind. I will never forget it. I found out later she was so gruff and short with us because she’d been teaching for a long time and kids are mean. She had some sort of health condition that left her in pain most of the time and she had to use a cane which caused her to hunch a bit. Over the years all the meanness of the kids made her a little hard and cold. But she did care about her students.
46. Follow Your Dreams
One teacher told me I was smart and could succeed when no one else did. I had spent a couple of years at a private school, trying so hard to prove myself. Despite doing well academically, I didn’t fit their cookie-cutter mold, so I was looked down on by other students and administration. It was a rough time and I struggled.
When I told the guidance counselor that I wanted to be pre-med and go to medical school after college, she pretty much told me to lower my expectations because I wouldn’t succeed. At the end of my college math class my senior year of high school, I ended up in my professor’s office to look at what I had missed on my final. He told me that I had done well and that I could get my PhD in math if I wanted.
That was not what I wanted to do, but when I told him I wanted to be premed, he looked at me and said you’re going to do well in that. I know you will succeed, he said. Six years later and I’m halfway through my second year of medical school, and his words still ring in my mind.
47. A Quizzical Question
My sophomore English teacher was infamous for being a difficult but good teacher, and all of his classes were notoriously hard to pass. Despite doing the reading and homework assignments, he graded essays and such extremely harshly, but despite all of this I felt I learned the most about how to write effectively from his class.
However, I will never forget the time he gave us an oral "pop-quiz" on Catcher in the Rye. You see he had a class that was in a period before lunch and then our class which was a period after lunch. Of course, having friends in his class before lunch, we often would share the questions on the quizzes so we would be better prepared.
Well, he must have been on to us scoring too high in recent weeks, so he threw us all a curveball, as the final question of his pop-quiz was: "What am I thinking, right now?" The answer was: "You all will now receive a failing grade on this quiz". I ended up with a D+ in that class and had to retake it in summer school, but I still think it was one of the best classes I took in high school.
When I was in fifth grade in 1975, my parents were divorcing and I was living with my abusive father. If I didn't get a B+ or better on my report card, I got the belt. Not a little, mind you. A full-on beat down, and probably denial of meals for a while. The 70s with an abusive parent was a very different time as there weren’t the parental rules that exist today.
My father had quite a reputation in the small Pennsylvania town I lived in. He was known as an incredibly strict person, and our neighbors all hated him. But this was a different time, and that sort of behavior was ignored in public. My math teacher, Mr. Cunningham, scared me. He looked a bit like my father and didn't suffer any nonsense in his classroom at all.
I struggled with mathematics, and it just didn't make sense to me. We got our first report card in the fifth grade. These were the days where you could carry a card with you for the day, and the teacher would write your grade on the card. You would then have to take it home, and have a parent sign it to acknowledge that they had seen your grades.
So far, throughout the day, the grades were good. As, mostly, an A-, but all good. Math was my last class of the day before I had to catch the bus. When my report card came back to me, I froze in terror. I recall this moment like a photograph. The grade was a D, written in pen, right there on the report card. I knew what was coming. The blood drained out of my face.
Mr. Cunningham dismissed the class, and I was frozen at my desk. Scared of what he would do, and even more scared of what my father would do. All the other kids had left the classroom, and my world around me was gone. Just me, my books, and the D staring at me telling me that my 10-year old self was going to suffer. Badly. I felt a hand on my shoulder, and I shook and started crying. Mr. Cunningham looked at me. He took my report card out of my hand and walked up to his desk. He called me up there. I was still terrified, probably shaking, definitely trying to hide my crying and failing.
He got out a black pen and changed the D into a B+. He didn't say anything, he just looked at me. He knew. He could see the signs, and he knew how terrified I was and why. I had no idea an adult could be so compassionate and had no idea it was even possible to change something like that. He handed my report card back to me and said two words that have stayed with me to this day.
He said, "Earn this". He put his hand on my shoulder and said, "I know. It's not fair, and I'm sorry. You're a smart kid, and you can get this. Just ask me for help". He knew. It was a simple act of kindness, and it's stuck with me to this day. The math grade didn't matter. I'm successful enough in my 50s to not have that come up on my permanent record. But the permanent change of my impression of Mr. Cunningham is still very much with me.
If you have power over other people, you have to wield that power with compassion. You have to tailor that power to meet the needs of the individual. That is the lesson I learned that day from Mr. Cunningham. In the next term, I got a B+ or better. I assume it's because I worked hard, and Mr. Cunningham helped me out at lunch. Thank you, Mr. Cunningham. This was 45 years ago, and I still remember you.
49. A Different Perspective
I have always loved learning and loved going to school. I was a good kid and never really got into trouble. One year my parents got called in for a parent-teacher conference. One by one, each of my teachers told my parents that I acted out during class and was a distraction. This came as a surprise to my parents as I had never gotten in trouble, and my grades were always good.
Finally, the conversation got to my history teacher and my science teacher. They were speechless. My history teacher told my parents that he wished he had a classroom full of students with a passion for learning like me and that if the other teachers put in as much effort into teaching as I did into learning, then there would not be an issue. My science teacher agreed and apologized for wasting my parent's time.
The rest of the school year was interesting. I could tell there was tension between certain groups of my teachers. My history teacher would later become the principal of that school, and I could not think of anyone more deserving of that role.
50. Nun’s The Word
I was an immigrant student in Grade 1 and had been in the country for three years and my parents haven’t tried to teach themselves English, much less me. I got thrown into a room with a bunch of people, and the teacher (a nun) kept babbling at me and gradually getting louder and louder while the kids just kept laughing through everything. When it got to the point that the teacher grabbed me and her yelling reached a crescendo, I bolted and ran home.
In Grade 4, I’m speaking English pretty fluently but still have an accent and mispronounced many sounds, sh/ch nuances in particular. My teacher, an older woman, had a problem with that. One day she got so mad at me over it, she grabbed me by the collar and slammed me into the chalkboard, tearing some buttons from my shirt (that I would later get in trouble for at home). Then made me repeat the words "shirt" and "chair" a hundred times in front of the class.
In Grades 6 and 7 I was fluent in English and had no accent whatsoever. I had the same nun for both years as a "teacher". This one was the one that had said to me numerous times that I would never amount to anything. I don’t know why she chose to pick on me in front of the whole class, but I had to put up with it for two years.
One time a schoolmate asked me to draw a horse. After I was done I placed the drawing on his desk since it was lunchtime and he was at lunch. Later that day, the nun wanted someone to take on a project that required some artwork. I raised my hand, flailing wildly so she'd pick me to do it and no one else was volunteering. The nun then said, "Come on, I know there’s an artist in the class. Who drew that very nice horse I saw on Johnny's desk? Was it you Johnny? He replied he hadn't and that I had drawn it. She said to the class that she didn't want someone like me doing it.
It was towards the end of Grade 7 that I finally had it with her. She'd crossed the line so many times, but I finally snapped. A friend in the class had given me a couple of comics before class started and I had put them in my folder to look at later. She must have seen it because as soon as the bell rang, she came over to my desk and snatched the folder from my desk, opened it, closed it then tore it in half.
I told her my homework was in the folder and all she said was "I guess you’re getting an "F" then". Then I called her a bad word. There was a collective gasp, then silence. She asked me what I said, I said "You heard me". She tried grabbing my arm to take me to the principal’s office, but I held on to the desk so all she could do was slide me and the desk a little. She left me alone after that. And that’s just grade school. Don’t get me started on high school.