FRIDAY OPEN THREAD: Who Was Your Most/Least Favorite Teacher?

I’m in Hartford, CT this weekend for the True Colors conference. There is snow on the ground! The forecast high for tomorrow is 33 degrees – during the day! This Californian is struggling, hard. But I’m glad to be here!

True Colors is “the largest and most comprehensive conference in the country focused on LGBTQ youth issues.” Even though I’m no longer a middle/high school teacher, I’ll always be passionate about queer and trans youth. I’m here to facilitate a community building workshop, as well as to sharpen my youth empowerment skills and knowledge from attending the rest of the conference. On the plane here, I was finalizing a You Need Help response to a non-binary teen, who’s deciding when and how to “come out” while still in high school. Needless to say, I’ve got education and school-age queer and trans folks on my mind.

I taught for about five years, at a few different schools in East Oakland, CA. It was incredible; the kindest, most creative, most inspirational people I’ve ever met in my life have all been former students of mine. Mental illness took me out of the classroom, but I’d love to go back in some capacity someday.

My most meaningful experiences in teaching were the handful of times that students “came out” to me; I’ve always lived by the “be the adult you wish you had as a child” credo and I’m so happy they had a queer adult they could trust to work through that with. But second most meaningful were the handful of times students told me I was their “favorite teacher.”

I didn’t have a favorite teacher when I was in school. I felt like none of them understood me, didn’t teach “why” things worked, just how, which was frustrating, and didn’t ground the material in anything that felt relevant or meaningful to my own life at all. I know this is very much a result of foundationally-embedded issues in public schools, and there’s little individual teachers can do about it. But a few still manage to push things forward. That’s what I tried to do, though I wasn’t always successful.

My favorite teacher today is Carlos Cabana, an 8th grade math teacher in East Oakland. He’s the most genuine, loving, kind, tender, caring, intelligent, creative, and hilarious man I’ve maybe ever met. He’s a math teacher who lectures 0% of the time – instead every single lesson is a group project, wherein students must collaborate creatively in order to solve a meaningful and relevant problem. He explicitly built community in his classroom as well, and it shows: it’s a joyful, empowering, vibrant place. Watch this video if you want to simultaneously thank goddess he exists and curse the fact that every teacher you ever had wasn’t as amazing as him:

When I first met him, I wanted to teach like him, but the more I got to know him the more I wanted to be like him.

Did you ever have a teacher, coach, principal, etc. that you felt genuinely cared about you, and provided you with tools to empower yourself, develop as a person, overcome adversity, build resilience, love yourself, and/or advocate for positive, lasting change in the world? Let’s reminisce in the comments! What did they empower you to do? What felt possible because of their care? How did the time spent in their classroom affect the rest of your life? Maybe your responses will be the push I need to get back into the classroom?

And maybe, if it’s that kind of day, you can also share your least favorite teacher and how they traumatized you, but hopefully we can keep the balance of stories on the positive side – teaching is really, really tough, and we don’t need to bash teachers too much!

Or, you know, I’ll be around, so like, we can chat about queer and trans youth, schools, being an out trans teacher, or you know, whatever! Let’s do this!

Before you go! Did you like what you just read? We keep Autostraddle majority free-to-read, but it isn't free to create! And yet most readers don't support this indie queer site. Will you be one of the people who do? A+ membership starts at just $4/month or $30/year and they literally keep us from closing. Will you join? Cancel anytime.

Join A+

Abeni Jones

Abeni Jones is a trans woman of color artist, educator, writer, and designer living in the Bay Area, CA.

Abeni has written 84 articles for us.


  1. Has anyone got any thoughts on this new show coming out, “Killing Eve”? I’m very intrigued. Two women, one a psychopathic killer, the other a MI-5 agent hunting her, begin a dangerous cat & mouse relationship. There’s tons of subtext in the promos that I’ve seen.

  2. Mr. Baird, my 12th grade English teacher. I had a very difficult time in high school (I was agoraphobic/completely housebound for half of junior year), and I had very little interest in academics, or really anything. Mr. Baird inspired me to read and find myself in books. He talked about social media (it was really just Facebook & Myspace at the time) and its effects on millenials. He taught about the post-modern era we were in. He was the first teacher who inspired me to really think – about myself, about the world. He inspired me to find my passion in life and not become a bug (we read “Metamorphosis” in class). When we read Hamlet, he posed the lifelong challenge of finding our “quintessence of dust”. Mr. Baird passed away when I was in grad school, leaving his spirit for exploration and learning. I started a theatre company, Quintessence of Dust, in his memory. Mr. Baird was the best teacher I ever had, and without him, I would not be where I am today. Thank you, Mr. Baird.

    • Wow this is incredible! I’ve always maintained that it only takes one student who is really positively impacted by your teaching to make everything worth it. I bet if Mr. Baird knew the impact he had on you he’d be so proud and excited and it’ll have all felt worth it. This is an incredible story. What an amazing teacher and it’s so dope that you’re continuing his legacy with your theatre company!

  3. My sixth grade teacher was a nun with a temper who used to hit us with a one of those boxing nun puppets. She would straight-up throw it at us if we pissed her off. Once she choked a kid. She should not have had a teaching license.

    She also taught us sex ed. I’ve blocked a lot of it out, but I do remember her stance on blow-jobs: Anti.

    • That sounds terrible. Also, how can you be “anti” blow jobs? I get when sex-negative folks preach abstinence and are against teens doing anything sexual (they’re super wrong, but I get the fear of teen sexuality, especially for girls), but anti oral sex? Like, completely? Even for married folks? Even for unmarried teens, I feel like they’d be glad you’re doing things that won’t lead to pregnancy? But maybe oral sex is a “gateway” to PIV sex or something. Sigh.

      Sorry you had to deal with that.

      • Any sex that can’t make a baby is bad, I think! Unless you’re infertile, but it still has to be within a straight marriage and also you should probably adopt.

        Catholics are such a trip, took me years to figure out what were helpful moral lessons and what was bonkers nonsense make up by sex-obsessed weirdos with no condoms.

        • I was lucky in that my religious abstinence-only sex ed from church was progressive enough to be like, “sex is good and fun! IF YOU’RE MARRIED OTHERWISE IT’S SINFUL” so, we at least had good sex to look forward to when we were married (and of course, so many young religious folks would get married way too early, and i’m sure the desire to have non-sinful sex was part of it). :T

  4. Hi! Happy Friday everyone!

    I hope the conference goes great, Abeni, and that the cold doesn’t hit you too hard!

    I’ve had a couple of favourite, but my most impactful was Luisa (don’t remember her last name), my 8th grade math teacher. She valued every single student, and she got really frustrated at herself when someone couldn’t get one of her explanations. One girl wasn’t that great at math, and she basically tutored her, and made our final specifically tailored to her to give her a chance. She never made anyone feel dumb. As far as her impact on me, she made me fall in love with math and logic. I’ve never been good at the humanities, but I wasn’t great at math either… but she explained things so well I actually had fun doing homework ?!? I would have been really lost picking a career if I didn’t know how much I enjoyed math. I’m a programmer and I probably wouldn’t even have considered without her awesome teaching. I’m hoping one day I’ll meet her again so I can thank her!

    My least favourite is also another math teacher. She came right after my fave, so odds were not for her… but she was a monster of a person and teacher… with the previous teacher I was basically a straight A’s person, and with this one I dropped to D and C and even an F. She was grating and assumed everyone was dumb, even people who actually did well in her classes… I had her for 3 years, and it made me hate all of the science classes and I was so burned out by the time I graduated I almost ended up going an Art route, which I’m very mediocre at…

    A voice in the back of my head told me to try out and minor in Computer Science, and I fell the connection to it like I did in 8th grade with math! So Prof Luisa saved my in the end!

    Have a great weekend everyone!

    • Yay for Luisa! And boo for that other teacher :(

      Most teacher education programs, from what i understand, don’t actually teach a stance of youth empowerment or even respect for youth. they focus on “management” and “pedagogical strategy” (without realizing that building relationships of trust and respect with youth is the best pedagogy).

    • And thank you! Because of jet lag and red eye flights (I had to wait 5 hours at Boston airport before I could catch a greyhound to Hartford at 6am – this is all volunteering so I do what I can to save a couple hundred bucks), I missed registration and the opening to the conference. But I’m here now and about to go to a cool workshop.

      And the cold is sooooo cold. I’m indoors now so it’s not as big of a deal, but damn! That wind! It’s so wild. How do y’all east coast folks do it?

      • I don’t know. I’m over in New Jersey and some days I’ve been really buffeted about on my bicycle while going to and from campus. It makes the cold worse. Wool pea coats don’t do much to block the wind by themselves, so I usually end up wearing a puffy down coat underneath to add another layer and block some of the wind. I also use a very long scarf wrapped multiple times. It looks ridiculous, but at least I’m warm…ish. Wearing a ski coat and snow pants would probably be better.

  5. I was homeschooled for my entire pre-college education, so my main teacher was my mom, who was both the best and the worst for a variety of reasons. She is pro-life and a creationist and I had to later unlearn a lot of things I was taught early on, but she also was really good about letting me be proactive about my own education, and my last two years of “high school” were basically just me diving deep into whatever subjects interested me. (I spent six months reading and analyzing all of the works of Oscar Wilde, and an entire summer learning to recognize every edible local plant)

    I took acting classes in “high school” from some of my homeschooler friends’ mothers, who ran a local theater company. I was the conservative Christian kid in with a bunch of liberal theater kids, but she was always really kind and supportive of me talking about my beliefs even when she didn’t agree with them. I credit that kindness a lot when later I was questioning what I had been raised to believe.

  6. My favourite teachers were always the strict, no-nonsense uncompromising ones that no one else liked.

    My all time favourite was Lajos, my woodworking teacher for grades 3-6. Most children found him tall, dark and menacing, but I liked how he was always really clear about the rules and his expectations. My friends hated how he loomed in the cafeteria to make sure they ate greens, but I liked that he cared about what we ate (also, 90% of what I ate was fresh greens, so…). He was a bit quirky… like, he had a child but he wasn’t married, he didn’t own a TV and he talked about Hungary sometimes as if he came from a strange and ancient place. He made his own board game replica of the Battle of Poltava and taught our own history to us during woodworking hours. When the Pompeii exhibition came to the local museum, he got the museum to allow us, a bunch of 12 year olds, to write and perform a play based on Pliny the Younger’s writings about the fall of Pompeii… and then he got us to read Pliny and empathise with these 2000 year old Romans.

    He passed away earlier this year. I hope he got to feel more loved in his profession after I left. When I changed schools for grade 7, I got him wine and chocolates with a note that let him know he was my favourite. He cried. I also wrote him a letter while at uni to tell him that I was becoming a classical archaeologist and him teaching us Pliny with such passion being a part of that.

    • I am SO happy you got to tell him how much he meant to you before he passed.

      What’s cool about teaching is that if you demonstrate care and respect for your students, that’s clear to them whether you’re a strict, no-nonsense type or a loosey-goosey lets-talk-about-our-feelings type like I was. It takes all kinds cuz everyone’s so different and learns differently!

  7. When I was in second grade, a children’s book author came to our school. I was OBSESSED with reading and had already been an avid reader for like 4 years at that point – half my life! – and I was thrilled about this visitor. I don’t even remember the book or the author (though I’m sure my signed copy is somewhere in my parents’ house) and but I’ll never forget what my teacher did. When it was my turn to get my book signed, I shyly and silently approached the table. My teacher, Mrs. Pallidino, said to the author, “You know, Valerie is going to be a writer when she grows up, too.” Well color me shocked – I had never even CONSIDERED that as a viable career option yet (I was cycling between vet and actor at this point in my life despite being allergic to most animals and being, as I mentioned, painfully shy) but my teacher saw it. And hell, she was right. I’ll never forget that moment, because it felt like a turning point in my life, even though it would still take me a long time to figure out that being a writer didn’t have to look like having a bunch of books published by the time you’re 25.

    This is the same teacher who once, during an indoor recess, I approached to say I was having a hard time reading because everyone was being too loud with all their rambunctious playing. (Darn 8-year-olds.) Instead of brushing me off, or telling me to go play with the other kids instead, she gave me some tips for how to tune out the world around me while I read – a skill I still use daily.

    I went to school to be a teacher, and even though I ended up changing course before I got my own classroom, I always hoped I’d be a teacher like her someday.

  8. My 2 favourite teachers were Mr Danks who taught art and organised all the school productions (I was in the school”rock” band) and Mr Gittens , the music teacher who let me spend every break playing piano in his classroom. He advised me to go to art school because there would be more people “like me” there. He was not wrong.

  9. FYI: Trigger warning in here for mention of sexual assault, suicide related things.I PROMISE IT HAS A GOOD ENDING!

    I think the most influential professor that I’ve had was my Intro to Humanities professor and not just because she always managed to make our sometimes boring literature readings fun (I still hateTartuffe though). In all honesty, I owe this lady for saving my academic career. I’m not wanting this to be a pity/sob story, but she was the only one who actually bothered to pull me over and ask what was going on during a period where I was dealing with being sexually assaulted by a friend. Obviously, I wasn’t really keeping up with work during that time and I honestly contemplated dropping out of school and/or killing myself more times than I should have. As far as classes went, most of the time I got pulled over and yelled at. Side note: I studied/study Russian, it’s just the norm for your language professor to yell at you and hate your guts (okay, maybe not always the norm) if you aren’t performing as well as you had been. While it comes from a place of concern, it could have been handled better. Anyways, back to Humanities professor. She was a strict hardass in class and sometimes merciless, but it was clear that she cared deeply for her students and this became evident to me when she bothered to chase me down the hall after I turned in a mostly blank midterm exam and asked what was going on.
    Fast forward six years later and I’ve somehow found myself in grad school, TA-ing classes that I really love, but also having existential crises all the time because, well, a thesis can do that to you and that’s what I signed up for. However, my professor’s act of kindness has influenced me to this day. Being aware of what’s going on with my students is something I try to keep in mind, sometimes I fail at it, but I’ve failed less times than I’ve succeeded. In the academic world where most teachers/professors think that students are just lying to get out of class/work/an exam (my current lead professor and fellow TA’s do this A LOT and I loathe it) I think keeping this in mind is really important. Yeah, of course not everyone tells the truth, and some students have totally pulled dishonest crap on me before, but honestly, being able to have some sort of understanding really helps create a bond between student and teacher. I feel like this is especially important in university because it seems like only about 15% of the people here know what they’re doing in life. Hell, I’m in grad school and I still don’t know what I’m doing. University is confusing and hard, you’re trying to live up to people’s expectations, trying to remember to eat and sleep and sometimes, bad shit happens to you. That”s why I’m so glad I had this one professor take a minute to actually care and step in and ask “Is everything okay?” Obviously, we aren’t therapists (we can at least recommend using the free therapy sessions my uni offers), but this is something that is often forgotten in the university setting. We demand so much mentally from the people here and it’s hard to remember that these people have identities, issues, and lives outside of the classroom and sometimes just asking “Is everything alright?” can go a long way.
    That turned into a novel, but honestly, this lady is like my second mom. I still keep in touch with her and her hardass, yet caring attitude has really shaped me/continues to shape me to this day.

    • Teachers can sometimes save lives!

      I always felt like we should believe every student’s excuses for missing class/work/etc (within reason) because it’s worth it to let 99 students “cheat” if you are able to save/support just one student who’s going through a crisis and really needs your understanding.

  10. Her name was Madame Maddox. I mean, it was Mrs. Maddox, but everyone called her Madame Maddox. She taught British Literature and AP English. She made us read Beowulf in the original old English but also let us watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail on the last day of the semester while she did our grades.

    We did this acting competition thing in my state (What up IHSSA!!!) and my junior year I wanted to do Ophelia’s mad scene from Hamlet because I have always been super dramatic. We weren’t reading Hamlet in Brit Lit, we read Macbeth instead. But when I asked her if she would help me digest the play in preparation for my scene, she met with me for two hours, twice a week, for 5 weeks, after school, just because. We talked about the play and all the characters, did extensive research into whether or not we thought Ophelia slept with Hamlet, looked at Ophelia in artwork, read analysis of her character and scenes. My understanding of Shakespeare was completely transformed by this woman and even though I didn’t notice it at the time, she was helping me learn to form my own conclusions and trust them.

    I was selected to perform the scene at All-State – the top honor for individual acting entries in the competition – and I couldn’t have done it without her.

    Years later, I ran into her at a Harry Potter release party. She still remembered me. She noticed me holding hands with the girl I was there with and asked without blinking “Who’s your girlfriend?” As we left, new books in hand, she gave me a hug and said, “I’m so glad to see you so happy.”

    Here’s to you, Madame Maddox. You’re my favorite.

  11. I think my least favorite teachers(no offense to anyone) have always been math teachers. I’ve had a few in middle school and high school who never really inspired confidence or made math as fun as it can be. Maybe why I wasn’t good at math or liked it too much. My 8th grade math teacher was failed minor league baseball player(at least according to the 8th grade English teachers grammar tests), and had thing for throwing chalk out the window when a student made him angry. My favorite teachers have always been the ones who always made learning fun and interesting. My 6th grade English teacher was this truck owning surfer woman. who once ask us to write the lyrics to a song we like and read it like poetry to class. Interesting to see 11 year old Iranian kids reading Wu-Tang lyrics out loud in class. 7th grade history teacher spent a whole class going through Praz’s verse on the classic Fugees track Ready or Not. 8th grade English teacher was this young at heart teacher who once taught Monica Lewinsky(this was during the scandal) who told it like it is(even let us watch the Romeo and Juliet staring Leo). My college public admin teach(had him for 4 classes and was an old school east coast Jew) always had us question things and always made us ask who is funding it and why. Was one of the few teacher who liked when I challenged him and mostly was for sensible law(he looks like Bernie fan without being too problematic).

    How is everyone’s week going? Mines has been alright. One of the people I had some relations with is back in the city again. I am really excited for them to be back, but at the same time it might be hard to see for various reasons. I spent most of my Sunday home depressed, though I was able to get out and have a walk and grocery shop it didn’t help much. I woke up at 4am on a Sunday crying & internally screaming dysphoria go away. I just wish someone a decade ago told me that gay trans woman = woman who like women and that we aren’t creeps or a fetish. It also had me wondering how I can get hrt to change my body without changing my facial structure. I did a search there is a good chance it will change my face even a bit and that’s not what I am looking for in terms of my transition. Sorry to talk about my dysphoria again, I just wanted to vent a little in a queer space.

    It’s been late winter here so it’s kind of warm and kind of raining. I haven’t been able to go to nature so I’ll leave you with a shot from last spring after all the needed rain we got and SoCal was blooming.

    Thank you for viewing and reading my post. Have a positive weekend friends!

  12. Happy Friday, everyone! Good luck at the conference, Abeni!

    Yay teachers! You are all amazing people.
    I’ve got two I’ll mention here… first, Ms. Capcik, my swim teacher/JV swim coach. I’ve loved water and swimming since I can remember, but I never really learned how to swim until ninth grade. She let me re-take the test on my birthday and I passed it! I then went on to swim for our school’s team in 10th/11th grades…left senior year in part because she did (but also because senior year). She was one of the nicest and coolest teachers I’ve had.Everyone loved hanging out with her. I even wrote a profile of her in my school newspaper lol. I was that girl. :P

    Second, Ms. Bugni. She taught AP Lit my senior year…first period of the day…she made it worth it. She too was nice and so incredibly caring to everyone, even though I believe my senior year was her first ever in teaching. She was really good at calming me down because anxiety and such, and she let me chill in her classroom when I needed it. She eventually got married to another teacher at our school (there after I graduated), so more people got to know how great she is. She still connects with her former students online, too, which is wonderful. I started drinking coffee after volunteering to fill the coffee pot every morning…whoops.

    I also realized later in life that I had big lesbian crushes on both of them lolol

    • Yes for these amazing teachers, and ugh i feel you with gay crushes on teachers. So difficult from both sides, honestly… I always felt bummed when students had crushes on me (not bragging! Honest!) cuz I wanted to be like, “have a crush on someone your own size!” And I wanted to be like, I am not reciprocating because you’re a child, and my student, not because your feelings are wrong or because you’re not beautiful and amazing. Cuz I think sometimes I was the first out queer person some of the students had ever met, you know? Anyway, thank you! Conference is going well so far :)

  13. Fave teachers: I had a teacher in year 3 called Miss Peters. I barely remember anything she taught but I remember her being kind and Australian. Then there was my geography teacher in secondary school called Mr Euden who made me love geography. Then there was Dr Blackwell my year 11 maths teacher: I still hate maths but he was the kind of teacher who could help you understand how to figure out any problem.

    Least fave teacher: Mrs Garcia who I had for year 11 Chemistry. That woman could put a student down. She would only give you work according to what she thought you could do instead of encouraging you to go further.

    In other news I has two job interviews this week. I am tired and trying not to think about them. I feel like I did the best I could do and that’s the most important thing.

  14. My favorite teacher was my high school French teacher. She was wonderful… so caring and so animated and had so many stories about her year abroad and other visits to France. Definitely the reason I live/study in France now. And the reason several other people I know became French majors in university.

    She died of cancer my junior year. She’d had cancer the year before but didn’t tell anyone, said she missed class because of some minor surgery. We only found out it had been cancer when it returned aggressively and she left class for good.

    After she returned from “minor surgery” recovery, I stayed after school once to help her with some paperwork she was putting together to get certified as a high quality teacher or whatever that weird system was that No Child Left Behind put in place. She asked me what I thought about the substitute teacher. He was fine, he did his best but he was not a trained language teacher, just a sub who had luckily majored in French several years before. She almost started crying, said she felt guilty she hadn’t been able to give us the quality of teaching we deserved. She cared so freaking much. So much that she felt guilty that she had to take time off work to fight cancer.

    I was lucky to have a lot of great teachers though, there are many close 2nds.

    I only one who was really, truly, unforgivably terrible. My last high school math teacher was just mean to students and bad at explaining things. Instead of turning in all homework, we would occasionally have a “homework quiz” where we had something like 10-15min to copy a certain number of our homework answers to a new sheet of paper that would be corrected for a grade. I was the type of student who always did my homework, but I am very very slow at copying ANYTHING. So I was always the last to turn my quiz in and she was always a jerk about it. I remember one time she said to everyone, when clearly I was the only one still working, “If you thought you could wait until during the quiz to do your homework, you’re screwed now.” Then she walked to my desk where you could SEE my homework was done and drummed her fingers on my desk while I finished. And getting a perfect grade on that quiz got me an A in her class and 15 years later I still feel petty and victorious about that.

    The superintendent of the school district even privately admitted that she was terrible but they couldn’t get rid of her. I’ve often wondered if I hadn’t hated her so much if I might have ended up on a very different path. I was great at science and math and really liked both, but refused to take AP Calc my senior year because she taught it. I just decided, whatever… I’ll do something in college that doesn’t need math. In retrospect, I often wish I’d done engineering or chemistry. But alas. Gave me a new respect for how much teachers can influence students’ lives negatively and how important it is to make sure young people have support and guidance outside of the classroom.

    I’m a teacher myself now and I find it super stressful. I’m very critical of my own classes and anxious about my teaching. I also find the French system where you expect half of your students to fail their first year to be very stressful. Although I do feel like most my classes are pretty good, they’re challenging to teach because my subject (English as a foreign language) is just a requirement for my students, not a choice, we only have 15 hours together per semester and in classes of 45 students the levels vary wildly. So I would be shocked if they were ever anyone’s favorite class. BUT at least I am certain that none of my students will remember me as their unforgivably terrible teacher.

    • As a teacher, you know how difficult it is to ever have a sub. It’s basically a lost class day. The number of times i taught while sick to avoid having to have a sub is substantial. Ugh teaching was so hard!

      And I’ve known SOO MANY bad teachers who were “too hard to get rid of.” And I think it’s a really tricky situation. I think we need some kind of pipeline for teachers to exit the classroom and enter some other kind of work in schools or in education after they burn out or are no longer effective – maybe they can help write curriculum or something? Because teaching really is, so often, a young person’s career. It’s hard to stay empathetic and enthusiastic and engaged when the public school system beats you down so hard and in order to actually teach well you basically have to fight the system every year. I dunno.

      Rest In Peace to your amazing French teacher. <3

  15. I was lucky to have a lot of great teachers over the years, but one of my high school English teachers stands out. She was funny and clever and whip-smart and very much her own person — she was probably the best model I had at that age of what it meant to be a fully independent unmarried woman and perfectly happy about it. She also believed in me and my writing and never let me doubt myself. She submitted my writing to a university journal (her classes were dual credit so we were technically enrolled in the university) and always encouraged me and talked to me like an equal. I visited her a few times after I graduated, and every time it was like reconnecting with an old friend. She did what every good teacher does: made me (and all her students) feel seen, and listened to, and respected.

    Damn, I gotta go visit her and bring her a pie or something.

  16. I’ve had so many great teachers, I’m not sure where to begin! I also tended to like the strict and straightforward ones. Knowing exactly where I stood and what I needed to do to succeed made me feel safe and secure, and since I was generally able to meet academic expectations (except math class, R.I.P.) it went pretty well.

    Speaking of queer and trans youth, I watched Love, Simon last night and had a great time! I can be very nitpicky when it comes to movies, so it was interesting to see how much less I cared about unrealistic aspects because it was queer and gave me all the feels. Media in the mid-aughts wasn’t totally devoid of gay youth content (shoutout to But I’m A Cheerleader and Rainbow Boys!), but things are so much more expansive now.

    Speaking of which, I recently discovered Thomas Sanders’ videos and am lowkey obsessed. I know I’m way outside his primary audience, since I’m his age and not a middle or high schooler, but I think it’s like loving Steven Universe as an adult. The kid in me is still there somewhere, and heals a little more with each new story I needed back then.

    • I think we as teachers often forget that structure can be super empowering. So much of the world is difficult to navigate because you don’t know what to do or what’s going on. You can mitigate that to an extent by having clear guidelines and expectations, with room for creativity within.

      too much structure, though, can be stifling and demotivating. It’s a tough balance.

      I thought the ads for Love, Simon made it seem basic and boring. But maybe I’ll check it out?

      • Your mileage may vary, as they say. I read more than one review with variations on “mediocre teen movies aren’t just for heterosexuals anymore.” Definitely a much harsher verdict than I would have given. There were some noticeable flaws, without question, but overall I’m glad it exists and that I saw it.

    • Oh lord, I saw Love, Simon this afternoon and thank god I saw it alone because I cried through like a full third of that movie. As a teen librarian who’s out to friends and at work but only pretty recently started coming out to my close family, I saw so much of myself and the kids that I work with in that movie. And it’s an amazing book! I’m glad you liked it!

  17. i don’t think i had a favorite teacher, but i had a least favorite teacher

    i do cherish the memories of when specific teachers told me they were impressed by my writing.

    i was kind of oblivious in school. i was always the youngest in my year,, sometimes by over a year, and i had undiagnosed ADD until age 13; i think i was in high school when it fully clicked that i could influence my grades… with my behavior. (shocker)

    but for a really long time, i looked at my grades, and those of my peers, and thought:

    1. smart kids get all A grades
    2. i don’t get A grades, therefore
    3. i am stupid


    1. smart kids are Good,
    2. i am not smart, so
    3. i am less important

    as i got older, it occured to me that i might not be stupid. i also realized that a lot of my good-grade peers were really fucking dumb.

    so i figured that the fact i still really struggled in school meant something must be really wrong with me. that i am worse than stupid: i am lazy, and a failure.

    i graduated HS (barely) in 2009. my attempts to get a degree thru community college occured in fits & starts over the four years that followed, ending once in academic suspension, and then again in academic probation.

    i still feel like a failure.

    but i know i am a failure who is kind of ok at writing, at least.

    • It is so easy to be hard on ourselves. I hope your work with the kiddos is going okay! Sometimes little ones can be refreshingly forgiving and optimistic! If you have ever watched a little kid learn to walk, they spend so much time falling down, what we as adults might see as failing, but they persevere, and eventually learn to walk!

      Take care, Michael!

        • Toddlers are some of my favorites! They are learning so much and so quickly! I love the study plotting where kids of various ages go in a room over the course of an hour. Toddlers are definitely busy.

          I had an in home day care for 10 years and definitely enjoyed the toddlers, though they were exhausting at times (especially when I had a biter). Now I miss not having any toddlers! I closed the day care several years ago and now have foster kids, but the girls are 5 and almost 7. I keep thinking after they go back with their families (which hopefully will be this summer), we should say yes to some younger kids.

    • So sorry school was so rough, Michael :( I’m so happy the kids have you! I feel like the work we do in early childhood helps children’s inner fire burn bright enough to endure years of school where they would extinguish that spirit.

      • @teachersaga

        while my academia-related self esteem issues have stayed past their welcome by Many Years / had a huge, mostly negative, impact on my life, I’m not sure I would trade the experience for a better one. It has absolutely guided the way I relate to my students for the better.

        I’m still really new at this job, and I still struggle a lot. I have a lot of learning to do, as a teacher, but I don’t think I’d have a chance in Hell of getting better at it if I weren’t carrying around these wounds, or if they didn’t still feel fresh. I don’t think I’d be able to empathize as well with the kids who struggle. I don’t think I’d be able to see, as easily, their self-awareness, and how deeply they feel everything.

        I definitely wouldn’t be as aware of how easily that combination of self-awareness + behavior problems can be internalized.

        There are kids at my school who break my heart every day, who have that special ability to Infuriate people with the way they express their needs, who answer “how are you doin’ today? ” with an anxious “I’ve been Good?”, who I know have already, in their heads & hearts, blurred the line between Doing and Being, between their behavior and their worth.

        And maybe I’m projecting a little bit too much / transferring too much of my own shit on these kids, idk; I just know the world needs more bleeding hearts, not less

        • @Mic-k-ey
          This was earth shakingly beautiful, thank you. I absolutely agree and have the same attitude towards my work. I don’t think I would trade mine for anything either. Someone once told me: the deeper scars suffering creates, the greater our capacity for compassion. In our work, being able to relate emotionally with the kids is everything.

  18. I really like this question, I don’t think I’ve ever sat down and thought about it

    I think I mostly had pretty good teachers, but some that stick out to me are my Physics teacher that gave such a great lesson at the end of my junior year he had me convinced I could take A.P. Physics just so I could study with him again and my English teacher junior year was like, “so when you do your low-residency MFA program” and I was like ???? and she was like, “Oh sorry, I just like imagine you’d go on and write tons of great stuff” and I was like !!!!!!!!!!! idk my best teachers just made me feel seen and like learning was something I should keep doing, they were mostly the best in the arts and English, but I’ve had really great ones in math and science too, didn’t really know what I had til it was gone you know?

    On the other hand, not so great teachers include the religion teacher who made sure we knew homosexuality would send us to hell and also would punch the wall which wasn’t terrifying at all and a social studies teacher that was lowkey a fan of making students cry

    • Nice! One of my fave teachers (now that i think about it) was a humanities teacher i had for “mythology/folklore,” which was a cool class for high school! And the teacher was cool; he set off all my teenage gaydar but it turned out he was married and had a really cute wife and kid. Could have been queer still, though! but the fact that he was so cool made me want to take his class the next year.

      But it turned out he wasn’t teaching the other elective humanities class the next year and i ended up taking it with my least favorite teacher ever. So that backfired :(

  19. My favorite teacher WAS ALSO AT TRUE COLORS TODAY!!!!

    I never even took a class with Ms. Kimball, but that woman changed the lives of every queer kid at my high school. She created the space for LGBT students to hang in her classroom, both formally through being the GSA advisor, and just generally after school; she arranged for LGBT students to sit in on panels with the administration/staff so that they could learn how to support us better; she created opportunities for alums to come back and talk to current students about their lives and experiences at our high school and beyond.

    When she took us to True Colors, it wasn’t even called True Colors – it was smaller, hosted by Wesleyan, and was called “Children from the Shadows.” It was called that until the closing comments from attendees one year, when this kid stood up (in my brain, he is just like Damien from Mean Girls) and went on a rant about how all of us there were beautiful and vibrant and none of us were from the shadows.

    I know how important it was for me to hear what the presenters and panelists had to say when I was but a wee queerling. Abeni, I’m so glad you are one of the facilitators this year!

  20. The teacher who comes to mind is my physics teacher who wore tights with 6 inch London Buses printed on them.

    When most kids in our year went skiing in France, those of us who couldn’t afford it were under her care at school. She made it a desert island week, and we did things like make shelters out of driftwood ( that “came with the tide” into the school grounds), and bridges whose strength we tested. We all received prizes at the end of the week – mine was a peacock feather for inventiveness.

    I really appreciated her creativity and demonstration that adult life didn’t need to be formulaic.

  21. I love teachers so much haha they have such a thankless job. One of my favorites was a community college teacher who was the first teacher to tell me I’m a good writer.She was always letting us know about all kinds of scholarships, like for undocumented students or lgbt students, and she even knew my gf and was super nice to her. She was so inspiring she’s one of the reasons I made it to Ucla :)

  22. I had a lot of teachers who I liked (I was that sort of kid who liked teachers and school), but my parents were definitely the most influential in my education. They made sure there were challenging opportunities available. When I wanted to switch schools to volunteer in the classroom for kids who were deaf, my mom set up a meeting with the director of elementary ed so I could present my request, which was approved. They always encouraged my interests and passions.

    I do worry sometimes that they might wish I was more ambitious professionally, but it’s tricky. Right now I’m trying to balance being a foster parent with employment that provides enough for my family in the short term that we can save for larger wants and needs, and to save for the long term.

    I’m currently reading Grit by Angela Duckworth about the power of passion and perseverance. I just started the section in the book on how to encourage grit in our children. Sometimes I feel successful with my foster girls, but other times I just feel tired. I am so thankful for their wonderful teachers at school and at day care! I think it’s good for kids to have multiple people to teach them and care about them, to get different perspectives and different strengths.

    • Hmmm, “grit” was a huge buzzword when i was in my grad school master’s in teaching program, I think it had just come out. There was a lot of debate about it; similar I think to the debate about “leaning in” and other calls to increase/improve “personal responsibility” type stuff. I’d love to hear your thoughts! I haven’t read the book myself, just excerpts.

  23. My favorite teacher was an instructor I had in college. She’s very encouraging, available to students to check in- but never to make someone feel dumb, and kind. She’s also a great role model, she had kids in high school but was finishing up her graduate degree, ate a whole food/plant-based diet, and biked to work. She had all of us over to her house at the end of the semester for dinner, it was so nice.
    She wrote the nicest letter of rec for me for when I was applying for jobs post-college (in the same area that she taught me in), and later a great letter of rec when I was applying to graduate school (where I am now). She’s so funny, I sent her a thank you note and gift card after I decided where I was going to school to thank her for her time, and she sent me a thank you card back for my thank you gift. That’s the kind of person she is.

  24. I have been lucky to have had so many very excellent teachers. In high school there were two English teachers, a couple language teachers, and the chorus director who were very very positive influences in my life and I am friends with them on Facebook and at least nominally keep in touch with them and am very happy about that. I was also lucky to have so very many good professors in college, though my favorite probably was my organic chemistry professor not only for being just…really good at teaching organic chemistry and keeping the class engaged and caring about his students, but being the type of teacher that…literally the whole class had a positive opinion of even if they were doing poorly in the class because he made class engaging with classroom memes such as “Frühjahrsmüdigkeit” which means spring tiredness in German but is also such a spring semester #mood and “quiz final test” to emphasize what material is important and really embracing the college motto of Creative Thought Matters in very cheesy ways.

    On the “worst teachers” side, I just gotta give it to the AP bio teacher I had in high school who literally did not believe in evolution and just…didn’t really teach evolution and could not handle anyone bringing up evolution at all without putting in snide comments about how it’s “mathematically impossible” to have occurred. Oh and also he grade sabotaged people who would directly challenge (in class or by going to the administration to say “hey this dude is literally not following the curriculum and his conduct in class in inappropriate regardless of his personal beliefs”) him on that. My only real regret is not going to the administration about that and instead just…skipping a lot of class on the pretense of band lessons instead. I also feel kinda bad that I said my snide comments to this bullshit loud enough that my classmates heard them but he did not, and some of the…ah, not politically savvy students would repeat my comments word-for-word to challenge him, leading to issues (sorry Nicole, I wasn’t trying to get you in trouble, I was just Done with this man and could not contain myself, but not so Done to risk my grade over it bc I was That Kid in high school so I could manage to keep it down enough to not risk my grade).

    • Damn. AP bio teacher who didn’t believe in evolution? Harsh.

      I subbed for a science teacher once who showed the class some pop psychology bullshit about the differences between men and women and i stopped the video and lectured the class about all the shit that was wrong with the video, then got in trouble the next day.

      She told me it was like if she was showing an evolution video and i stopped it to talk about creationism. I countered that from my perspective, it was the opposite: she was showing biased, unscientific lies and i was countering it with fact-based truths. I didn’t sub for her again. Whatever.

  25. Some divine power give me strength I went through special education in the 90’s.

    I cannot pick a singular least favorite teacher and how they traumatized you without near telling my life story. But I believe I can sum it up as if you don’t like or care about kids why the fuck you teaching?
    And then counter it with some those teachers were dinosaurs from a time where there were few solid jobs for women and in the time they got their degree special needs was a specialty not touched on for regular ed. Treating kids like prisoners to be keep in line was another product of their time and lack of funding.

    The most traumatic teacher I can say hands down that was my kindergarten teacher and the only worthwhile things she every taught me was to not blindly trust authority figures as having everyone’s best interest in mind. That authority figures are not pure beings they have biases and petty cruelties just like children.
    It’s not a nice lesson to learn at 5 and when I tell other white people about having learned that lesson at that age they tend to freak, but like hello everyday 5 year olds lose a parent or loved one because an authority figure with a gun saw a skin tone before they saw a human being and 5 year olds of every color and class whose parents abuse them.

    When people talk about protecting the innocence of children but actually mean “don’t make me have to explain sex to kids it’s too hard” it pisses me off for a bunch of reasons but on topic reason is innocence isn’t sex, real innocence is the good guys being stalwart and true and the bad guys easily identified by their sinister looks and are always defeated sounded by the good guys.

    Now the most positively impactful teacher for learning I think I’ve ever had was my studies skills teacher, her whole job was to teach incoming freshman about how to learn better for their learning style. If students had a disagreement in her class she didn’t throw down the hammer she’d mediate it, with in reason of course. Cause it was a class with important stuff we really did needed to learn.

    The teacher that probably validated me the most was my 4th or was it 3rd grade math teacher. She went to conventions and stuff to keep her knowledge current and lesson plans fresh. She was the first teacher I can remember not just tolerating my special needs, but encouraging me to think outside the box and do what I ever I needed to have that concept make sense or get to the answer. She showed me that composition note books have multiplication tables in the back and how to use note cards as blinders so my poor dyslexic brain wasn’t overwhelmed by the giant freaking crosswords puzzles of death those tables are.
    Like dude till that point in was like pulling teeth to get my ADA rights acknowledged (re: that treating students like prisoners to be kept in line thing) that was the first time my use of visual aides was actually encouraged and not treated like a threat to stability.

    In middle school I got special ed teachers that were great, respected and appreciated their students. It’s such short words to describe how good that was and possibly life saving.
    Middle school is around the age where those of us who grew up in special ed back then started having not just passive suicidal thoughts but real honest ideations and self harming behaviour.
    I don’t remember the first time I didn’t want to exist, but my mom does. My mom remembers 5 real old me coming home and saying something like “I don’t want be alive it hurts”

    So by middle school it’s so important to have teachers that really care and respect their students and I was lucky enough to have that. One of them she’d read her students in their last day of class together “Oh The Places You’ll Go” and to this day it makes all teary eyed because she believed in us.

    Oh and another thing about the teacher who validated me the most she created a lesson plan when we got to um jfc what was it…it was a tricky math concept that involved carrying something.
    Anyway she wrote it out/set it up, gave us time to write it on uh I think I work sheet so we’d have enough space. Then spoke about it while writing and this is the clever as fuck part that makes adult me grin still:
    Okay so she had the problem spaced out on the board and under her write she had these plastic bags held up with magnets and little “coins” (I think they were hole punched stiff craft paper of some kind) to represent the values moving about.

    It was so simple a thing, it made the concept so clear and was completely with in a public school teacher’s budget. Stuff she might already had lying about.

    I’ll never be able to math in my head as long as I live, but that doesn’t matter I’ve got the tools to do math, the know how to use them and an understanding where the limits are.
    It’s almost a Serenity Prayer for dyscalculia xD

    • Second everything you said about authority figures not having everyone’s best interest in mind and what real childhood innocence is. I’m one of those kids who learned the hard way from having an abusive parent, so it’s unfathomable to me when people behave with that think-of-the-kids mindset or act scandalized like you were cheated out of a proper safe white childhood. Like you, I’m of the belief that actual childhood innocence is the privilege to grow up internalizing your unexamined childhood values and never having to consider if they’re right or wrong or if everyone else feels the same way, not anything to do with Western prudishness about sex. And I admit that makes it hard sometimes in social justice spaces to hear the standard narrative over and over of “the first time I realized the world was unsafe in way X/the traumatic event Y that changed my life”—not because I don’t feel for those people and want to make changes to eliminate those unsafe environments, but because I can’t fathom there ever being a before to those afters that way.

      I’m sorry to hear about your negative experiences in special ed growing up and glad to hear about your positive later experiences.

      • Everyone knows there are uncaring/thoughtless/lazy/biased teachers, and even some horrendous ones, but I never knew the DEPTH of how fucked up some teachers can be until I became one. Some of them seem to legitimately hate young people. What are you doing teaching????

        Of course, most teachers are mediocre/neutral, and there’s a few great ones and a few terrible ones.

        When I was in grad school getting my teaching credential and masters, there were some folks in my cohort that I was like… what are you doing? Why are you here? but only 1 person out of everyone in the cohort didn’t actually get credentialed, and even that was rare

        • I feel like in the 21st Century there’s no fucking excuse, because like I said some of my bad teachers got their degree and credentials in a different time where solid jobs for women were slim and a lot of teaching was about “keeping the brats in line”.

          But if you a 21st Century person with 21st education fuck no. Get out. Children don’t deserve to be abused by you and your power trip.

          Not everyone can be great but hate has no place in the classroom.

      • I did go through a period of my life where I was lashing out and delighted in upsetting people “because why should they get to feel safe? the word isn’t safe that’s a fucking illusion”

        Even though I’m far from that I still have a sense of confused disbelief sometimes before the empathy kicks in.
        How someone behaves and treats people is what matters. Not some uncharitable thought, but how one actually responds is what makes a decent human being.

        I’d like to say it was just the times and things got better but uh ADA rights are under attack and Betty Devos is the head of education. It might go back to the bullshit I had to put up with.
        Call and petition I’ll do but I’ll also hope that good teachers get drawn the profession, to helping their students no matter what comes.

  26. I’ve been lucky and had a decent amount of really good teachers. The first one that comes to mind is Miss Halkyard, who taught me Spanish when I was 14-16. Her lessons really made me fall in love with languages (and, I later realised, her – she was the first queer crush I was aware of, which kickstarted my coming out process).

    One that I don’t think about all that often is Mrs Ballard, my year nine Biology teacher. She made the classes super interesting, and gave me a really solid piece of advice. I’ve always hated public speaking, but one day we had to do a group project and then present it, and when I immediately tried to get out of presenting, she took me to one side and told me that if I wanted to go to university and get somewhere, I would have to start presenting things. I was thirteen then, and although I’m now twenty-one and am still not overly fond of speaking in front of people, her advice sticks in the back of my mind. My year eleven Biology teacher, Mrs Williams, also got me really interested in science, and spent a lot of that year trying to get me to go further in science instead of languages. I try not to have many regrets, but not going into science is perhaps one of them, even though I love humanities too.

    I also had a host of incredible English teachers, especially in my last two years at school – Ms Waterfall really really believed in me and believed that I could go far with whatever I chose to do. I recently got back in touch with her, telling her that when I graduate next year I want to go back into her field (linguistics!), and she’s still being a great support, even though she hasn’t seen me in three years.

    In terms of worst teachers, one that I immediately think of was Miss Quarell (Quarrell? Quarelle?), who was a supply teacher for one day when I was six and who made me cry.

    • Just thought of another objectively terrible teacher: Miss Hampson, who also taught me Biology in year nine. She told us one day that we were being too loud and she didn’t care if she couldn’t teach us anything and we didn’t learn, because she was leaving at the end of the year so if we all failed our exam that winter the school wouldn’t be able to fire her because she’d have already left. She also went off on a fat-shaming tangent about her sister (who we didn’t know!) one day. She was a special woman, and I certainly wasn’t sad to see the back of her.

  27. Speaking of teachers, I’m looking for your recommendations! I’ve been reading through books on Tibetan Buddhism, and how to practice mindfulness and meditation. I’ve mostly read books by Pema Chodron and the Dalai Lama, and I’m looking for additional authors. Thanks for any suggestions.

  28. I had a teacher that asked me once if I was acting out because I didn’t feel like I was as good as my twin sister. It would take too long to explain everything I had done just that week to get in trouble. I had another teacher insist that I get moved up to all AP classes because I was wasting my time on anything easier. Then she was dismayed that I put forth zero effort. She gave me a lecture about potential. My issue wasn’t laziness but that’s what she assumed and it made me angry. I was also angry with myself to not be brave enough to talk about what was really going on in my life. I’ve often wondered what could’ve been different for me if even just one teacher paid attention, especially in elementary school. If I had to pick a favorite it would be my fourth-grade teacher. She also taught us piano so my sister and I would ride home with her after school a couple of days a week. Then my mom would pick us up at her house. One time when I was in high school I went to the movies with some friends. They left without me. The vice principal was there that night and he gave me a ride home. He talked to me about reevaluating my friends. This was in the 80’s before cell phones. If you didn’t have a quarter and the person you were calling wasn’t home, then you were out of luck. So, I was that loser that rode home with the vice principal. Then all the lights were off at my house when I got home and he was like “your parents don’t wait up for you?”. So he made me feel great that night. He never said anything to me again. Despite being in detention with him multiple times. So I guess he gets least favorite.

  29. ***Disclaimer*** I am a teacher. This starts out negative, but a positive twist – I promise ;)

    I like happy cups of sunshine and hugs, but I can’t say I ever had a good teacher. Not one. There was only “mediocre” and “downright awful”. But I suppose in a twisted way, the really bad teachers motivated me to be where I am today.

    I was the most precocious child you can imagine. And an amazingly gifted self-learner. Weekends were spent browsing my Father’s college textbooks. By 4th grade I had built my first robot and enjoyed designing rockets. By fifth grade, I had taught myself cell biology. Shortly after I learned my first coding language and won my state’s 6th grade writing contest. I was that kid who’s idea of fun was cuddling the bookstore’s leather armchair browsing through random works clumsily collected in enormous heaps from every genre. You get the idea.

    After teaching myself from books in our small farming town library, I traveled two cities over every day to take Japanese classes in high school. The teacher told me I had “no talent whatsoever” and that I should “stop and do something else”. 10 years later, I’m the only class member to major in Japanese studies in university, travel abroad at Japan’s most prestigious institution, and then live overseas where I owned my own Japanese/English translation business for seven years. I wasn’t hopeless; I simply was being forced to learn in the wrong way. Once I returned to my element, language came naturally.

    In middle school, I had a passion for music. But I was only ever told how awful I was. I wasn’t awful. I wasn’t, but I believed I was — I was just bored of doing scales and playing music I hated. Years later after finding that musical passion again, I now play several wind and string instruments well, am working on composing my own music, and am taking up the harp sometime soon.

    I hope these examples illustrate my point. How often do we do this with passionate students? Putting them in boxes, telling them the “right” way to solve problems, and denying them any creativity?

    But the real harm with our education system is not teachers discouraging us from our passions, but not listening to our cries for help. As a closeted trans girl, school was absolutely terrifying. I left plenty of warning signs: English essays with strong trans themes and female points of views, changing my names on my school papers, begging the P.E. teacher to let me change somewhere else….

    No one ever listened.
    In other words, the education system failed me. School became many long years of bullying, lonely lunches behind the school or bathroom stall, and feeling absolutely trapped. Most kids can gain of sense of freedom when they leave school grounds. I took my walking prison with me, attributing survival to sheer willpower and stubbornness.

    And then once puberty hit, my struggles with gender were all I thought about. They consumed me to the point where I did what many do to survive trauma: shut-down. My grades tanked, I stopped caring about anything and everything, and I began skipping school to escape into video games and hard drinking.

    It took me nearly 12 years to regain any sense of self. Imagine if there had been a good teacher to help. We really can make all the difference in a child’s life. Why didn’t my teachers realize something was wrong? Didn’t they notice my sudden lack of passion? Why did they say nothing about my writing or cuts? Where was my protector to keep me safe from those trying to hurt me?

    These are questions I ask myself often. And also the reason I decided to become a teacher myself. Children all need belonging. Without it, no learning can take place. If there were no good teachers in my community, I would become that person who should have been there for me. Through my work these last seven years, I’ve had the privilege to help children celebrate life in all its joy. To hold their hand when they are scared. And to remind them that they are loved. They are wanted. And they make the world more beautiful.

  30. also, also, my least favs, in no particular order, TW FOR SEXUAL ASSAULT and general skeeviness:

    1. the long term sub who “dated” one of my classmates despite the fact that he was in his twenties and she was seventeen. He “dumped” her (I’m using scare quotes bc this was not a normal or OK relationship, it was abusive and wrong), so she turned him in.

    at the time, we were all 17 and stupid, so we thought it was just a big deal because he was a TEACHER. The gap in age and experience and power doesn’t seem as big when you’re young.

    The first time I interacted with teenagers as a twenty-something, I thought back to this man, and hated him.

    2. My senior year civics teacher, who was sarcastic and cursed and let us curse and was everyone’s favorite “cool guy” teacher.

    “Cool Guy Teachers” are almost never actually good teachers. They are depressed mid-thirties men who have drinking problems and a bad marraige and an inferiority complex. They don’t treat their students like their Friends because they’re cool, they do it because they don’t set healthy boundaries with adolescents.

    Anyway, he tried to hook up with one of my classmates immediately after we graduated.

    3. My libertarian, climate-change-denying microeconomics professor who opened up a discussion about the wage gap and CEO pay with “you know, not everyone can be as smart as Bill Gates”.

    I yelled at him a lot & almost got written up multiple times. I think I would respect him more if he had actually done that, written me up. I think he held back because I had the highest grade in class.

    4. The English 112 professor who bought into the idea that millennials suck because we are coddled and didn’t get smacked enough. The worst part was when my classmates agreed with her?? I yelled an Aristophanes quote at her and then just dropped the class because this was the semester after that microeconomics class and I was just tired, y’all.

  31. In terms of specific negative experiences with teachers, first prize goes to the conservative fundamentalist third-grade teacher going through a bitter divorce and taking both out on her public school classroom. One day, I was having some kind of teasing third-grade conversation with a friend and said something to the effect of “gee, Heather, cut that out,” probably in reference to crush-related teasing or the like. The teacher thought I said “Jesus, Heather, cut that out” and lit into me in a fifteen-minute tirade in front of the entire class, going on about how she couldn’t believe she’d heard something like that out of my mouth, in her classroom, and how it was taking all the strength she could summon in herself not to send me down to the principal’s office for my behavior. She called my mom after school that day, irate, and lit into her as well about it, reiterating that if it weren’t for her grace of taking the higher road in the situation, she would’ve had me suspended. I had no clue what I’d even done wrong–I grew up in a messed-up religious household, but not of the conservative Christian variety, so I had genuinely never heard of the idea of taking Jesus/God/other religious figures’ names in vain in a blasphemous way.

    Second prize goes to the middle school gym teacher who was a former special-ops Marine who relished the idea of ruining smart kids’ GPAs and giving them their first Cs/Ds/Fs by borderline physically abusing them making them exercise far above their ability levels and sometimes collapse from running, etc. Third prize goes to the middle school social studies teacher who showed us a (tremendously racist) video about the Mayan calendar and apocalypse conspiracy theories that presented them as absolute fact. The world was going to cataclysmically end in 2012, just another random historical fact, shrug.

    My actual teacher horror story doesn’t come from one specific teacher or anecdote, though. It comes from being the straight-A smart kid and all the pressures and abuses we don’t talk about that come along with that. In my case, there were a lot of familial abuses going on behind the scenes, both very related and not related at all to that–which is the case in a lot more instances than people realize–but there’s a lot of crap you go through in general even without those factors added in. I can’t tell you how many times teachers and school officials implied I was the sole thing keeping their school, their district afloat with funding related to test scores. I can’t tell you the number of times throughout K-12 and college that I got an outlier 93 on a pop quiz and had a teacher pull me aside and ask if there was something wrong at home I needed to talk about or if I was just slacking and didn’t care about their class, imply that it was personal somehow and maybe I wasn’t taking their subject seriously in some way they could fix, when the usual answer was that I was a CHILD, not a district-funding test-score robot, and maybe I had missed a point in class passing a note to a friend or been out sick a day and missed some homework or internalized a concept the wrong because of odd textbook wording or something. I can’t tell you the number of times I got the third-highest score on a test and heard the whole classroom gasp, because as much as being the smart kid gets you made fun of and ostracized in school, it also carries an immense status-quo pressure with it, like maybe you’re personally responsible somehow for shocking seventh-grade boys into cognitive dissonance when the test-score robot is revealed to be merely human. I can’t tell you how many times teachers told me all kinds of misogynist, classist, ableist garbage about how I was so lucky my IQ was just a few points below the threshold for MENSA testing, etc., because that meant I’d do well in the real world and wouldn’t be one of those eccentric weirdo smart kids who squandered their intelligence being a Wal-Mart greeter, not realizing that “those eccentric weirdo kids” usually were people with undiagnosed or untreated mental health or neuroatypicality issues or other factors and that’s why they “squandered” said intelligence, not realizing the abusive pressures that usually go into being that kind of smart-but-good kid, be those direct abusive family pressure conditions, as in my case, or just the general abusive conditions of being groomed as a child to uphold a colonialist or model-minority status quo that way.

    There is an intense, crushing pressure in being that kind of high-achieving smart/talented kid, and it makes me empathize deeply with everything from Olympic athlete self-implosion to the Jessie Spano or Spencer Hastings archetype of fictional character: if you internalize that pressure, if you have no choice but to internalize it because everyone around you implicitly or explicitly tells you it’s your defining trait as a human and you’re worthless without it, you will break, in one way or another. I had a nervous breakdown in college because of it (and a number of other factors related to family abuse both related and unrelated to queerness), and years later after getting out of academic communities entirely, I’m still recovering. And there is very little support for any of that, because a lot of people who struggle in school for various reasons (who have equally extremely valid issues and abuses on their own end of things) take attitudes of resentment toward smart kids for being smart and perpetuate “smart kids have it easy in every way and are stuck-up elitist/classist assholes” rhetoric whether the assessment is warranted in the specific instance or not, and even people who are more aware of these kinds of issues act as if somehow it was our choice–somehow we were complicit in being pushed too hard, in setting too high standards for ourselves–and treat it with simpering not-actually-pity.

    Like a seven-year-old somehow chooses to be the great American hope for a school district to get test-score funding because they can do a math worksheet well. Like a seven-year-old chooses to be told those test scores are the only thing that makes them worthy as a human at all. It’s so often treated like it’s a privilege one should never complain about or should even repent for–and sometimes it is a privilege, if you’re mentally healthy and have a positive familial/community support system and some other unchecked privileges to go with it, if it does open doors for high-paying professional jobs and opportunities and platforms that you don’t use for good. But I’ve talked to a lot of other smart kids more in my position with it, especially women but not always, especially white kids or model-minority types from middle-class-plus immigrant families but not always, especially kids who grew up in boringly-average middle-American suburbs but not always. And the thing I’ve heard reiterated over and over to mirror my experience is that the privilege involved in that sort of abusive high-achieving environment is not really privilege, when the supposed silver platter handed to you comes clenched in an authoritarian fist. And the fact we don’t talk about that at all because if you’re a smart kid, you should shut up and be grateful for it and never talk about its negative aspects, teeters really close to gaslighting with the way it messes people up who experience its abusive side.

    tl;dr: The public school system in America is really fucking messed up, and a seven-year-old can’t be complicit in their complete dehumanization as a test-score robot, no matter how good they are at math worksheets.

  32. Three teachers stand out for me, each in their own unique way.

    Both years in undergrad I took courses from a fiery professor called Doc Fitzgerald. He was an absolute, demanding hard-ass; he was also the only professor who actually prepared me for grad school. At a departmental event the semester I was to graduate, he overheard some of the program’s grad students disparaging my decision to attend grad school. Doc stewed on those comments over the weekend, checked in with me before class to gauge my reaction (which was along the lines of “I’m making a huge mistake!”), and then went off for the first fifteen minutes of class the following Monday, warning us about the ways in which casual comments might detract from others’ dreams. In retrospect, I get it; they were joking around and letting off steam, mostly in the manner of, “Stop. Don’t. Come Back.” What I didn’t know at the time was that my (then) chosen academic field has one of the most emotionally and psychologically abusive systemic approaches to graduate education in the social sciences, operating under the theory that those who survive become one of them. That’s actually how I’ve since had it described by those in the field!

    I ran into Doc the next year at the national conference and thanked him, for being a tough teacher, for taking the hits in student evaluations, and for actually preparing me for grad school. It was the first time I saw him speechless. Guess he didn’t hear “Thank you” very often.

    My second awesome teacher was also an undergrad professor, a quiet, solid, calm presence for me both years. My program required students have a minor, and I had neglected to choose one. Life circumstances – mainly a partner who lived three thousand miles away – incentivized me to graduate early. Note to self: do not choose your major at 4am, on a bet with friends and co-workers. If you do, be prepared for the challenge of completing a Religious Studies minor, in the buckle of the Bible Belt, without taking a single course on Christianity. Taking several classes from Dr. Levering was one of my rewards for this odd journey (the cash won in the bet was nice, too). She was solace to a confused kid coming to terms with how very different I was from everyone around me. Dr. Levering was soft-spoken and slightly scattered at times, but then she would center and roll out a Buddhist sutra or trace the gender-shifting path of a deity’s migration from India to China. She also showed me the path for a “normal” future, inviting a few of us over to dinner with her and her partner. I needed that view of a settled, mature lesbian life, queer home, and shared meals as much as I needed the comparative Eastern religion education I was receiving.

    Most importantly, though, was the teacher I never actually had in a classroom. My sophomore high school chemistry teacher threw our textbooks at us the first day and said, “Chemistry teaches itself; if you can’t learn it from the book, you don’t belong here.” Yeah, not so much. One of my aunts, however, was also a chemistry teacher, though she lived on the other side of the country. At my Mom’s suggestion, I spent an hour on the phone with her, every night, learning chemistry via long distance phone calls. The phone rates weren’t cheap, the time zones weren’t working in her favor, and I cannot imagine she actually had an hour to spare every night, given her own heavy teaching schedule and family life. She was there for me, though, and got me through honors chemistry with an A. I doubt I ever properly thanked her, but when we lost her to Alzheimers a few years ago, I made a point of writing my uncle and thanking the both of them.

    • God damn. I remember getting my friend’s mom to teach me advanced algebra because I JUST. DIDN’T. GET. IT. I remember crying when she was trying to teach me cuz I felt so dumb. Obvi the teacher was useless. :(

      I usually love math teachers though. If I hadn’t been an English teacher, I’d have loved to be an Algebra teacher…

Contribute to the conversation...

Yay! You've decided to leave a comment. That's fantastic. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated by the guidelines laid out in our comment policy. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation and thanks for stopping by!