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  • Writer's pictureLeigh Gerstenberger

Back to School

As the summer draws to a close, those of us with children and grandchildren are quickly reminded of all the logistics involved in sending kids back to school.

In our family some of the areas that require our attention are making sure the children have clothes that fit, packed lunches, drop off/pick up schedules if not taking the bus, and signing up for a myriad of activities from sports to after school art classes.

Often overlooked or taken for granted is the role that nearly 4 million teachers in public and private elementary and secondary schools play in the lives of the children they’re entrusted with for just under 1,000 hours of instruction each year.

I was reminded of this recently when I came across an article from BuzzFeed, an online news source entitled, Teachers Share Incidents with Students that Instantly Made Them Change Their Policies.

While the entire article can be viewed at:

I’ve enclosed several excerpts from the article that highlight the incredible commitment and thoughtfulness of our nation’s educators.

Teachers Share Incidents with Students That Instantly Made Them Change Their Policies

by Victoria Vouloumanos

BuzzFeed Staff Member

Whether they mean to or not, teachers often have a significant impact on their students. And sometimes, students have a significant impact on their teachers, too. With this in mind, we asked teachers of the BuzzFeed Community to share experiences they've had with students that not only opened their eyes but compelled them to change something about how they conduct their classes. Many teachers came forward with simultaneously heartbreaking and heartwarming stories, so here are some of them below:

  • It was a grade one-to-two class. The first time I asked the class a question, a student gave me a totally wrong answer. I replied, 'No, that’s wrong,' and watching eagerness turn to disappointment was enough to never say an answer is wrong again. I felt physically sick. Now, I say something like, 'It’s going in the right direction but not there yet,' 'I can see how you might think that' or 'I like that you are looking for a connection to what you already know.'

  • The day one of my seventh graders broke down because they couldn’t get their homework done changed everything for me. Their mom and dad worked three jobs apiece, there were four other kids in the house, and this kid took care of all of them while the parents were working. It’s been six years, and I haven’t given homework since then.

  • In 1991, during my first-year teaching, I fussed at a student for not completing his homework. At the end of the class, another student stayed back, shook her head at me, and said, 'His lights got cut off yesterday.' I'm still in education, and I have never fussed at another student about not completing homework.

  • When I was doing my student teaching, my mentor teacher used a clip chart. (Students get their clip moved down the chart for 'bad behavior' and up for 'good behavior'). In my first year as a teacher, I also used one, as that was what I was taught for classroom management. One day, I had a student move their clip down, and they were devastated. A little boy in my class said, 'Don't cry, I always get clipped down. You get used to being the bad kid after a while.' My heart broke that something I did had caused a child to believe that he was a bad child. I took the clip chart down right then and there and told that little boy that he wasn't a bad person and that I was so sorry I had made him feel that way.

  • High school English teacher here. When I was a student, my teachers would often do 'popcorn' reading, where students would read aloud and then throw the reading to their peers by saying, 'Popcorn, [name].' It was generally a fun way to keep students engaged, so while student-teaching, I decided to have my students ‘popcorn-read’ a passage from a novel. A student then popcorned his classmate, who clearly looked very embarrassed and hesitated before reading aloud. Within the first few seconds, I could tell this student must struggle with a form of dyslexia. He stumbled over many words and seemed to guess what word he was reading by the first two or three letters. After realizing how humiliating this could be for students who struggle with reading challenges, I now read passages aloud myself and then ask students if they would like to read aloud (which they can decline).

  • I was thoughtlessly using the phrase 'parents' in my classroom until, during my second-year teaching, I had a transfer student who was a foster child. Because he had been bounced around, he was very withdrawn and not interested in connecting. The first time I said 'parents,' I saw him look away. I felt awful because I just hadn’t been thinking. From then on, I said 'your grown-up.' The very next time I sent something home, I said, 'Your grown-up...' and he smiled a little. After that, he began to open up a little in class and even made a couple of friends. It was a little thing for me to do, and it really helped him feel a sense of sameness with his peers. I always look at every bit of information about my students' background now so I can make them feel safe and included.

  • I noticed that every time we did group work, one student would never get chosen until all the groups were full, at which point, some group had to take them. From then on, I have never let students pick their own groups or partners. Now, I choose them all.

  • Once, a student was given detention for wearing a sweater that wasn't the proper school sweater. I found her crying in the classroom later that day, and she told me she couldn’t afford the school sweater. The next day, I kept a stock of school sweaters in the back of the room for anyone who couldn't afford them.

  • I'm a high school teacher. When I first started, I tried so hard to stay out of the kids' 'drama' and just focus on teaching. I had a student who I liked but thought was dramatic because she was often crying. Later, I found out that her stepdad was violent toward her as she protected her disabled brother, and CPS was removing her from her home. As a result, I basically instituted an 'if you're having a bad day, I have a quiet room to be alone' policy. If a student is upset, they know they can come in and ask or point to the closet, and they can sit in my closet with the door propped open to sleep or chill. They don't abuse it. A lot of them come out after a while and get back to work because they honestly just need a space where they can feel safe and maybe cry. There's no privacy in high schools, and sometimes, we all need to get it out and take a break.

  • Last year, during parent/teacher conferences, I was reviewing data on a student's reading progress. Unfortunately, he was about two years behind. I asked his mother what kind of reading he did at home, and she scoffed and said, ‘none’. I was taken aback because I think reading is very important, but she then explained to me that she works 14 hours a day at a restaurant, and her son did his virtual learning in a booth there. I didn't know that because he always had his camera off. She told me that she only has Sundays off, and they were spent cleaning, doing laundry, and cooking. It really made me think that not everyone shares my priorities. Of course, she wants what's best for her child, but she is in survival mode. This realization shook me, and I think about her often.

  • I remember one student solving a long division problem differently than taught in class and getting marked wrong, even though he got the correct answer. I also remember having this exact same scene play out in my childhood as my parents are first-generation Americans. I decided that instead of marking the work incorrectly, I would have these kids teach me and the rest of the class their methods, and students could use whichever was better for them. One method of solving a math problem is not the be-all-end-all like most teachers teach. Several students have immigrant parents and are taught how to solve math problems according to their country's method. I think that allowing students to share their methods also teaches better problem-solving skills overall.

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