Teachers Recall The Outstanding Students Who Left A Lasting Impact On Their Hearts, And I'm Seriously Tearing Up

Teachers Recall The Outstanding Students Who Left A Lasting Impact On Their Hearts, And I'm Seriously Tearing Up

Recently Reddit user spicybarbi asked the teachers of the community, "Who is the best/worst student you've ever had?"

Mara Wilson and Embeth Davidtz in "Matilda" (1996)
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Teachers leaned into experiences with their best students and their exceptional qualities (teachers aren't the only ones who impact someone's life in a positive light — students can do that for teachers!).

Tyler James Williams on "Abbott Elementary"

So, here are some of the best students teachers have had the honor of working with over the years:

Note: Some submissions were pulled from this Reddit thread by user jaspertheawkrdghost.

Note: Some submissions include topics of child abuse. Please proceed with caution.

1."The best student I’ve ever had was a five-year-old little boy with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) and ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder). He had explosive anger, volatile tantrums, and foul language at times. But, he was also unbelievably bright, hilarious, and full of kind words for his friends. His home life was really rough, but he still had such big, bright eyes when it came to looking at the world. I think about him all of the time. He gave me rocks he found on the playground because he thought they looked cool, and to this day they live on my desk."


2."I taught English in South Korea. English classes were divided into three ability levels: Beginner, intermediate, and advanced. Most students went to hagwons (after-school tutoring centers). I had a student who was very dedicated but couldn't quite get into the advanced class – he did okay for the written exam but struggled with the speaking and listening parts. Our neighborhood was very blue-collar and could be classified as low-income, so his family couldn't afford a hagwon for him. He didn't know what to do, so I did my best to help him. It turned out he was a very resourceful student — he realized that the US military had a giant base next door and often recruited civilian volunteers. So he applied for that and found himself on a US base surrounded by English-speaking personnel. He used that as his hagwon, immersing himself as much as possible."

"That semester, he passed the exam. It wasn't the highest score but it was a solid enough grade to get him to the advanced class, thanks to his dramatically improved verbal and listening scores.

To this day, I still wonder how he figured out this solution. It's impressive. He wasn't the most academically 'gifted,' but he was certainly one of the smartest students I encountered during my time in South Korea."


Person sitting at a table with their head resting on their hand, papers in front of them, in a brightly lit room
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3."I teach English to adult refugees. I had this young female student from Afghanistan who had been through some pretty terrible things. She was very feminine and fond of soft-pink hijabs. She was reaching the end of her English education and having trouble deciding what field she wanted to study next. Most students were choosing nursing, accounting, or other university degrees. But, she found a brochure for welding and just fell in love. She loved the idea of making useful things and didn't care what anyone said. It was great seeing a young woman in such a vulnerable position pursuing her passions and breaking the mold."


4."I worked with one student to get him through fifth grade — he didn’t understand the other kids. He showed up during my first year (third grade for him), and during recess, he stayed in the library. He turned out to be a creative genius and a hard worker. I made him a log, and if I was absent or late, he would check books in and out to kids in the morning, lunch, recess, and until the bus call. He would go through my unused office looking for stuff to make art with. I never worried a bit about him in there. Later, he started going to lunch (which was good because he needed some socialization). But if it was cold or raining, he would come in, push me out of the way with whatever class was there, and then check out books to them. I just watched. The only bulletin board in the library was an ‘Employee of the Month’ tribute to him."

"I bet one day he will be a famous artist and I will have his greatest creation. He had an index card and asked for some Wite-Out. He proceeded to white out the side with the lines to make both sides unlined. I kept it and framed it."


Child reading a book in a library aisle
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5."My fourth-grade student had been held back a year, so he was head and shoulders taller than the rest of the kids. He was diagnosed with a behavioral disorder at his previous school and it had become so bad that he was shadowed by a guard the whole day at that school. We ended up bonding and he was a really great kid — he just didn't have the right tools to handle conflict. It blew my coordinating teacher's mind when I got him to participate in class, do his homework, and volunteer to tackle math problems on the board. We did an Earth science unit and he got an A on the test. When I went to hand them back, I decided I would call up the best performers to get them for recognition. I started by calling his name. The whole class froze, he froze. Then came the smile. The most beautiful, radiant smile I ever saw — he stood and his class broke out into applause. I almost cried."

"But then my coordinating teacher forced me to give him a C for the unit when he'd earned an A. He was special ed, and giving him an A would have pushed his GPA too high to be in the program.

This broke my heart and killed my desire to teach. He's in his twenties now — I still wonder how he turned out."


6."She was an eighth grader who will live in my heart forever. At the start of the year, she mentioned wanting to be a psychologist when she grew up. Then she mentioned a curiosity about Ted Bundy. I asked if she’d ever considered criminal psychology. She had an excited look on her face as she asked, 'Is that really a THING?!?!?' She’s now in 11th grade at a forensic science high school."


Student raises hand in classroom with peers, engaging with the teacher off-camera
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7."I taught a profoundly gifted six-year-old boy in a one-on-one situation. He LOVED chemistry. I was teaching him multiplication, and he was doing well. One day, he was slower than usual — he seemed stuck on a question. I thought maybe he was just bored, so I said, 'Try using the periodic table.' There wasn’t a periodic table in sight. Without missing a beat, he smiled at me and said, 'Oxygen times nitrogen is barium.' We skipped to more complicated math immediately. The kid was perfectly socially adjusted, too — so smart, conscientious, and adorable."


8."I had a student who was the 'thorn in my side for three terms in the year.' Every single moment of every day, he was bound to be rude, snarky, have an attitude, blame me for getting in trouble, never admit he did anything wrong, never do his work and always distract others on top of being the class clown. I had so many meetings with his parents (they were always supportive of everything). By term four, there was a complete turnaround. He started taking responsibility for his actions and started talking nicely to people. At the end of the year, he wrote me a card thanking me for helping him get through the year and becoming a better person. I cried so hard when I read that because it was such a beautiful moment to realize all the patience that went into the year had shown and was worth it."


Two individuals smiling, one assisting the other with a tablet, inside a library with others at computers in the background
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9."I teach martial arts, so I get students of all ages — this student was a 50-year-old woman. She was friendly, but very timid and shy. She eventually confided in me that she had a horrifically abusive upbringing, and I could see it had seriously affected her life. She was a slow learner and didn't have a natural aptitude for the art, and I had to be very careful with what I said around her. She had a tendency to read things into my comments and critiques that I did not mean. However, we eventually developed a good rapport. She had a work ethic second to none — she knuckled down and worked all the harder. She was always eager to learn and seek out my help. She once confided in me, in tears, that she felt like she was wasting my time and that she was a bad student. In response, I said that showing up to class each day ready to learn and putting her utmost effort into her training made her an exemplary student."

"She had the most gratifying growth for me to watch, and I learned she was timid because she had stage fright. I routinely make my students demonstrate their techniques/kata in front of the class, as it helps them get used to the process and makes it so testing isn't quite so nerve-wracking.

Well, when she first joined, she hated doing that and would get so scared that she would try to hide in the bathroom if she knew demonstrations were coming up.

It took some doing and a lot of gentle encouragement, but she eventually got past this and then some. About five years after she joined my class, we went to a regional tournament with 500 spectators, and she participated in a lunchtime demonstration for the whole crowd. I could not have been more proud of her."


10."It was a group of students from last year. They were children who, due to their age, should be at a certain school level. But since they never attended school, they didn't know how to read (the children ranged from eight to 13 years old). I usually worked with the youngest children in the group because the oldest were preteens, and due to the focus of my career, I couldn't technically teach them. However, the course head teacher practically forced me to work with them so that I would also gain experience with those types of students. I admit, at first, neither they nor I got along well. I only knew how to work with preschoolers, and they didn't care about what I taught them. However, as time went by, our student-teacher relationship improved a lot, and they became attached to me like chicks to a hen."

"When I closed the cycle, they brought me flowers, and it was the only bouquet someone had ever given me. I plan to get that bouquet tattooed because, thanks to those children, my love for teaching returned."


11."I'm the husband of a third-grade teacher, so I see a different perspective. We were at a graduation ceremony for an exchange student we hosted and my wife came across a former student also graduating. That student briefly dropped out of school but returned partially because of my wife's efforts. It was a tearful reunion at graduation. I hadn't seen my wife so happy. I don't know if the student was 'good' or 'bad,' but I know the joy it brings my wife to know that she made a difference in someone's life."


Woman in graduation cap and gown smiling at an older woman adjusting her gown, both sharing a happy moment
Fg Trade Latin / Getty Images

12."I taught for 29 years and had many fifth-grade students who had been labeled 'bad.' It was my challenge to reverse that stigma. One particular student started out as a bully who never did homework. I had him 'living' beside my desk (an inside joke with my class) and spent time talking to him about whatever. He went on to play middle and high school football and his mother actually thanked me when I saw her in the grocery for turning him around. Unfortunately, he was killed in a car accident at age 19. This student made me decide to be a child/adolescent therapist. I am in my internship right now."


13."I once taught English at a vocational school in Colombia. Most of the students were high school and college-aged, but I had one student who was probably in his early forties. He paid very close attention and studied a ton, but absorbing a new language was difficult at that age so he almost always got the lowest test scores in the class. Nevertheless, he wasn’t discouraged and was right there the next day paying close attention and studying. I’ve never respected a student more than that."


14.And, "I coached swimming for a prep school. I worked with a kid who was literally the most intelligent, skilled, and hard-working individual I had ever met. His parents were wealthy, so in addition to normal practice, they paid for me to train him one-on-one in the mornings. The pool opened at 5 a.m., and I would usually arrive at 4:55 a.m. — his parents put the accountability in him, so he wouldn't wake them up in the morning. He would ride his bike, no matter what the weather forecast was. Not only that, but I never beat him to the pool. He was always waiting for me when I arrived. We would go over the plan for the day, and most often, he would change the intervals and distances to make them more challenging."

"The thing was, I was already making the workout as hard as possible. As a freshman on scholarship to Stanford, he broke the Pac-12 record for the fastest mile ever swum at the championships.

We keep up on social media, and I know he'll be incredibly successful later in life."


Person timing a swimmer with a stopwatch at a pool
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Note: Some submissions have been edited for length and/or clarity.

If you are concerned that a child is experiencing or may be in danger of abuse, you can call or text the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-422-4453(4.A.CHILD); service can be provided in over 140 languages.