It Doesn’t Get Scarier than These Teachers’ Horror Stories

Notes from the Classroom

You know the feelings. The panic. The jaw-clenching terror. The gasping, nervous sweats.

They’re the feelings that somehow never leave us, even years later, as we think back on our teaching horror stories.

Today, in honor of All Hallows’ Eve, our bloggers dug through their own gut-churning experiences, and shared some stories they’ll never forget.

An Unannounced Visitor

It was September, and our school had a new principal. That latter fact is important to remember. That day, I was teaching social studies. We were reading about oxen in a yoke. My students were confused between yoke and yolk, so I drew pictures on the board. There were still questions about how a yoke would work, so I decided to act it out. Two students volunteered to come up front and get down on all fours. I stood behind them and explained how the yoke would be placed over their shoulders. Then I stood between them and was demonstrating how the driver would steer and whip the animals–when our new principal walked in. I froze, hand in mid-air. She froze. I think all of my students held their breath. Then she hurriedly said, “I’ll come back later,” quickly turned, and exited the room. The entire class erupted in laughter the moment the door closed. “You should have seen your face!” they cried. My cheeks were on fire, so I could only imagine. Great first impression! It was a story my students were still telling at the end of that year. – Beth Rogers

Journey to the Center of a Nasal Passage

The classroom was filled with the sound of rustling notebook pages and furiously scribbling pencils. I circulated through the desks, glowing about the beauty of an eighth-grade writing workshop. But before I had too much time to bask, I heard the faint sound of whimpering. One of my boys was hunched over his desk, tears spilling onto his paper. Oh no, I thought. What have I done? How did I not realize how much he’s struggling? 

“What’s going on?” I whispered to him. He mumbled something that I couldn’t hear. “Hmm?” I asked. He looked up at me with big, tear-filled eyes. He leaned in closer so that no one would hear. “I have a dime stuck in my nose.”

I paused for a second, not sure sure that I’d heard him right. He pointed to his right nostril, tilted his head back, and there, sure enough, was a dime shining from deep within his little eighth grade nose. Postscript: Yes, he put it up there himself. Yes, that was a strange phone call home. And, yes, we got it out. – Megan Kortlandt

The Laws of Physics Broke Down

It was a dark and chilly November morning. The air outside was so brisk that the high school building itself made a conscious decision to put the boilers on blast. Which meant the air in the multi-purpose room, which serves as my makeshift classroom, was roughly 97 degrees. Of course. Because this was the day that I would present research strategies to six straight classes of over-heated, miserable, occasionally unruly high school sophomores. Having fired up the ceiling projector, I began my presentation to a particularly disengaged group. About four minutes into my instruction, the projector succumbed to the heat and shut itself off. After several minutes, I restarted the projector, only to have it die again. And again. And again. All told, the projector failed six times throughout the 55-minute period. It’s a mathematical feat that still haunts me to this day. – Bethany Bratney


Possessed by the Evil Spirit

It was my first year of teaching. I was young and excited and terrified. On Curriculum Night, I needed a little liquid courage, so I chugged three iced coffees. Three. I wasn’t really a coffee drinker, but they tasted good and I was nervous so . . . bottoms up. As the parents filed in and I started talking, the caffeine took over. It was one of those moments when you can see yourself speaking, like I was floating above my own body as an observer. Huh. Look at that girl with the crazy eyes, rapid firing information and scaring all those parents with her unhinged enthusiasm. I got through the night and I’ve since conquered my fear of Curriculum Night. But I’ll always cringe a little when I remember that first one. – Hattie Maguire

A Lesson amid Tragedy

My first year of teaching was 2001, the year of September 11. That was horror enough. But I was also hired to teach two sections of history. Having only a minor in anthropology, I knew I would be struggling to stay ahead of the 8th graders. I armed myself with some great books by Joy Hakim, and tried to stay on top of current events. So, when the teacher next door told me to turn on the news that fall September day, I did. My students and I sat and watched two burning buildings on the small screen in the corner, until the principal came on the PA to tell us all to turn off our TVs. Jeff, a student, raised his hand and asked, “Where is the Pentagon?” I had no idea, and so the horror of being unprepared as a teacher turned into a lesson on geography research. We spent the rest of the hour researching where the Pentagon was and what it was they did there. – Caroline Thompson

The Tornado and the Spiders

For anyone who knows me, it is no surprise that my classroom is filled with colorful anchor charts. I’m a crafty girl, to say the least. So when I began my teaching journey, as a kindergarten teacher, I was more than ecstatic. October brought, among other things, spider headbands hanging in the hall outside the classroom, greeting inhabitants as they passed. One of the regular inhabitants of our hall was the night custodian, Mr. Todd. He would gingerly collect the fallen spiders as he made his rounds, and inform me the following day of the casualties. I would collect the spiders from him and rehang them. Night after night. Morning after morning. Until the evening of October 24th.

An unexpected autumn tornado touched down upon the small-town elementary school. The hall that once embraced students’ work and smiles and laughter was reduced to half-erected walls and piles of cement blocks. And among it all, stood a wall: a display of spider headbands. Not one had fallen. – Tina Luchow

#WhyIWrite

Notes from the Classroom

It’s the National Day on Writing. Which means one thing: it’s time to consider why we write, what we write, and what writing does for our lives. To celebrate the event, we’ve put together a roundup from our bloggers, who describe why they put pens to paper–or fingers to keyboards.

Don’t just read! When you’re done with this post, add to the conversation on Twitter with #WhyIWrite. And keep writing!

How Writing Helps Us Work Out Ideas

In our student support office, we always brainstorm ways to reach our kids who are not successful with the curriculum. Often, one of us will say something and the others will say, “Oooh! Write that down.” That’s become code for, That’s a great idea and I want to know more about it. You should continue thinking about that and writing about it so we can all understand it better. We’ve taken to saying it so often, in fact, that now it’s usually said with a smirk or a laugh. But, “Ooh! Write that down” is #WhyIWrite. I write to figure things out. When I’m writing, I’m thinking on paper and challenging what I thought I knew. Usually, halfway through a reflection about a lesson, my writing leads me to understand what just happened–or what could happen–in a totally different way. – Hattie Maguire

Remembering the Great Ketchup Incidents

I write because I love people. I love our humanity, our fragility, and our inherent weirdness. I love the way we all have stories that we keep tucked away, and I love realizing the potential of those stories. My students present me with endless opportunities for stories. I once had an eighth grade boy who, at lunch, would stash french fries in one pocket and ketchup in the other. Then, when his 6th hour teacher wasn’t looking, he’d dip his fries in his ketchup pocket and have himself a little afternoon snack. I mean, that’s gold, isn’t it? I swear one day it’ll end up in a book I write. It has to. – Megan Kortlandt

Writing Makes Us Less Alone

I have written for as long as I can remember: letters, poetry, stories. I write to process my life; to express deep emotion, be it grief or joy. I write when I feel passionate about a subject and I need to get my thoughts on paper. I write when I need to make sense of things–long, rambling writings that I find often end at the place where I truly need to begin. Writing can freeze a moment in time and capture the sights, sounds, and feelings that were present and not present. Writing taps the emotions of the writer, and if done skillfully, the reader as well. Writing is both deeply personal and all about connection: the unspoken hope that someone, somewhere, feels the way we do, and through this connection there will be understanding, acknowledgement, and validation of our experience. – Beth Rogers

Why Our Writing Helps Us Understand Students

I write to notice the quiet or not-so-quiet resistant writer who may usually go unnoticed. I write to uncover nuance–to see what’s buried beneath the hard surface of a reluctant writer. I write to discover the reason why that writer won’t write–or worse, thinks she can’t write. I write to clarify and extend my thinking about why that writer won’t write (and it’s usually not because she’s lazy, but because writing is hard). I write so that my students can write–so that they, too, can discover their processes, their voices, and their values. – Lauren Nizol

Audience Matters

I write this blog to stay connected to my teaching profession while taking time to be a stay-at-home mom to my daughter. I spend a lot of time writing and revising and thinking about what I will write on this blog, because I have the promise of an audience. Sometimes I write a post because there is a deadline to meet. Sometimes I write because I’m excited to share an idea or process that has worked for me in the classroom. I try to write about a topic that makes me passionate. – Caroline Thompson

Seizing the Chance to Live Life–on Paper

The pressure to write immediately gives me writer’s block. And yet, my best writing comes forth when I am under the gun, the anxiety has built, the emotions are at the surface. In this way, I consider myself as an annual–flower, that is. Annuals are truly under the gun. They have a short, summer-long opportunity to bloom, burst, and make themselves present and seen. Unlike perennials, they do not have year after year to try again. I, too, often feel that life is rushed. But writing lets me establish those roots. – Tina Luchow

Practice What You Preach, Teachers

When it goes well, there’s a satisfaction to it. A sense of accomplishment that follows a decent sentence, or seeing an idea take shape and become clear on the page. 

I write because, although I love seeing someone else perfectly express something that I’ve thought or felt and haven’t been able to express, I’m a little jealous and regret if I didn’t even try.

I write because I can’t sing or dance.

I write because I teach writing. I can’t in good conscience ask my students to take risks and put their ideas on paper unless I’m willing to take that same leap. I teach that writing isn’t always about the writing itself but about the habits of writers. 

I write because if I don’t get it out my head, I can’t forget it and move on. I don’t believe something happened until I make it real by writing about it.

I write because: Something happened and it matters.

I write because: I still miss her, every day, and can’t get over it, because to get over it is to forget. And I don’t want to forget.

I write because: Those boys fill my heart and she makes ask how I got so lucky. – Rick Kreinbring