What's the Worst Thing a Teacher Has Ever Said to You?

Yesterday afternoon I was writing for work about access to AP classes and I got to thinking about my senior year in high school. I took AP Physics, AP Calculus, AP History, and AP English. If they'd offered AP French and AP Art, I probably would've taken those too. Yeah, I fly my nerd flag HIGH.

But, it wasn't all ponies and rainbows: I was the only black person in each of my AP classes. I also despised my English teacher. As I shared with my friends on Facebook:
Just had a flashback to my senior year English teacher telling me I was the worst writer he'd ever taught and he was only giving me an A because he felt sorry for me and I'd a) never make it as a writer and b) probably flunk out of Northwestern because I wasn't college material. It's been 20 years but I still wanna tell his ass HOW YA LIKE ME NOW???
As a 17-year-old senior, I wasn't a retiring wallflower, but if you attacked me back then, I was more likely to retreat than confront the situation. Indeed, I don't remember replying to this teacher, but I doubt I said anything. And, by the time I was in high school I'd learned that the education system wasn't always friendly to folks with my skin tone so his comments were, unfortunately, not unusual.

For example, my junior year history teacher started asking about who was going to prom. I was not. He then told me, in front of the entire class that I wasn't THAT pretty, which was too bad since it's all downhill from there for me.

Sophomore year,  my math teacher said--again, in front of the whole class--are you too stupid to figure the answer out without a calculator? When I later asked him for help understanding something, he told me he was too busy teaching kids who wanted to learn and I should drop out of his class.

And of course, there's the yearbook teacher who allowed and participated in a discussion with other students about how I'd only gotten into college because of affirmative action.

Interestingly enough, in a profession that's majority female, all of those teachers were men. White men. Hmm...

My experiences isn't an anomaly, either. Too many of my black, brown, and female friends shared similar stories with me on Facebook of the horrible, discouraging things teachers said to them. They were also discouraged from achieving, were told they would never go to college, and would never be successful.

Did that English teacher's words motivate me to want to become some super star writer and shove my diploma into his face? Nope. He made reading and writing so boring--seriously, I wanted to stab myself in the eyeballs in his class--that being an economics major and investment banker started to sound more fun.

Anyway, I wonder, what's the WORST thing a teacher ever said to you? The thing that just sticks with you and still gets you fired up?


Anonymous said…
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Unknown said…
Liz, I had the PERFECT academic life via Chicago Public Schools (don't pass out) My worst thing came from a Professor of English at the U of I Champaign Urbana. It resulted in me going home the following year.

"Attention class... Ms. DeLaCerna is a CPS kid from the inner city..."

All eyes were on me because A- I was the ONLY person of color in the room B- I was the only person of color in the room.

Did I mention I had tested out of the typical freshman English courses and instead of allowing me to assimilate with the rest of the kids, he made sure I was the anomaly. The entire semester he refused to meet with me and ultimately I received a D in the class - I packed my bags and never went back.

Thank goodness I grew cojones!
Anonymous said…
My worst teacher was a white man as well. I was in Primary school, which I guess is the equivalent to elementary school in the US, when my teacher asked if I wanted to stand in front of the class and read a book, I politely declined, to which he responded ‘I feel sorry for your mother’ The whole class gasped. Due to the class reaction, he tried to play off his comment by saying ‘Oh you know what I mean, me and your mum were discussing in parents evening about you being too shy’

His comment made me feel like there was something wrong with being introverted. I was quiet, academic and well behaved, so I’m not sure what his problem was. Maybe he would have preferred a black student who was disruptive with poor grades.
Anonymous said…
Here's the worst things I know about that happened to my eldest son: 1) Suspended in 2nd grade for taking a few marbles off teacher's desk. This could not have happened except the Academic Chess after school program staff left him unsupervised and didn't walk him to the YMCA on the campus and his teacher forgot and left her classroom door open. My son and his friend, both Black, wanted to get their tennis ball to play with and impulsively took the marbles. 2) PE teacher put an orange cone with the word "DUNCE" on his head and told the other student to ignore him as he was excluded from the game and humiliated on the sidelines. 3) Middle school teacher told my son, "You don't know what racism is" after he spoke up about a racist joke shortly after the Jena 6 were in the news. 4) high school science teacher turned off the lights, my son was standing next to him, the teacher turned toward the rest of the students and said, "Where's [name]?"
Sundry said…
I can't imagine how I would have reacted to that kind of abuse in high school. I was committed to academics in my dinky high school, which offered no AP classes. Less than 10% of my class of 93 students were college bound.

My worst experience in high school was being talked out of reporting sexual harrassment by a white male teacher by another white male teacher.

The worst two experiences I had were with a white woman who showed potential students the journalism dept at IU. It was where I knew I wanted to be, but she shamed me so much about wanting to be a features writer that I cried the whole 3 hour drive home and didn't even apply to that campus. I went to a smaller campus close to home, and majored in theater.

When I transferred to UCLA the white female English Dept. counselor told me very nastily not to even bother applying to the creative writing program since they had 200 applicants for each of 30 spots. I got in and graduated magna cum laude, but not until I was 30.

I didn't have the money or the understanding of the educational system I needed when I graduated from high school. I'm so happy with my life now, it's hard to say it, but I sometimes wonder how different things would have been if I'd gone to Indiana U and lived in the Spanish-language only dorm I'd tested into, and gotten that degree in journalism.

I'm so glad you had the strength to overcome all that BS.
Anonymous said…
PLEASE tell me your parents stomped a mudhole in those teachers!!! Although my dad and I have a tenuous relationship at best, I'm so happy that he ALWAYS went to bat for me when it came to my education. He was on a first name basis with teachers and administrators and any time they tried to talk down to me because I was quiet, he read their a*sses like he was a librarian. I was one of only 2-3 black kids in a gifted program in elementary and middle school, and he made it known that his child was NOT to be messed with.
K. Rock said…
This post reminded me that a teacher once told me I had little boobs...in front of the whole class. I am going to have to blog about that.
Mr. Chase said…
The worst comment from a teacher was the worst because it broadsided me.
After a middle school social studies class, my teacher asked me to stay after, we sat at the conference area she'd fashioned out of some well-positioned bookshelves. She asked me if everything was alright. I said it was.
She paused.
"And what about at home - with your parents? Are they doing alright?"
I hated her for years because she planted a question, a thought, about my family and my home that I couldn't shake.
If she'd insulted me I could have rejected her, internalized it, and eventually moved on.
The sideswipe hurt longer and deeper. It was a splinter I couldn't get at.
baiskeli said…
Early 90's, first semester of college in the U.S, my college Computer Science professor in "Introduction to programming course".

He gave a general quiz at the beginning of the semester. I aced a perfect score. He went off on me about "How I must have cheated" because there was no way "someone like me" (black and from Africa) could have aced it. He actually tried to drop me from the class, I fought him all the way to the Dean, and then after he couldn't get me dropped, he told me he'd be giving me an F for non-attendance (I'd actually attended all the classes, but he claimed I'd missed 6 classes) but if I dropped the class he'd be happy to give me an incomplete.

I dropped the class because I was stressed beyond belief (also at the same time, had an English professor who tried to place me in beginner English despite the fact that I spoke perfect English (after all, it is my National Language) AND had scored a near perfect score on the TOEFL, she relented after I wrote an essay).

I ended up transferring to another University the next semester(where the C.S professor looked a bit like Yosemite Sam and was really a phenomenal teacher, and where my English professor and I shared a love of Jean Auel 'Clan of the Cavemen' series) so everything worked out.

What do I do today? I'm a Software Engineer. Irony!

School in my country is very competitive, and I went to a competitive National High School after selection at the 8th grade level, meaning that in a lot of subjects (i.e. Math and Science) I was already at the College Junior level (i.e I'd already done Calc 1 and Calc 2 and actually tested out of those when I transferred to another University. Regarding programming, I'd been mucking around with Atari's since my early teens so my perfect score didn't suprise me.
Liz Dwyer said…
Good grief you all--a girl gets the flu and gosh---I am horrified by some of your tales. What is WRONG with some folks?

I mean, little boobs? Marbles? cheating accusations and talking folks out of reporting sexual harassment? And questioning families and acting like your parents are questioning you. Ugh. I think all folks who want to be teachers should have to read your stories.
bayoucreole said…
These comments made me tear up. I've never had any teacher tell me anything bad. The white teachers here in New Orleans are too afraid of getting shot to tell the kids here anything like that.
Reggie said…

I can't remember being told anything off the charts negative by one of my teachers. I can remember a guidance cousellor asking me if it was totally realistic for me to want to go to college......that shit floored me. When I did finally get my degree I did chuckle about that one.

When I was in college I remember one of my instructors telling a friend of mine that his parents wasted money sending him to college....that he was so dumb that they should have sent his ass to trade school.

That was memorable.........

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