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

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May 8 2013 6:00 AM

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

We thanked the good teachers yesterday. Now let’s remember the ones we hated.

Menacing teacher.
Now that we’ve thanked the good teachers, it’s time to recognize the bad ones

Photo by Everett Collection/Shutterstock

Tuesday was National Teacher Day, and in honor of the occasion, the National Education Association and other groups encouraged people to thank educators. They suggested you update your Facebook profile to express your appreciation and use the hashtag #ThankATeacher on Twitter.

Laura Helmuth Laura Helmuth

Laura Helmuth is Slate's science and health editor. 

Now that we’ve thanked the good teachers, it’s time to recognize the bad ones. The majority of teachers may be generous, dedicated, inspirational, and kind. But in their midst are some of the most unpleasant characters you encountered in your childhood. Remember them? We sure do. Here are some of the most outrageous things teachers once said to us at Slate.

William Dobson: My family had recently moved to South Carolina from "up north," and I had a hard time understanding my teachers' accents. Early in the school year, my second grade teacher asked me to lead the class out to recess. I stood up and the class filed in line behind me at the door. Then she asked me to take the class to "down yonder hill." I had never heard this phrase. I thought "down yonder hill" must be the proper name of a place, not a direction. I stood there, immobile. She said it louder. Then louder. Finally: "What are you, stupid? Get to the back of the line." It was that moment that I decided, My parents can choose to live here, but I will never adopt a southern accent.

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Jeffrey Bloomer: From an English teacher, I got "feminism is why I have to be here with you instead of with my own kids."

Abigail Ohlheiser: I had a chemistry teacher once tell me, in front of the class, the following: "I think you and I are both glad there are only two weeks left in the school year, because frankly, I don't think I can stand to look at your face any longer than that." I obviously remember this, and the long speech before it, pretty much verbatim. It seemed to come out of nowhere, but I was later told what set him off. My crime? Relentlessly correcting all of the typos on his handouts and tests. I thought I was helping.

Laura Helmuth: I got sent out of class for telling a fifth-grade teacher that it’s pronounced Ill-in-oy rather than Ill-in-ois. This was in Indiana, which shares its longest border with Illinois, so I thought she might like to know.

Matt Yglesias: I had a teacher who explained to the class that there are three races: caucasoid (or white), negroid (or black), and mongoloid (or yellow) and that there's a myth out there that a fourth red race of Indians exists but properly understood they're a subset of yellow people.

Brandon Long: I went to high school in rural North Carolina. My U.S. history teacher my junior year referred to the Civil War exclusively as the War of Northern Aggression. (So did J. Bryan Lowder’s teachers!)

Will Saletan: When I got through the second-grade math textbook, they gave me the third-grade textbook. I didn't understand that while you were supposed to write answers in the second-grade book, you weren't supposed to write in the third-grade book. When my substitute teacher saw I'd written in it, she angrily told me, "You could be BANNED for this!" She failed to understand that in Texas, we ban the textbook, not the student. We paddle the student.

Dahlia Lithwick: A math teacher told my mom it was a good thing my little brother was good looking because he was dumb as a post. I also had a PE teacher tell our class that girls shouldn’t play sports.

John Dickerson: In seventh-grade math class I was a new student at this fancy private school and I finally got enough courage to answer a question, and the teacher said, "That answer makes no sense. It's like if I asked you what color the chalk board is and you said 'fast.' " It really took me aback because until that point I didn't even know fast was a color.

Torie Bosch: My high school health teacher was a conservative Catholic who told the class that he was not comfortable teaching sex ed and thought that it did not belong in the classroom, but the district was making him do it. He made us all calculate our dates of conception, and then asked everyone whether that was near our mother or father's birthday, their anniversary, Valentine's Day, etc.

Mike Vuolo: A kid in my ninth-grade English class had a big, and not especially kempt, Jewfro. One day the teacher asked him, "Who does your hair, ConEd?" I've always wondered if he remembers that as vividly as I do. It seemed so gratuitous and cruel.

Juliana Jiménez Jaramillo: My ninth-grade geometry teacher, who was ex-Marine or some sort of military type, made us summarize each chapter of the textbook in webpage form. I misunderstood the instructions because I couldn't fathom that summarizing a textbook was an actual assignment. I thought it was each section and made drawings and examples for each. I didn't sleep or eat that night (my first all-nighter!). I still couldn't finish it, but what I had was badass. We had to turn the assignment in on a floppy disk, and it somehow got jammed in his computer when he called me up to present it. He was furious. It was a long rant but I specifically remember: "You disgust me, YOU MAKE ME WANT TO THROW UP," which I guess is standard Marine-speak or something. Not appropriate for a 15-year-old. I started crying, he threw me out of the class, and I almost passed out (I still hadn't slept or eaten). Asshole. Ended up with a C-plus in that class.

Chris Wade: Monday: Mr. A. teaches our calculus class the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus.
Tuesday: Mr. A.: "Okay, now can anyone tell me the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus?"
[silence]
"Anyone?"
[silence]
"ANYONE? It's the FUNDAMENTAL theorem."
[silence]
"Y'all are fuckin' cocksuckers, get out of here."

What’s the worst thing a teacher ever said to you? Please share your most outrageous quotes using the hashtag #BadTeacher on Twitter. Check out some of our favorite #BadTeacher submissions here. 

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