12 Teachers Talk About Which Former Students Surprised Them the Most Later in Life

You never really know where people are gonna end up in life…

Which, when I think about it, is probably part of the fun for teachers because it’s all kind of a crapshoot.

Teachers, which former students surprised you the most later in life?

Here’s how people responded on AskReddit.

1. The big time!

“I ran a program for kids grades 4-7 for a local newspaper. I would reach them the fundamentals of journalism, and they would write stories for a weekly kids page.

One of my students got a degree in journalism and was a television broadcaster for a little while. Another went into public relations and works for a university, last I heard. Another runs a really cool vlog and has been getting some notice as an influencer.

And another got a degree in journalism, earned an Emmy just a few years out of college, and now hosts a national television show and interviews famous people on the red carpet.”

2. Drove you crazy.

“I had a class of 8th graders one year that I SWORE we’d someday see one of their pictures on the front page of the paper because they were arrested for something (small town). That class drove me crazy.

The one that drove me the craziest was hyper, wouldn’t do his work, copied on tests so openly that I had to pass out 3 different tests every time…the list was endless. He ended up on the front page of our paper, though.

He was a top adviser in the Bush administration!”

3. Big turnaround.

“I retired from teaching after 36 years of working with special education students of varying exceptionalities. There was one female student that I worked with for several years that displayed a keen aptitude in math but also initially had a phobia for math.

Interesting. I would always approach her with math by using the words, “Okay, we’re going to play with some math.” The shift in her approach to math along with the elimination of anxiety associated with the subject was truly amazing to witness.

Within a half a year I mainstreamed her into a regular education math class and she was out performing other students. She went onto the University of WA and was awarded scholarships for her work in math.”

4. On to better things.

“Product Design teacher here.

Can’t tell you how immensely proud I am of an ex student who got out of the small time town, emigrated to Denmark, came out and has become a designer for Lego.”

5. Elite athletes.

“Two former students ended up playing in the NFL.

I reached out to both and let them know I was proud of them for their dedication and following through on their dreams. Both took time to respond and thank me for making a difference in their lives.

I have so many former students who keep in touch, and I love getting to see how they are doing!”

6. Cool!

“One of my kids would only play with Legos and h**ed school because he figured things out far more quickly than anyone else.

He was one of the founders of MakerBot.”

7. From a veteran teacher.

“I teach, and have always taught, in a Title I school. Lots of bad situations, very poor families, lots of things we can not fix or even help.

One of my third-grade boys, many, many years ago, was ANGRY. I mean, not the “pick fights” kind, but the “I h**e everyone, you all suck, there’s no point” kind of angry and far too weary of the world for a 9-year old. He was BRILLIANT. Such a smart kid, and he would work for me, but his fourth and fifth grade teachers could get him to do almost nothing, he did just enough to pass.

They thought I was crazy when I talked about how smart he was. On the standardized test for fifth grade, he basically maxed out the math portion, and won some kind of national award. I wept. Ugly cried. I was so proud for him! He had a rough time in middle school, but by high school, he was doing a bit better. Still angry, still unmotivated, but managing, I guess.

Three years ago, I was in my classroom in the afternoon, and got a call from the office. I had a visitor. I went down, and there he was. With his wife, and the fattest, sweetest baby on the planet. He is in the army, and y’all, he was SO HAPPY, and had a job he loved, and a woman he loved, and a baby. He is still best friends with another boy that was in our class that year. He just radiated happiness and well-being. My heart!

Things could have turned out so much differently for him. Given his circumstances, they should have. I am so thankful he beat the odds.”

8. A real shock.

“The former student of mine who d**d by s**cide this year.

It was a complete shock to all of us who’d taught her in elementary school. She had really been one of those kids with a constant ear-to-ear smile – not just full of joy, but radiating joy; not only was she well-liked by all, but she really seemed to genuinely like everybody.

When my students leave at the end of each year, they go off to middle school, so every year’s end (though always desperately needed) has that bittersweet, vaguely funereal bite to it. This’ll sound strange, but to me it feels sort of like when a parent’s first child gets married – there’s happiness and excitement aplenty, but there’s also a sense of something ending that naturally brings back a flood of childhood memories, and with them usually some tears.

All of that is to say that I was already familiar with the devastation memory can precipitate when I heard the news. But death really does hit different.

The best I can do to describe it is this: there’s no hierarchy in the memories that come after a person d**s. None of them are insignificant. The first thing I remembered when I heard was that her line number was 11 (that is, that when our class lined up, her spot was 11th from the front – in the days before digital assessment or camera-scanning, there was a real time-saving advantage to having students always hand in assignments in alphabetical order as they walked out the door).

Over the next couple of weeks, other such memories were constantly percolating, to the point where at one point one of my current students asked me why I kept randomly pausing in the middle of my sentences.

I wasn’t collected enough at the time to tell them the truth, so I just brushed it off, but if I could have another go at it, I think this is what I’d say:

You have no idea how much we remember of you. You have no idea how much of yourself you give to a classroom, because you would never think of things like the way you write your name, the way you sit, the way you laugh, the way you smile, the sound of your voice, your accent, the way(s) you wear your hair (or maybe the fact that I had to ask you to take your hood off three times a day).

The way you keep using the same pencil until it’s only about 2 micrometers long, the way your backpack looks like it’s eating you when you carry it, the way you find cool leaves at recess and show them to me, the way you tell me every single day about what your pet bird did the night before, the way you said “Yes!” with genuine excitement when you saw the newest Aru Shah book on your desk…simply put, the way you are – as gifts.

But they are, and I can’t even begin to describe how grateful I am to receive them.”

9. Not a happy ending.

“I was his sixth grade English teacher. He joined the class a bit late but he was a sweet kid, and eager to please. Along with a cousin, he was now being raised by his grandparents since the state had recently deemed his mother unfit.

The boy craaaaved positive attention, and at school, he found it. He worked hard, was funny as hell, and he was a freaky good athlete. But academically, he struggled. He was very open about his life and talked openly about how few resources he had at home or about times he endured with his mom. I think the other kids felt bad for him, because they’d ask if they could stay after to help him with his assignments. They’d volunteer. He was a charmer.

I was also a coach then, so I’d see him often. He started confiding in me, coming to me for advice, etc. As he was being recruited, I talked him up, “marketed him” , wrote a ton of letters on his behalf, and helped him and his grandparents complete forms, and forms and forms . His grades were a problem, so it happened later than anyone expected, but he accepted a scholarship to a college out of state.

I hadn’t seen him over the summer, but a few days before he left for college, we had lunch together. He arrived disheveled and barefooted. He didn’t eat, and frankly, he “talked crazy.” I was concerned, but wished him luck and he left for college. He was asked to leave the school less than three months later.

From what I’ve learned since, being away was less than ideal. He was a homeboy and being away scared him. He grew anxious, befuddled…couldn’t sleep. Worse, he stopped taking the antipsychotic meds he’d been on since early his senior yr of h.s. Back home, his grandparents insisted on him taking his medication, and he insisted that he wouldn’t.

He was huge and strong and these altercations grew violent and frequent before long Police would come and arrest him, but that was just a stop gap. He’d return home from a night or two in jail and nothing would change. Jail wasn’t a deterrent, because he had become schizophrenic and jail couldn’t do a thing for him or for his family.

I didn’t know a thing about his mental health issues, or that he was even home. So yes, I was surprised by that boy of promise who grew into a man, who through no fault of his own, deemed it necessary to spend several hours beating his grandparents and cousin to d**th using a pool cue and a set of forty pound dumbbells.”

10. Former gang member.

“My wife is a secondary school teacher. The school she teaches at is rough. One of the students she remembers was a gang member and was acting out in the classroom in front of his friends.

He couldn’t go home after school for family reasons so he would come to my wife after school and ask for maths tuition / time on the computer. He came daily and with the support of my wife he founded his passion and it was to work on cars.

Fast forward 5 years, he is now a mechanic (apprentice learner) for Mercedes AMG in Dubai.”

11. Great work!

“Am a college professor in India, and well, having fair skin is a pretty big issue here, with fairness equated with beauty and class. One of our first year female students was caught ingesting pills and passing out in class.

Some of the disciplinary committee was for suspension of the student, but me and my colleagues from our Department asked that she be let off with a warning, and we would personally see to her, since she always seemed like a pretty good sort to us. We had a talk with her, and she said that coming from the village to a city college, she felt ashamed of her dark skin and round figure, and she had taken those pills because some friends of hers told her that they were slimming pills and fairness pills.

We told her that she was beautiful as is, that those pills actually did her more harm than good (they were laxatives, diuretics and stomach meds). We gave her some extra attention, and besides, her classmates were also pretty nice kids, and she eventually thrived, getting into fitness and dancing, as well as academics. Fast forward a few years, she graduated with honours both from college and university, and was also the Varsity Beauty queen.

She is also the first from her village to receive a NET (National Eligibility Test for lectureship eligibility), as well as the first to be admitted to a PhD programme.”

12. Going places!

“My mom had a student in 3rd grade who was a bit of a troublemaker. She would have pretend trials sometimes in her classroom and made this kid a judge once.

Many years later he nominated her for a big teaching award just because she gave him that opportunity in the classroom, he said it made him want to grow up to be a judge.

Last I heard he was elected as a district attorney.”

Okay teachers, now we want to hear your stories!

In the comments, tell us about your former students who really surprised you later in life.

Don’t hold back now!