I Am a Teacher, and I Was a Terrible Student

Matthew Thiele
4 min readMar 10, 2022

To be fair, I had some terrible teachers.

Photo by Pixabay via Pexels

Every time I have difficulties with a student, my mind takes me back to when I was a student. Here is karma kicking you.

In high school Latin class, I climbed out of a ground-floor window during class just to see if I could get away with it. I hadn’t thought ahead. That window opened onto a kind of courtyard with classrooms all around. Everyone but my Latin teacher saw it. He was very inattentive, but he was really sweet about it when he found out.

And that’s not even close to the worst of it. I made jokes at the expense of my Korean teachers at the Defense Language Institute. I bullied classmates in a college poetry writing class. I was inattentive and hostile with some college teachers. I ignored instructions. I didn’t read feedback. I didn’t communicate grievances. I had a chip on my shoulder.

Some of it can be explained by my family history. I was a product of a broken home and immature, irresponsible parents. My parents divorced when I was around 7, and neither of them was a decent role-model. We moved around a lot, and I endured some pretty extreme poverty and abuse. I wasn’t able to transcend that until I was much older.

Some of my bad behavior as a student was warranted, especially in college. I was frustrated by doctrinaire thinking and the smug superiority of many of my college teachers. Whenever I brought up a legitimate grievance as a student, everyone went bananas and my problems got worse. A small but dedicated faction of English teachers at the University of Virginia and Auburn University were vicious, student-hating shits who needed to be reminded often that students, particularly graduate students, are human beings.

Some of my resistance to instruction came from having teachers who didn’t know how to properly motivate students or who used students and assignments to glorify themselves and their profession.

For example, I was annoyed by a question on the final exam in a college Biology class. The question was about how I thought I could use my newly acquired knowledge in Biology in my life after college. I’m sure the teacher thought he was doing us a favor. Just a nice, open-ended question with no right answer, and therefore no wrong…

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Matthew Thiele

Teacher. Satirist. Scholar. Published in Slackjaw, Points in Case, McSweeney’s, Ben Jonson Journal, and elsewhere. Definitely not a robot. Or an alien.