This article is based on the AskReddit question “Teachers of Reddit, what’s the most bizarre essay you’ve ever read from a student?”
[Source can be found at the end of the article]
1. No essay censorship
Taught high school English for ten years, then freshman comp for a few years. I’ve read some doozies, but one really stand out to me: A young woman wrote an essay arguing schools should only teach abstinence-only education. This was early in my teaching career, and I hadn’t learned to ban certain social issues (because very rarely could students argue them using logic and academic support). She spent seven pages telling me that girls, only girls, who have sex before marriage are promiscuous. Nothing about teen pregnancy or STIs, just girls who have sex before marriage are sluts. Yes, she did use that word several times.
2. Relevant essay topic
“Times I cried during Finding Nemo”
A full six page essay about my student and which parts of Finding Nemo made him cry.
The assignment was to write me a six paragraph essay of the country of Texas.
I once assigned a personal narrative on “Something difficult I’ve Overcome.” (No, this is not original. It was my first year teaching).
One kid wrote a paper on a typewriter about how difficult it is to write a paper on a typewriter. He even used a razor blade to very carefully cut out typos.
4. What in the world did I just read?
When I was teaching high school there was a writing benchmark test for all 10th graders. Since not all 10th graders were taking English classes in the spring, it fell on the entire faculty to read and grade these essays.
So, I was sitting in another teacher’s room and kept going oh my god you have to read this! Then onto the second essay and said the same thing. And then another. And another. Then I realized that while my school had 40% of its students on grade level with reading, the writing was even worse.
I can’t remember exactly what the worst essays said, but I do remember reading about how global warming is worsened the fact that some people spit their gum on the sidewalk.
I had another student note in my “get to know you” sheet from the first day of class that he would often engage in civil disobedience during the course of the semester. He really didn’t do much besides be absent, but I would’ve appreciated a heads up from the other students who were planning to be engaged in uncivil disobedience.
5. Too much imagination
I had a student who wrote an essay on the Holocaust that began, “The Jews, they had it like bad…” and then went on to tell me that Anne Frank not only survived the Holocaust, she achieved her dream of becoming a nurse.
I’m not sure where he came to that conclusion, as we had read most of it aloud in class, and had discussed it at length and watched the movie.
6. A delicious essay
Student in my class wrote an essay about comparing the damage of hurricanes to tornadoes. He tried to segway the essay from talking about tornadoes and their cone shape to ice cream cones. He talked about tornadoes for the first couple of sentences, ice cream for the rest.
7. The logic is strong with this one
I had a student write about why women should not be allowed in the military (not just combat, but in the military at all). This included the reasoning “Women should be at home making babies, not in other countries killing other women’s babies.” The part that seemed most bizarre to me was that the student arguing this was female.
8. Proper sources
Our first day of philosophy class our teacher read us an essay that involved Britney Spears, a cult, the pope and Harry Potter being of the devil. I wish I could remember how they all intertwined but basically a student had used the onion and Wikipedia as their reference material and it was the professor’s way of telling us why he would not be accepting papers that cited those sites as their source.
9. Completely relatable to the given essay topic
I was teaching 8th grade history and the students task was to write an essay on Viking warfare and from one of the students I got a three page essay on why squirtle was the best starter Pokemon of the 1st generation. It included reasons like “since the first gym contains rock Pokemon it will be super effective.
10. Unexpected essay topic
So I am a teacher and have been for a few years.
My students are assigned to respond to an op-ed article with the learning theories they are learning (I teach ed psych). I had one student use learning theories to justify open carry for professors on college campuses, but not students. She did well on the paper, but I was sure as hell not expecting that topic.
11. Mixing up ethnicities
I work at a Title I high school where most students are below grade level. One year, I thought I would try to do an essay on the diversity of Native American tribes. I had a graphic organizer set up for each paragraph and supporting detail in each paragraph. I was so pumped to get well organized essays. Guys, I gave them the damn thesis. We worked on this in class for days.
The essay I got from a student was about how Native Americans are not diverse. They all speak Hindi and Bengali. They wear breekcloth. You read that right. Not breechcloth, but breek. Clearly this poor boy got the various types of Indians mixed up. At least he tried to turn something in.
12. The greatest contribution to Canada!
I had my students (gr 5) write a paragraph about one of the founding groups of Canada (First Nation, French, British) and their greatest contribution to Canadian society today.
One kid handed in a paragraph about the French and how their greatest contribution was cereal boxes. I laughed, then wondered where I went wrong.
13. What language is this written in?
Computing professor here… worst paper I ever tried to grade (and did not finish grading) was a paper written like a text message. “So u c l8r in history of computing ppl started 2 embrace them.” Unbelievable. 8 pages and I managed to get through two before I [cut] granted an “F” grade. The instructions were to write a paper in grammatically correct English, paying careful attention to appropriate punctuation. Choose APA or MLA and stick to that format throughout the paper. I was stunned someone would think the paper was acceptable.
14. One of these spellings has to be correct
First assignment of the semester I told them to write a half page typed essay on what they thought was Psychology. This was just supposed to be their opinion since it was an intro psych class. Thought it would be good to get them some “free” points. I got one paper hand written with tons of typos. The best/worst part was that he somehow found a way to misspell Psychology 5 times. Each time he wrote it, it was spelled differently. I guess he thought one of them had to be right??? It pained me to give him a D on the assignment.
15. Well, that escalated quickly!
I had an exceptionally brilliant but socially-challenged student who reminded me a lot of Moss on the IT crowd, except that he was massively cynical. Two things that stand out:
1.) When reading Macbeth, students were required to summarize each act. This student would annotate almost every sentence of his summary with at least a paragraph of snarky commentary that was surprisingly relevant and insightful, resulting in an assignment that should have been about three pages long being at least ten with 70% of it being commentary.
2.) I would hold a short story contest every semester. The requirement would have been to write at least two pages for this student’s year. Student writes a 30-page saga about a man who is obsessed with a red-haired woman and her beauty until the day comes when she makes a pass at him on page 5. The last 25 pages are a detailed account of the protagonist’s mental breakdown over her apparent lack of purity and his sexual insecurities, manifested in his believing his body is decomposing into his apartment floor which is littered with sad bachelor food, followed by sequences of the character being trapped in bright white rooms with the sounds of clocks ticking and nothing more. Student who wrote this was 16 years old.
Awesome kid, 10/10, would teach again.
16. The language problem
I taught 5th grade. I asked my students to write a story from the viewpoint of a sailor on one of Columbus’ ships as they discovered land (fifth grade, 30 years ago we weren’t getting political.) I get several one paragraph “yay we found land” stories. One kid, wrote an entire page. But, it made no sense. It was random words from my classroom. She had copied words from the wall, from the book covers, from labels and in no particular order. So, I called her over and said, I can’t make out some of these words, can you read this to me? So, she read me the story. It was a pretty good, “yay we found land” story like the other kids told, but with more detail. I said wow, that’s great. Would you mind sharing with Mr Xx next door? She said sure, so I showed my neighbor. His eyes widened and she read him the story. Word for word what she told me.
She was reading it. At lunch, I thought maybe she just remembered what she said, so I took her to the principal and asked her to read her story to him. Same thing verbatim. We got her some testing. Very intelligent young lady, never learned to read or write. Just faked her way through. She was in my class a week. I felt bad not noticing before.
17. Nope, not doing this ever again
I worked as a writing tutor in college and on my last day of the semester I had to decide if I was going to come back to tutor while I was in my graduate program the next semester, or stop after undergraduate.
I was going to stay, despite disliking the job, because at the time graduate tutors got $12.00 instead of $8.00.
Then I had my final appointment. This was an undergraduate student whose paper was due in 3 hours, had received comments from his professor saying he needed a major rewrite, entirely new research, and essentially just to start over from scratch. He was a very frat-esque kid and seemed almost stoned, or just completely out of it.
His paper was a research paper on video game and its affect on children. His thesis (not that is really existed) was that video games were bad for children because they will lead to death.
Apparently there was a case in Mexico where a parent allowed their kid to play so long she dehydrated and died and this kid tried to use that as the basis for an entire position paper.
Not one sentence was grammatically correct. Everything was a sentence fragment. I tried to work with him, but he literally stared vacantly at me. He used phrases like “video games make kids death. In Mexico one died.”
This university is fairly competitive and has a huge ELL population, and I was great at working with language learners, etc.
But this was just pure laziness. I was so frustrated I realized I couldn’t tutor again – no matter how big of a pay raise.
18. This is how custard is yellow
Started volunteering at a primary school teaching assistant recently as a route into teaching. In my second week the kids were writing “just so” stories, e.g how the kangaroo got its tail, how the lion got its roar etc. One of the kids asks me to check their work.
According to her, long ago Pikachus used to live in forests, where they’d frolic and play all day. Gradually though, their food got scarcer and scarcer, and they had to move to “a place covered in electricity. Still don’t understand what that means.
Now, the next bit is the only part I could actually criticise – the rest of the story was really inventive and well written, but for some reason all the electricity made the Pikachus melt.
She thinks she likes Pokmon and doesn’t even know Ash supercharged his Pikachu by running on the water wheel at the hydroelectric plant in order to beat Brock’s rock Pokmon. You can’t melt a Pikachu, electricity only makes them stronger. Anyway, the Pikachus melted into custard and that’s why custard is yellow.
19. A profound essay
I had one student give me a three paragraph essay. Intro, body, and conclusion about how she was going to tell me how science/technology affected exploration during the age of exploration in Europe.
Only she never told me.
Her intro, “Science and technology had a great effect on European exploration. In this essay I will tell you how this happened.”
Body, “during the scientific revolution, Isaac newton discovered gravity. William Harvey made great strides in the field of anatomy. Francis bacon created the scientific method. and Kepler used math to prove Copernicus right.”
Conclusion, “as you can see by this essay, science and technology had profound effects on the age of exploration and Europe’s ability to colonize new areas.”
She never actually mentioned the new technology that made travel easier.