The Student Every Teacher Dreams About


StudentWill this be on the test?


Student: Then I’d better pay extra attention and learn it now, since I probably won’t get around to reviewing it later.

Teacher: Yes! Precisely.

Student: Also, I have an insightful, on-topic comment to share. But it’s very long, so feel free to sit down and finish your coffee.

Teacher: Oh, if you insist.


Student: For homework last night, you told us to do page 126, numbers 3 to 9. But there were no problems on page 126. They started on page 127.

Teacher: Ugh. So you’re telling me you didn’t do the homework.

Student: Of course I did! It was obvious what you meant.

Teacher: You’re right! It was.

Student: Why would I feign ignorance, just so that I could miss out on a night of learning and fall a day behind? The only time I’m that literal-minded is before starting a test, when I’m carefully reading every word of your directions.


Student: Why did I lose points on this question?

Teacher: Look, I’m not going to change your grade.

Student: Change it? I don’t care about my grade. I just want to learn from my mistakes.

Teacher: In that case, let me check it again… hmm… actually, you should’ve gotten full credit. I’ll adjust your score.

Student: Don’t bother. Updating your grade book is such a hassle. Instead, you can reward me by finishing that complex thought you had half-articulated when the bell rang.


Student: I have to miss class. Here’s a note.

Teacher: We’re taking a test today. You’ve known about this for weeks!

Student: But I’m not missing today’s class.

Teacher: [looks at note] You’re missing class four months from now?

Student: I’ll make sure to do the homework in advance and get the notes from a classmate. I’m so sorry for the inconvenience—as a gesture of my goodwill, here’s a hot latte and a croissant.


Student: Do you have extra copies of the syllabus?

Teacher: No! I told you the first day of class to keep it someplace safe.

Student: Right. I’m just letting you know I’ve made some spares. There’s one framed in my bedroom, obviously, plus I’ve been passed out annotated versions to my classmates. And I submitted it online for a “World’s Best Syllabus” contest, because you picked the best Far Side cartoons.

Teacher: I really did, didn’t I?


Student: What will happen if I use my cell phone in class?

Teacher: I will end you. End you.

Student: No, I mean, what will happen to my attention span and higher-order thinking abilities? I worry my generation’s overreliance on technology has stunted our growth—not just cognitively, but socially, ethically, even spiritually.

Teacher: Wow. That’s a great question. I think—wait, I should answer this text.

Student: Take your time. I’ll be here, pondering.


Student: This material is really interesting. Could you go into more detail?

Teacher: Nah, I’d rather not lead the whole class on a detour. And I didn’t prepare any other notes for that topic.

Student: But we all want to delve deeper, don’t we, guys? [other students shout enthusiastically] And we’re ahead of schedule. Can’t you improvise some facts off the top of your head? [others call, “Improvise! Improvise!”]

Teacher: I really can’t. I didn’t pay attention to that lecture in college.

Student: Oh. Why not?

Teacher: Why would I? The professor said it wasn’t going to be on the exam.

21 thoughts on “The Student Every Teacher Dreams About

  1. So far, my only fully successful PhD student (I’m no longer with a Department with a PhD program, so the fact that I don’t have any new ones isn’t really much of a reflection on me) was a full professor who decided to take a little time and learn something new. Having run a successful lab at our school for years, and having graduated many PhD students himself, he knew when all the deadlines were, exactly what all the graduate school’s rules meant, and was of course far more “worried” about learning the material than getting a job (what with already being a tenured full professor in a higher paying field!). Best student ever! 🙂

  2. Wow, every time I have a student who is 1/10 this perfect, I feel some sort of mix of incredible luck, and abject terror of “what if I do something wrong to lose the respect of this angelic creature” 🙂

  3. I’m a little like this dream student, if I can say so myself. I read the syllabus religiously, I respectfully ask/notify my professor of an upcoming absence weeks in advance, I usually get perfect scores on math tests, and I have a deep interest in the subject. Unfortunately, I also have severe social anxiety, so I can’t speak up. I would much rather wait until I get home and then research a question online and/or email the professor. Just thinking about speaking up reduces me to a stuttering and quivering mass on the verge of fainting. I am taking a required speech communications course next semester, so that may help me with my problem. The speech course will probably be the most difficult course of my academic life.

    1. Hey Arthur, thanks for sharing your story! I was always a quiet kid in class, too. Hopefully that communications class–while taxing–will help you feel like speaking up doesn’t have to be a high-stakes affair.

      Hillary Rettig’s done some good writing about related issues, if you want to check her stuff out.

  4. Gee! With ears this big, no wonder your name is Ben OHRlin.

    (The punchline is that “Ohr” is German for “ear”.)

    (In related news, I just ruined a great piece of comedy with a cheap pun.)

  5. Hi. Nice blog. I came across you article in Slate and it really resonated. In my military days (many moons ago) I routinely jumped out of airplanes at several thousand feet, at night, with enough high explosives strapped between my legs to level a small building. I wasn’t particularly scared but, funny thing, the average math test terrified me! I’m functionally math-illiterate but heading back to school, at age 40 to try and at long last face down this beast. We’ll see how it goes.

    1. Best of luck with the math classes! I have a hunch that you’ve probably grown a lot since the last time you worked on math. (And by “hunch” I mean “you jumped out of airplanes bearing explosives, which is a growth experience if I’ve ever heard of one.”) It might take a while, but I’m sure it’ll come to you.

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