Professional Practice

Art Teacher Horror Stories (Ep. 340)

Tim asked for teachers to share some horror stories from their time in the classroom, and the submissions did not disappoint! Some of the most hilariously awful stories you can imagine are being shared, and Amanda Heyn is here with Tim to react to everything teachers have been through. Listen as they discuss horror stories: some gross, some scary, and some unbelievable!  Full Episode Transcript Below.

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Tim: Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by the Art of Education University, and I’m your host, Tim Bogatz.

All right. As promised, we are here this week sharing our best art teacher horror stories, and we’re just diving right in. Amanda Heyn, my favorite partner in crime, is here with me. Amanda, how are you?

Amanda: I’m so excited. I’m so excited for this episode. Also, something horrific is happening to me right now. It is snowing for the first time.

Tim: What? Oh.

Amanda: I live in Wisconsin, so it’s not a shock, but it’s a little early for the big white flakes, and so I’m really not into it.

Tim: Yeah. Oh, I’m not … It was cold this morning. But snow is just a whole another level of energy that I don’t have right now.

Amanda: It’s bad. I know, I know. So, kind of horrific. But I’m excited. I’m excited about today.

Tim: Yeah. Well, I knew you would be excited because you love all of this stuff. As we’ve talked about before, your favorite type of bird is a living horror, in the shoebill stork. And so-

Amanda: I mean, I don’t know if I’d called that my favorite type of bird, but I do enjoy it. I appreciate its majestic nature, and it is terrifying, so yes. Yes.

Tim: I don’t even know if it has a majestic nature, but okay.

Amanda: Well, you haven’t seen one in person and I have.

Tim: That’s true. That’s true. Now, if you all are wondering what we’ve been talking about, Amanda’s been going on about the shoebill stork for years and years, and it’s made an appearance on what, three previous podcast episodes, as well?

Amanda: Yeah, two or three.

Tim: So anyway, long-time listeners will know exactly what we’re going for. But anyway, moving beyond horrific birds, we have a lot of stories. We put out the call to everyone who listens, to share their art teacher horror stories, things we can laugh about. And we’re not actually going to share any of these. But Amanda, there were so many stories about poop.

Amanda: Yeah.

Tim: I’m not even telling you how many people wrote in about poop on shoes, poop on the table, poop inside the cabinets. How does poop get inside the cabinets? I don’t know. Did you ever have to deal with poop in your teaching career?

Amanda: Yeah, I taught elementary, so yes, I’ve had the trifecta. I’ve had the pee, the poop, the vomit. Yes, there was mysterious incident in my room where it just appeared and I couldn’t find the culprit. No one ‘fessed up. It can actually be a very serious medical issue. Just want to put the PSA out there. You might have a kiddo dealing with something like, kind of tough. But yeah, for me personally, it was horrific. And do not recommend. So, you? Have you? You taught high school. Well, and elementary.

Tim: I did elementary for a couple years. Never had to deal with poop, thankfully. So that was good. I did deal with vomit. We will tell that story in just a second. But first, you and I do want to share stories. But before we get there, Amanda, I want to send you a story. And part of the fun of this episode, is Amanda does not know what’s coming with any of these stories.

Amanda: No. They got sent to Tim’s email.

Tim: You are hearing her reactions from hearing these for the first time. This first one, Amanda, I’m going to send this to you right now. I’m going to have you read this to everyone. This is not an art teacher horror story. This is just one that I came across when researching about teacher horror stories. I cannot imagine this happening. But Amanda, this is a news article, and if you could just read the first part of this news article for everyone, for us.

Amanda: Okay. I’m scared and excited. Okay. “A New Portland woman was ordered to perform 50 hours of community service for …” Okay. Sorry, I’m just reading ahead in my head. “… for helping her daughter and two other teenage girls bake cookies laced with a laxative that were given to a teacher. Julie Hunt, 43, was charged with a misdemeanor assault last month after a police investigation into the prank that sickened a number of seventh and eighth grade students. Police said Hunt showed the girls, who were 13 and 14, …” Oh wow. This, okay. “… how to crush ex-lax pills and mix them in with the cookie. The cookies were left on the desk of a teacher with a note that read, ‘We made these cookies especially for you, hope you enjoy them.’ But instead of eating the cookies, the teacher shared them with students, many of whom then became sick.” No.

Tim: I don’t know. It’s bad enough that your students are doing that to you. So much worse that a parent is like, “Yep, I’m on board with this. Let me get in on this.”

Amanda: Oh my gosh. “It’s my idea.” Wow.

Tim: Yeah.

Amanda: Wow, Julie Hunt. No, thank you. Zero out of 10. Bad prank.

Tim: Bad parenting. And then the idea, I would feel so guilty, giving them to my students and then them getting sick from it.

Amanda: Yes. Clearly, this is a loving teacher. She’s sharing her cookies with her … Her First instinct is to share the cookies with the kids. Oh my gosh.

Tim: Yeah, it’s so wrong.

Amanda: Is it too late to go back and do a trigger warning, a content warning? Like, “If you don’t like gross stuff, maybe don’t have listened to the first part of this podcast and don’t listen to the rest of it.”

Tim: I think we are too far gone on that. Honestly though, my first reaction when kids brought me stuff to eat, was just to throw it in the trash.

Amanda: Well, yes. Accept graciously, discard privately. Yeah.

Tim: Yeah, just one of the … “Hey, my family will love this. I’m going to take it home and eat it.” And-

Amanda: Yeah. “Looks so good.” Okay. This is sort of a horror story. Once I was given a Jell-O Jiggler stuck to a napkin.

Tim: So I thought, “Jell-O Jiggler, not that bad.” Stuck to a napkin is bad.

Amanda: Well, I hate Jell-O. So it was scary to me anyway. And then just like,-

Tim: Right.

Amanda: It’s like, on one of those … whatever. And it was bad.

Tim: I have so many questions, but we need to move on. Now, Amanda, we each agreed that we are going to share our own horror stories from teaching.

Amanda: Yes.

Tim: Do you mind if I go first?

Amanda: No, please do.

Tim: Okay. So this happened to me my very first day of teaching. Literally, the first day I-

Amanda: Day one.

Tim: … was ever in a classroom. I mean, I had done my student teaching and practicum. My first day of professional teaching. And you know what? I made it back to day two. We did all right. So it couldn’t have been that bad.

I was doing elementary art. In that position, I came into other teachers’ classrooms and taught the art while teachers were still in there. And they’re supposed to learn from me. It was a whole weird system. But it worked out. I don’t think I’ve told this story on the podcast before. I may have, so apologies if you’re hearing it for the second time. But it was later in the day, maybe two in the afternoon, and I’m in this first grade classroom.

We’d done the lesson, the kids are working, whatever, and this girl feels really sick. She just stands up, raises her hand. Like, “I don’t feel very well, can I go to the nurse?” And me being the what optimistic young teacher who wants to be helpful, I’m like, “Oh, I can escort her down to the nurse. No problem.” So we go and I was like, “Oh, you know what?” We’re walking out of the classroom. She’s like, “Oh, I don’t feel good. I think I’m going to throw up.” And so, being smart, I just grabbed the trash can-

Amanda: Good move.

Tim: … on the way out the door. And so I was like, “Oh, okay, well, if you’re going to get sick, just throw up in here on the way to the nurse.” We’re walking down to the nurse and she’s like, “Oh, I am going to be sick.” And she tries to hit the trash can, but it’s just like, projectile vomit. And it’s just all over me. She goes over the trash can, hits my chest, and it just immediately just drips down all of my … And this is back when I was wearing shirt and tie every day, trying to make a good impression. I was just covered with vomit on my first day of …

And so, I drop her off at the nurse, don’t know what to do with the trash can. So just set it down, and then I just knock on the principal’s door, because it’s right next to the health office and just be like, “I don’t know what to do.” Just walked in there covered in vomit. I’m like, “What should I do at this point?” So the principal just started laughing at me, which I don’t know what other-

Amanda: Appropriate.

Tim: … response I would expect. That’s what I would do in her position. And she’s like, “You know what, why don’t you just go home? We’ll get everything cleaned up, we’ll cover for you. You can just come back tomorrow.”

Amanda: Oh my God. Day one.

Tim: Yeah. And the nurse was kind enough to give me a couple of towels, so it didn’t get all over my car, but … Got home. But yeah, got through it. But man, just literally covered in vomit on day one.

Amanda: Oh, that’s pretty good.

Tim: That was rough. Glad it never happened to me again in my teaching career. But yeah, that was a rough way to start.

Amanda: Yeah.

Tim: All right. So what about you? Anything horrific that you would like to share?

Amanda: Yeah. Yes. Okay. So I was going through my internal Rolodex of what I was going to … If you’re a young teacher, just Google what a Rolodex is. I promise this makes sense. So like I said, I taught elementary, I’ve had all the bodily fluids. I had a terrible story about a kid who somehow, with a child’s safety scissors, managed to cut his fingers so bad he needed to leave the day, leave for the day and go get stitches. But then I knew we were recording, and I had a repressed memory surface.

Tim: Okay.

Amanda: I really wavered about whether or not I could tell it on this podcast. But we asked our listeners to be vulnerable, and I just decided it’s too funny. So I am going to do it. I can’t also remember, we’ve known each other a long time now, years and years and years. And I cannot, I don’t know if I’ve ever told you this.

Tim: That’s just what I was going to ask you. Have I heard this? I don’t know. I feel like I’ve heard all your stories, but nothing’s coming to mind.

Amanda: Okay. Well-

Tim: Anyway, go ahead.

Amanda: Okay. This story starts with the birth of my first child. Okay. So his name is Max. And we always joke that it is the perfect name for him, because he does everything to the max. And that started with my labor. So I was in labor with this child for 35 hours. If you know me, you know I love a good hyperbole. This is not that. It was 35 hours. So if you’ve had a baby, you know there’s a lot of people coming in and out of the room with … We went through a few shifts here. Right? Okay. So I’m going to give a few details here. I promise to keep them surface level, but they’re important. So, okay, Max required, I had to push for five hours. Again, not hyperbole. If you’ve had a baby, the baby’s heart … It’s a horror story on it’s own.

Tim: This is a horror story unto itself.

Amanda: So usually at this point, the baby’s heart is getting wonky. They keep checking. He’s like, “Nope, this kid is just taking his time.” Okay. “Wow. What an amazing baby.” And I’m like, “Oh. Oh my gosh.” Okay. So I’ve also chosen to have an unmedicated birth. So I am in like a primal state of being. Okay? That’s all I’m going to say. Okay, so finally it’s over. Baby is healthy. Everyone’s doing fine. I’m like snuggling with my new baby. And this woman, who has been in the room for the most intense part of this experience, comes over-

Tim: She’s seen a lot.

Amanda: She’s seen a lot. She’s seen a lot. Yes. She comes over and she’s like, “Hi, are you Mrs. Heyn from Brooklyn Elementary?” And I was like-

Tim: No.

Amanda: I was like, “What is happening?” I’m like, “Do you need me to do an art project?” I’m not even, I don’t know what is happening in this thing. Like, “Do you need help choosing a paint color?” I don’t know. And then she’s like, “Yeah, so I’m Sydney’s mom, from first grade. Just wanted to say congratulations. You did great.” And I was like … If there was one thing you would’ve told me, before I started teaching, that I would be mortified to do in front of a parent, I would never in a million years guess give birth.

Tim: Wow.

Amanda: Can you imagine? This is why I haven’t thought about … Well, Max is nine. I probably haven’t thought about it in eight years. Like, what’s happening?

Tim: Oh my God. I can’t even. I mean, there’s a lot of reasons I can’t imagine. But that is … That is wild.

Amanda: I know. And luckily, this kid was awesome. This mom was awesome. She had entered the room during parent-teacher conferences, but I was not in a state to-

Tim: No, you don’t recognize-

Amanda: … recognize somebody. And plus, parent-teacher conferences in the art room, it’s like 50 people are in there at a time, and you’re trying to figure out which Aiden they’re talking about, whatever. So anyway, she was very kind, but I also wish she would’ve said nothing.

Tim: Right, Right. Yeah. I’m totally all right to just let that go.

Amanda: Probably just let it go.

Tim: Yeah.

Amanda: Oh my gosh. So let’s see … I don’t know. I’m excited to see what other stories we have, but that was pretty horrific.

Tim: This is from Erin in Houston. Another quick one. “I was doing a painting lesson demo, and went to open a bottle of black tempera. I was unaware that the paint had spoiled at some point. The fermented black paint exploded directly into my face and hair, patterning me with smelly black goo, as my students look on. None of us knew quite what to do for a few seconds.”

Amanda: Oh my gosh. Have you had that happen? That smell.

Tim: I had fermented paint.

Amanda: Yes.

Tim: That smell is hideous.

Amanda: So bad.

Tim: Thank goodness, I’ve never had it explode in my face and hair.

Amanda: Yes, me either. But this … Oh, the smell is bringing back like, ew.

Tim: Yeah. So I have a lot of follow-up questions for Erin. So Erin, when you’re hearing this, I would love to know what happened after that.

Amanda: Right, like-

Tim: I have a feeling, very much like my vomit story, you just go to your principal and you’re like, “I don’t know what to do here.”

Amanda: Right. Did you continue the day? If so, how?

Tim: Right.

Amanda: Did you wash your hair at school? I don’t …

Tim: Yeah. Do you just wash your face and hair in the sink and then drive home?

Amanda: That smell would linger. That would … Yeah. And it would be right by your head.

Tim: Oh, do not wish that on anybody. So Erin, we are very sorry about that one. That’s … Also, a follow-up question, did it get on the kids? Do the kids have black paint in their hair?

Amanda: Yeah.

Tim: Is it smelling in that room for a while?

Amanda: Bad?

Tim: Not great. Next story, Amanda, I actually wanted to have you read this one if you don’t mind.

Amanda: I don’t mind. I’d be delighted.

Tim: Okay. Well, the reason is, this story came from Milwaukee, which, fairly close to you.

Amanda: Yes.

Tim: What, hour, hour and a half away?

Amanda: An hour away.

Tim: So anyway, this is from Kate in Milwaukee. Just sent it your way. So if you can read that for us.

Amanda: All right, here we go. Thank you, Kate. “My eighth-grade students were working on a semester-long project in partnership with a local museum, creating exhibits that showcased Neoclassical architecture, locally and nationally. They were building low-relief models using pink insulation foam boards. When the models were done being built, I thought it would be so much easier to paint them all white by using spray paint. I got several cans of the cheapest white spray paint I could find, budget worries. And we took them all outside on a lovely day to spray paint. This was about two to three weeks before they were to showcase their models at the museum.”As the students began to spray, we realized what a big mistake this was. The spray paint melted the foam, all that hard work, making all those tiny steps on the capitol building, gone. I was so mortified that I didn’t know that spray paint dissolves styrofoam. All of the kids that noticed yelled at everyone to stop, and we spent the next two weeks scrambling to replace those parts that melted. Luckily, the students rallied, work together and ended with a successful project. But that was a horror I don’t want to live through again.”

Tim: That’s bad. This is actually a common theme with a lot of responses, just projects that go awry, especially big group projects that end in disaster. Luckily this one didn’t end in disaster. But my question is, I feel like, why is it not wider knowledge that spray paint melts styrofoam? Because I feel like everyone has experienced this at some point. For me, it was in college.

Amanda: Me too. I was just going to say, yes.

Tim: And luckily I learned that before I started teaching. But had I not had that mishap in a studio sculpture course, who knows when I would’ve … I could’ve learned it exactly how it happened to Kate here. And so, I mean, definitely no blame here, but why don’t more people know this? I don’t know.

Amanda: But also, it’s not intuitive. I would never think, “Oh, spray paint can melt anything.” Why would that be a thing? Why would they make a paint that can melt stuff? I mean, I understand it’s the interactivity between the two different materials, but it also … I don’t know, maybe people just didn’t have … When would you have that experience? Why did you spray paint a sculpture?

Tim: Well, again-

Amanda: Why did I?

Tim: Yeah. Insulation foam is cheap. Spray painting it is faster than doing it by hand. And yeah, nobody bothers to tell you, “Hey, don’t do that.” You just discover it on your own. It’s not a good situation. But I feel bad for Kate that that happens in front a huge group-

Amanda: But good for her, her students.

Tim: Yeah, they rallied.

Amanda: They pulled together. But okay, just imagine … I’m really imagining it. I’m imagining these kids, who are so excited, and they’ve worked so hard and their art is going to be in a museum. This is a nightmare.

Tim: And they’re 95% done with it. The finishing touches are coming right now.

Amanda: And then just start melting it. It’s bad.

Tim: Just evaporates right in front of their face. Honestly, if I were in my first few years of teaching, I would probably have just started crying right there.

Amanda: Oh, I for sure would’ve cried no matter what. Yeah.

Tim: Yeah. That’s rough. But-

Amanda: Oh my gosh, thank you for sending that to us.

Tim: Yeah, kudos to you, Kate, for putting together a successful project in the end.

Amanda: Yes.

Tim: Amanda, we have one last story here. We have three characters in this story. Number one is Sarah. This is Sarah from Missouri who sent this in. So we have Sarah, we have Sarah’s university supervisor, from when she was doing her student teaching, and then we have her cooperating teacher. I think to simplify this story, we need to give the cooperating teacher a name. And I don’t want to give too much away, but we’ll just say that the cooperating teacher is not the hero of this story. So, not to put you on the spot here, but we want to change names to protect the innocent. So Amanda, can you give us a good name for the cooperating teacher?

Amanda: And this is like a villainous name, would you say?

Tim: I just said not a hero.

Amanda: Okay. Well, I’m just extrapolating. Okay. How about Agnes?

Tim: Agnes? All right. This is good. So this story is from Sarah, and Sarah is dealing with her cooperating teacher, Agnes. All right. And Sarah says, this story takes a little bit, just to let you know.

Amanda: Okay.

Tim: Sarah says, “I had absolutely the worst cooperating teacher of all time. The true definition of horror. I don’t want to go through the entire backstory, but suffice it to say, that Agnes hated me. And to this day, I don’t know why. When my supervising teacher from the university came to observe me the first time, Agnes had nothing but terrible things to say about me. Now, mind you, she never talked to me about any of these issues. We never went through these face to face. But luckily, my lesson the first time went well, and we moved on. The next time my university supervisor came, Agnes did everything she could to make sure my lesson didn’t go well.”

Amanda: No, no.

Tim: This is a story of sabotage.

Amanda: Oh my gosh.

Tim: “So picture this,” Sarah says. “I have everything set up for a drawing lesson. My lesson plans are ready for my university supervisor. Pencils and erasers, ready to go. Papers cut. Examples are up on my laptop and my laptop connected to the projector. Students are coming in.” This is where it gets crazy. I can’t even prepare you for this. “Students are coming in, and I see Agnes breaking pencils, literally taking her own drawing pencils and breaking them in half. I take a break from greeting students and go ask her, ‘What are you doing? Why are you doing this?’ Agnes gives me a death glare and walks away. As I’m trying to clean up the mess, I look over my shoulder and Agnes is at my computer. I run over there, and just as the bell rings, I see that she has closed out all of the examples I had on my laptop and turned off the projector.”

Amanda: No! No! I don’t like it. I hate it.

Tim: We are a third of the way through the story.

Amanda: Oh my gosh.

Tim: Sarah continues, “I start the lesson as best I can, turning the projector back on, waiting for it to warm up. I am filling time, trying to explain what we will be doing that day. My kids are patient. I pull up my examples on the laptop again, bring them up, and the projector immediately turns back off. I look up, and I see Agnes at the electrical panel in the kiln room. Agnes literally tripped the circuit while I was presenting, so the projector lost power in the middle of my talk. So I say, ‘Screw it. Let’s go do the demo.’ I have the kids gather around the demonstration table. I notice the pencils at my demo table have the tips broken off. The eraser was in a hundred tiny pieces, and the blending stumps were in the garbage can.”

I really wish everyone could see Amanda’s face right now. Her jaw is just-

Amanda: It’s on the floor.

Tim: … on the floor. It’s incredible. Okay. Sarah says, “I do my best with the demo. Go to pass out paper. And guess what? All of the 12 x 18 paper I had cut the day before, had now been cut four more times into tiny little 4 1/2 x 6 inch squares. Thinking on my feet, I have my kids start making plans in their sketchbooks instead, but I’m basically in tears at this point. I make it through the end of the period, and my head is just spinning with everything that has happened. I have to meet with my university supervisor immediately after. So I take a couple of deep breaths and calm myself down. I go to grab my lesson plans and a couple other really important forms, my cooperating teacher, that Agnes had signed, and I bet you can guess where this is going.”

Amanda: Oh my gosh.

Tim: “Those papers are missing. I break down in tears at that point, go to my supervisor and tell my story. I tell them I cannot work here with Agnes anymore. I just can’t.” She says, “I’m not sure if there are any consequences, because I never set foot in that building again. I know my supervisor found me a new placement immediately. The supervisor quit working with Agnes, and talked to the building principal and district superintendent, and it turned out okay for me.” Sarah says, “I’m in my seventh year of teaching middle school art, and I love it. I just hope no one else has to go through the horror of a cooperating teacher trying to sabotage one of the most important lessons you’ll ever teach.”

Amanda: Oh my … I don’t even have any words.

Tim: I know, I know. I read that and I was like, “What is happening here?”

Amanda: It’s like a Whack-A-Mole. It’s like an SNL skit. Like, can’t you imagine Agnes as an SNL character?

Tim: Absolutely.

Amanda: Oh my gosh.

Tim: Just having to chase her around and shoo her away. She’s breaking her own drawing pencils.

Amanda: What is the worst … tripping the circuit is just like-

Tim: Right.

Amanda: … another level. I mean it’s all very bad and very unbelievable. Or stealing her forms, all of it. Oh my gosh.

Tim: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I told this story to my wife because I just could not get it out of my head. And yeah, she’s like, “There’s obviously some kind of mental illness at play here,” which I think is right. But man, just to break your own materials to sabotage your student teacher, I can’t get over it.

Amanda: Why would you take a student teacher on if that’s how you’re going to behave?

Tim: Yeah, that is something else.

Amanda: Oh my gosh. Well, kudos to Sarah. A, thank you for sharing that with us.

Tim: Right?

Amanda: That’s wild. And I love that she felt comfortable with her supervisor to tell what was going on, and then got herself out of there. Way to go.

Tim: Yes.

Amanda: That is triumphant.

Tim: And thank goodness you had an understanding supervisor that-

Amanda: Right.

Tim: … could … yes. Take care of that for you. I mean, I don’t know if I like the phrase, “all’s well that ends well,” here. Things are not well in Agnes’s classroom. But yeah, it’s a wild one.

Well anyway, Amanda, we should probably wrap things up, we’re well into the second half of the hour now. So, thank you for coming on, sharing your story, reacting to all of these stories with me, and yeah, thank you to everybody who sent them in as well. I hope you enjoyed yourself, Amanda, so thank you.

Amanda: Oh my gosh, yes. Thank you so much for having me. And also, thank you to everyone for sharing with us. We hope this brightens your day in a weird, twisted way.

Tim: Thank you to everyone for all of the submissions, we obviously don’t have time to get to everyone’s stories. I would appreciate feedback on this episode, please let me know if you thought it was entertaining! We easily have enough stories and submissions to do this again next Halloween.

We will be back next week with AOEU writer Josh Chrosniak to discuss some eerie artists that are perfect for the Halloween season. Until then, I hope you survive Halloween, which we always know can be crazy in any school setting, and I hope you can enjoy everything that comes with the spooky season.

Art ed radio is produced by the art of education university with audio engineering from Michael crocker.

Thank you for listening to all of our horror stories, I hope it was enjoyable for you!

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.