32 Teachers Share Unexpected Success Stories Of Students They Underestimated

Some students show more interest in aiming for the stars than others; however, that in no way means the latter can’t reach them as well. Sometimes even the most naughty or unmotivated of them end up achieving remarkable heights, proving everyone who didn’t believe in them wrong. Whether it’s spectacular academic results or other accomplishments, they show how the tables can turn.

Quite a few stories about such tables turning were shared by the ‘Ask Reddit’ community after the user ‘bluewhalebluejay’ addressed the teachers among them. The redditor asked them about any former students they thought were doomed but ended up making it big. The teachers’ answers range from heartwarming sentiments to all sorts of unexpected plot twists, which you can find on the list below.


Not a teacher, I worked administration in an elementary school. But I did take kids with low reading scores to the side to give them tutoring whenever I could.

One kid stuck out. 15 words read per minute despite being 8 years old. She had no confidence in herself, was too terrified to talk to anyone, burst into tears at any mistake she made. Let's just say her family was... unsupportive and difficult. I did not see progress for MONTHS. I was worried about her future in school if she continued to lag behind and be too anxious to make it in the world.

But eventually, she started talking to me. She stopped crying at mistakes, repeating my mantra ("It's ok to make mistakes, mistakes mean youre learning"). The words per minute score went up little by little as she began to show interest different reading materials.

By the end of the school year, she was looking forward to seeing me and her teacher said she was excited when the class took library trips. That teacher and I convinced the school to let me continue monitoring the student into the next school year. They agreed.

One more year of tutoring passed. That shy, terrified girl became confident and happy. She talked to everyone, helped out in class and demonstrated fascination with learning new things. The new teacher told me how this kid was always trying to sneak books in-between classwork. In second grade, when we began, this student was one of the lowest scored readers in her grade but by mid-year of third grade, she was highest score. She was even helping out other kids!

I worked for a couple years after she "graduated" from my tutoring so I got to see her in the hallways. She always liked to tell me what she read in class, what she read in her personal time and see what I'd recommend for her to read next. By the time I left my job, she was going to middle school and I knew she'd be just fine.

Image credits: SkysEevee


Stoner kid who did nothing but doodle on everything. Ended up a big shot at lucasfilms and then Disney.

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Not a teacher but I had this classmate in high-school who was the biggest d*ck I saw in my entire life.

Would beat people up if he didn't like the way they walked or whaterver, would made teachers so angry in class one of our teachers was rushed into the hospital due to hypertension.

One day in our senior year, his mom and dad were tragically killed in a car crash, leaving him responsible for his 3 younger siblings.

Didn't see him for a few weeks then one day came back and the principal was kind enough to accept him again back to school, but was informed that he may not graduate due to his very low grades.

I have never seen such a sudden change of personality in my life. The dude became so focused, determined on graduating high school, it was scary.

Fast forward 20 years in the year 2022, I had some legal issues to deal with, and one of my friends recommended me to a lawyer and was surprised when I saw him. All changed, turned his life around, saw the graduation pictures of his siblings displayed in his office wall, and has a beautiful wife and a daughter.

Image credits: Newbietron21


I taught a first year university course. It was the fall semester, so for many students it was their first semester at university ever and I had one student who struggled. She was young, it was her first time living away from home, and she seemed perpetually overwhelmed. I think she was just naive and inexperienced. About a month into the semester and her grandmother passed and they were very close. She came to my office to tell me she had to go home for the funeral and would miss a couple of classes. She was sobbing and I comforted her and told her not to worry about class. When she left my office, I honestly thought that I would never see her again and that she was going home permanently.

I was wrong. She came back a week later and she was laser focused. She started speaking out in class and asking questions, she came to all of my office hours and study groups, and she began to make connections with other students in the class. She absolutely blew it out of the water, aced the final exam, and finished the course with the highest grade. We stayed in contact and I was actually her reference for an intensive internship that she was very excited about (she got it).

I will never forget her and she truly humbled me. Was really a lesson for me not to underestimate people.

Image credits: littlepinch7


For my primary school teachers, I was probably that kid. Never spoke, could never finish a work sheet to save my life. Had all the tutoring in the world and I just couldn’t understand numbers. Didn’t understand punctuation for a while either. Luckily, English just clicked for me one day and I went from F to A in a week.

Turns out I had undiagnosed autism and the way they were teaching these fundamentals didn’t slot into my head right. God bless my extra help teachers because they sat me down and gave everything the most arbitrary rules so that it would make sense. I can’t remember them properly now but I just remember explaining my young selfs logic of the world to her and she made all the punctuation and math symbols slot into those rules so I could use full stops and multiply things without going crazy.

Now I’m in university studying STEM, probably still applying a lot of Mrs Browns logic without realising it. Bless that women’s patience because I wouldn’t have been able to get into top classes in secondary school without her.

Image credits: h0n3yst


Another "not a teacher" post, but I did some volunteer work in mental health services for teens, specifically with music.

Probably obviously, teens with mental health problems can be incredibly self-conscious and reserved. This one girl in particular was quite timid most of the time when there was anyone with her who wasn't a close friend.

Over the course of a few years, I managed to coax her into singing in front of me, then to the group, then at a fundraising event for the group.

The last thing I heard about her was a post on Facebook that a friend showed me. She was complaining about there only being about 50 people at a gig that she was playing! I still remember having to talk her into that first performance with just one or two people there!

Image credits: Raephstel


Two students of mine, one in high school in the northeast, one in middle school in the PNW, come to mind for this. Both were huge class clowns that had entirely middling grades, weren't actively rude to adults or their peers but were super disruptive because everything was far too easy for them.

The high schooler is some sort of wildly successful wildlife biologist, and the middle schooler ended up getting into a fancy elite boarding school in the northeast and is now in graduate school for aerospace engineering. I think a lot of the comments below highlighted that until these super smart kids were given something interesting and worthwhile to do, they found their own ways to make life challenging.

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Had a student who was one of the most undisciplined, uncontrollable people I had ever met. He probably had several undiagnosed learning disabilities, and had no regard for any kind of social norms, both in interactions with teachers and peers. He would wander the halls, barge into classes that were not his own, and attempt to engage in conversation with teachers in the middle of their lessons. He would have loud outbursts, sometimes of song, sometimes just to hear the sound of his own voice. On a few occasions, he would remove his shirt in class and lewdly rub his nipples. This is just the stuff that immediately comes to mind, every day this kid would act out in some new, creative way.

He also happened to be an extremely talented singer and performer, and last year (his junior year of high school), he auditioned for and got a role on a show on a streaming service. I’m hoping the tutoring they provide him is more effective than traditional schooling, and that he gets his behavior under control... otherwise his success may not last long.

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Violent angry kids with a s****y home life. Regularly just blew up at teachers and walked out. Never missed an opportunity to built the absolute shot out of me either. Failed at everything and genuinely seemed to hate existance.

I moved, and I always assumed he never finished school or went further with his education.

Years later, discover a news article that him (and 2 of my other classmates, which is impressive in a class of 28 people ) were playing for the England rugby team.

No idea what he's doing now, actually I'm going to have a google. edit: m**********r has his own Wikipedia page and is a millionaire. Good on ya

Image credits: gh0stieeh


Not a teacher, my mom is. But she used to be her teacher's worst nightmare. Now she's studying to be a school director. She has a good handle on her students cuz she's like "not any worse than i was".

Im proud of my mom.

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Not a teacher, but me. I have mild dyslexia, mostly impacting my writing. During elementary school I was written off with one of my teachers telling my Mom "Don't expect great things from him, he's just not very smart".

One of my high school teachers identified the problem, got me diagnosed, and encouraged me to use computers more (for some reason typing is not affected, and this was the early 90s).

I have degrees in Chemistry, and Chemical Engineering and work in pharmaceuticals.

And my Mom is still salty about that teacher calling me stupid.

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Not a teacher but one of my classmates was that guy. Barebones classes, no plan of going to college, sleeping through his classes, etc. I even still have a video of him sleeping in class on my phone.

He’s now a semi-famous and climbing the ranks music artist, based out of California. Good for him

Image credits: SabotageFusion1


Might be not fit in here but when my dad was young he was told by one of his teachers that he wasn’t smart enough to do anything but drive a dump truck. He now has a PhD in Chemical Engineering and does research for and with companies all over the world. I’m very proud of my dad

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Johnny Depp went to my high school (waaaaay before I did) but the chemistry teacher was the same guy (but much,much older by the time I got there). He'd always tell us how Johnny was always skipping school,didn't do well academically and played guitar in the halls. His mom was supposedly always being called.

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I *am* a teacher, but the best example that I have of this is a fellow student from my high school. He wasn't a bad kid or a particularly bad student. He was just kind of "there." He didn't participate in sports or clubs and didn't really do anything to attract notice. His older brother committed suicide when he was a junior at the school, but I never noticed if it affected him at all because nothing seemed to change.

Fast forward about 15 years, and my sister, who keeps in touch with people via Facebook, finds out that he's just been hired as a full time professor of neurobiology at a major Ivy League university, and is marrying his fiancee, a fellow scientist. I was floored. I thought he might have gone on to college, but to find out he had gotten a PhD in a neuroscience when he never got especially good grades in high school biology was mind-blowing.

Image credits: MinimalistFan


not a teacher but my grandma is a former teacher so I've heard lots of stories. there was a boy in her class who had trouble with basically every subject. from what I've been told he dropped out before graduation, every teacher thought he was done for and nobody, even his family, believed in him. he's a very successful model now so jokes on them I guess

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I am a coach and through a coincidence two kids who used to be my neighbors came through my team. When we were neighbors, their house was known as the crack house. It ran off a generator for a while and the dad was siphoning gas out of neighborhood cars to run the generator. Their dog was left outside barking for 2 nights in a row (another neighbor and I decided if it went to night 3 we were taking the dog, the weather was fair). Finally the house was foreclosed and the pics of the inside lived up to the crack house name.

Fast forward some years and I take one of the kids on my team home, happens to go past my house and he points and says he used to live down there. I put it together and ask if he used to have a dog named Oscar, and he did! So it turns out his dad eventually went to jail for stealing cars and his mom was in recovery for addiction to pills. They had to move in with his grandfather in the local trailer park who was an alcoholic.

So the older brother did well. He's in college in the next state and is gonna be ok. The younger brother, though, is about to graduate high school as the valedictorian and has a full ride to Cal Tech.

Image credits: kjm16216


Not a teacher, but I know a guy who was the class clown, teachers always gave him dire warnings of how he'd end up if he didn't start paying attention in class, yadda yadda.

Right after high school, he got a sales job for an electronics outlet and sold a bunch of printers. Learned more about printers than most people will ever know.

He decided to open his own printer store. Borrowed money from friends and family, rented a storefront, and he was off to the races. At one point he had something like five or six locations around the DC area, each doing millions in turnover. Last I heard he sold it and retired pretty young.

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My dad is a teacher, but while he was in teacher training, he tried to convince Jerry Seinfeld not to drop out of school to be a comedian. I figure that’s one of his bigger mistakes in life, but also shows how committed he is to education!

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I've had a few kids stand out.

One of my first ones was a kid who was in my gr. 10 drama class. Nice kid to me, no major issues. Funny, not super academically inclined, but started to really like drama and we got along. He missed class somewhat frequently for excused absences that were noted as "court." I assume mostly weed related...just because of reasons. But I never asked. Anyway, half way through the semester he came in and announced it was his last day because he was being sent to juvie and he was upset he wouldn't be able to co tongue in drama (his other courses they could manage through distance Ed type things). Was subbing back at the school the following year and ran into him. He'd caught up on all his missing credits while in juvie because he "had nothing better to do so why not get some s**t done." He was going to now graduate on time and was super proud of himself. Not sure where he's ended up now ten years later, but weed is legal now so as long as he's not dealing hopefully he's doing ok.

Different school and where I ended up getting a permanent position so I stayed in the same place for awhile, had this girl show up in gr. 9 and had her for Arts and English. She was...a lot. She would full shut down and just not do anything. Or talk. Or she'd have a full blown tantrum. She was exhausting. I drug her along through the Arts class and got her participating some days which was apparently huge because in elementary she was just left to do nothing all day because she wasn't disruptive. I jokingly suggested she take Drama with me the following year, but she hated speaking in public so figured that was a no go. Did get her to do the lighting for the school show though. She took drama every year. By the end of gr. 12 she engaged with people, she could speak in front of the class, she was completing credits (slowly and with a lot of support), but you could get work out of her. Apparently I became her favourite teacher and I was one of the only ones she would do work for initially. But my god was she a lot of work some days. Glad I stuck it out because we got there eventually.

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Not a teacher, but I knew a kid who was your stereotypical couldn't give a f**k student. He never did his work, pissed off teachers, cut class, did all kinds of drugs, and always had detention. I remember the highlight of his work was writing an essay on why he was black, despite being white. About mid-senior year, he dropped out, and he kinda just disappeared. I honestly thought he'd end up in jail at some point.

In 2019 my job sent me over to a site to do a survey for a company installing our AV equipment. Lo and behold, the guy leading the project was the same wild and crazy kid from high school. We chatted and caught up on things, but the guy really turned his life around. He got his GED, quit drugs, took up trade jobs, and worked his way up to a senior position in that AV installation company. It's interesting to see how people change like that when they enter the real world.

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I never thought a student would go bad but had them go good. I did have a student who was supposed to be a high school dropout but ended up graduating law school with honors.

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Taught geography to a very talented (and now famous) footballer. He wasn't particularly academic, but is now a multi-millionaire. The tabloids loved his scandals but I dare say he's loving his retirement now.

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One of my professors has this story.

She is a creative writing professor. She went and got her MFA in writing with a few guys who were writing this play. She said that they goofed off and never took their work seriously and they asked her to write with them. She figured them to be losers and turned them down. So now she's a creative writing adjunct professor, and her classmates, those guys... have their own animated series you might have heard of.... South Park.

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Son of two teachers, not a teacher. Our class criminal was acting out in grade school. He was a bully. He'd push kids down stairs. He grabbed the boobs of the first girl in our class to have them. When he'd get in trouble, he'd run away from school, and the principal would get in his VW Bug and chase the kid down. In Jr high, he was suspended as often as he was in class it seemed. The same was true in high school. He didn't so much as graduate, as was passed on a plea bargain.

Many years later, I saw him on facebook. He's an oil man in TX. His house is bigger than my yard, by a lot. He has a beautiful wife, and daughter. On the surface, he made it, and is living the dream. Now, he may still be a criminal. Financial success doesn't make one a good person. I don't know who he is these days. All I can say is growing up, I pictured him in jail or maybe in a trailer park as an adult. I never pictured him in a mansion living the high life.

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There was a kid I grew up with who was a bully crazy kid. He was constantly in fights in elementary school. His mom was called almost every day, and he was on ritalin 2x a day and he was STILL a handful.

8th grade he suddenly decided not to be a psycho. He got great grades and studied hard. Was a straight A student all thru high school.

My family always joked that he was so smart he would either be a super villain or the president, he had the potential for both equally!

Now hes married with kids and helps people manage their money. If you had asked me in 6th grade what his life would have been like as an adult, I would say he would be in jail for aggravated assault. Lol.

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I was a public speaking TA in grad school. One of my students was a second or third string player. He seemed like a good kid but not academically motivated or attentive in class. His dad was a manual laborer so it sounded like that was his future if football didn't pan out- not exactly doomed, but maybe not what you'd aspire for coming out of a good college. He transferred to another school after getting hurt in the hope that he'd get more playing time there. He didn't, and I lost track of him. I looked him up on Linked a few weeks ago. He's been an NFL scout for more than a decade.

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Many of my students were very immature in class, playing fart noises and other weird sounds. Students also recorded me during class when I wasn't looking. However, one of them is now a Columbia University student. I am very proud of him, despite his bad hair, ugly glasses, and general disrespect for me and my class.

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I taught this girl for two years straight many years ago. In grade 7, she missed over half the year. Parents kept making excuses as to her absences, and her report card was littered with I (incomplete) as the grades. I was not looking forward to having to teach her again in grade 8.

Grade 8 year. She shows up on the first day. Does everything I ask. Continues to show up every day.

Dentist appointment on a school day? She shows up, gets all the work for the day from me, goes to the appointment and hands it in the next day.

Illness? She shows up with a doctor's note, gets her work and goes home and hands it in the next day.

From kindergarten through grade 7, she missed more days than she attended. But in that grade 8 year, something woke her up and told her she could do better. And she did do better. Her grades were the best they had ever been. Not a single day missed in that year.

Four years after she left my class, I got a message with a photo of her high school diploma. From what I understand, her attendance there was fantastic. I have no idea where she is now or what she is doing, but I hope that she is going well.

(this may not seem like "making it big" to some, but where I taught, most of the students don't finish grade 10...so getting that diploma is a huge deal)

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Not *big* but I had a student who was from severely ducked up background and turned it all around. Ran into her years later at her work. She has a stable job, a stable relationship and her kid is doing good. Judging from where she started this is big!!- even if it doesn't seem like it on first glance. I told her how proud I am of her (we both cried)

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I was that kid!

One teacher my freshman year was a first-hand witness to a missing persons investigation I instigated by dipping out of school after being suspended for possession. Four years later and a few weeks before graduation, she stopped me in the hallway and congratulated me on finishing high school. She said something like "we were all worried you wouldn't finish at one point!"

Granted, I got in trouble quite a bit, but I was a student with like ten extracurriculars and a high GPA; not graduating was never an option for me. I told her I was going to a top 10 university on a scholarship and she looked absolutely stunned. I was the best student in her honors class and got like a 98, so her complete befuddlement still seems as weird to me today as it did then.

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I started with a student whom was 4 years old and he was bright and enthusiastic, he really loved dinosaurs so I provided him with materials. However he did suffer from some jealousy problems and occasional tempur-tantrums, and after a two month period where he went to a public school, he came back looking shell-shocked.

He was destructive, vindictive and a constant headache in the class. He was difficult, couldn't stand losing and his focus was terrible. He was easily provoked by other students so at the slightest altercation he'd sit and stew and plot to get revenge, from physical attacks to sneaking off and tearing up their projects. Eventually the parents took him to a psychology who diagnosed him with, "Low Intelligence, bad temperament and ADHD". That's what you get for being in Vietnam. Still I went from teaching him in my school, to privately and once Covid started and I left the country I taught him online.

Once the online lessons became one on one, I'd let him choose what he wants to learn about with the only requirement of it being educational. He developed a fascination with history and we've managed to cover from the polyponesian wars, to the founding and mistakes and successions throughout the Roman empire, to understanding the Byzantines and even being able to weigh an opinion in on the partitions of Poland, and why certain events. He questions everything and is really quite brilliant so much that I look forward to teaching him every week.

He is 10 now, oh and fluent in English, as that's the subject I'm teaching him.

Image credits: Mixedstereotype