Top 10 Professor Meltdowns

My high school math teacher had a complete meltdown during my sophomore year. She hid under her desk the entire period, clutching a protractor and hissing “Go away!” That seemed too bizarre back then. Now that I’m a professor, I completely understand. Just the other day, I almost threw a dry erase marker at a student because he wouldn’t stop talking with a friend during our discussion. A couple years ago, I did lay down the hammer on my students when they started challenging me on reading quizzes. One of my students whined, “You’re not being fair.” I told her, “Then you can go talk to the chair. But I’ll tell you now. He won’t do anything. He likes me. In fact, I had dinner with him and his wife last weekend. So, good luck.”

That’s not exactly a meltdown, but you get the idea. Professor meltdowns can get much worse. They happen for lots of reasons: bad students, stress, ego, or personal problems. In fact, one study by the American Federation of Teachers says up to 78 percent of teachers experience overwhelming stress. Few jobs require anyone to look like they have their shit together in front of a room full of people every day. Anyway, I’ve been thinking about all the strange shit that professors do and compiled a list. Enjoy:

1. One professor I used to work with broke down into tears when her students admitted they didn’t understand any of her assignments. She canceled class and went back to her office, where she got tipsy on NyQuil.

2. Another professor I know started showing up drunk to all of his classes. He tried to hit on one of his graduate students during a seminar. When she said no, he called her a bitch and started to storm out, except he tripped over a chair and busted a tooth.

3. A former department chair at one university got busted for watching porn and jerking off in faculty offices. He would wait until they went to a conference, then let himself in and bring up PornHub. How was he caught? One female professor came home early and found him in her chair with his pants down. Surprise.

4. Yet another professor I know faked a split personality to escape a series of sexual harassment complaints. The guy was inviting female students to his house for brunch, and then trying to fuck them. He had to go through counseling and everything. I’m not sure his stunt worked, but at least it bought him some time.

5. One of my favorite meltdowns: A full professor at one school got a better job somewhere else. They also hired his wife. The trick? They were both on research leave during their job hunts, and the university found a way to bill them for the classes they hadn’t taught. Technically, the dean didn’t have to force the issue. He could’ve dropped it. But he wanted revenge. Instead of acting mature about the whole thing, this professor stormed through the department offices and yanked down all the fliers and posters with his pictures on them. He also broke the publication display case and pulled out his books and articles. A small crowd gathered, and he shouted at them. “This place is nothing without me!” Such a performance deserves an Oscar.

6. No, wait. This one’s my favorite: One of my professors had her graduate students over for wine and cheese at the end of the semester. We all got pretty toasted. One of us mentioned that another professor had just gotten a promotion. Our host spilled wine on her shirt and swore. “Godammit. Now I’m never going to get rid of her.” That’s correct, rivals.

7. Most pathetic meltdown: One of my MFA professors decided to tell us how to get published in the top journals. Halfway through his lesson, he started complaining about how The New Yorker had lost his submission three separate times. “It’s just unbelievable,” he said. “So don’t ever submit there. Those people are a bunch of fucking idiots.” He ended class early, and took us to a brewery where he complained more. We sort of ignored him and started flirting with the bar tender.

8. A professor who interviewed for a job with us had a wild time the night before. He showed up hung over and halfway incoherent. I had to escort him around campus half the day. He made some vague references to dancers. Someone later mentioned he tried to submit receipts for alcohol at a strip club for his travel reimbursement. Slow clap, slow clap.

9. During another job search, faculty met to discuss the qualifications of final candidates. For no reason, an older professor spoke up and said, “That second candidate. She’s really hot. I mean, like seriously hot. She’d make a great colleague.” The good news: she was actually the front runner. But HR almost made us cancel the whole search over that one idiotic remark. I’m not sure if this one counts as a total meltdown, but it definitely makes my list of stupidest moments.

10. Saddest meltdown: One of my professors received a phone call in the middle of class one day. She apologized and said, “Sorry, my dad’s in the hospital. I have to take this.” She answered, and froze halfway to the door. Turned around, walked back calmly to her lectern. She cleared her throat and announced, “My dad just died.” Then she started sobbing. Some of my friends comforted her, and someone else went to find the department chair. He came and helped her out of the room. The whole time, I just sat there paralyzed. This one’s not funny, but it’s incredible.

I’m proud to say I’ve never had a meltdown, though I’ve come close. Maybe one day I’ll do something outlandish, like show up to class in my Lara Croft outfit on Halloween. Would that count as a meltdown? Maybe.


5 thoughts on “Top 10 Professor Meltdowns

  1. mazikeenblog

    I must confess that nearly all the stress I endured through my years of teaching came-not from students- but from my faculty colleagues. Maybe it was because I taught at a community college and I knew how poorly my students had been served by their K-12 experience. Maybe because I have 5 kids I have an abundance of patience. And, make no mistake, I saw some crazy-ass shit in my classrooms (my favorite was a student painting his girlfriend’s toenails while the class discussed gilded age fashion). Still, in terms of pettiness, pomposity, and an overgrown sense of entitlement, no one could top my colleagues. Adjunct faculty with advance degrees treated like farmhands; mimosas for breakfast, Bloody Marys for lunch, beer for faculty meetings; racism, homophobia, and most definitely sexism. One long-time teaching relic would raise his female students semester grade and whole letter if she showed him her boobs. Another (female) colleague would miss at least 3 classes a week because she felt her students were not worthy of her presence and must be taught a lesson. The general attitude of most faculty was that God almighty had sprinkled magic goofus dust on their shoulders, thus elevating them into the realm of the chosen ones. And then there were the administrators…Yet, some students actually found their way to some education. Miraculous, in my view.


  2. Neil Moskowitz

    You are motivating me to begin a blog about my life as an ER doc for the past zillion years. Reality in many cases is much stranger and perverse than fiction. Loved this piece of yours tonight!



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