Hopefully, all of you reading this have already finished the inevitable yearly task: cleaning out student desks. Teachers often stumble upon spine-chilling surprises amid the piles of papers, forgotten treasures, and miscellaneous items. We asked educators, “What’s the scariest thing you’ve found while cleaning out student desks?” Their responses will make you gasp, cringe, and maybe even laugh. From creepy-crawlies and forgotten foods to terrifying objects, let’s uncover the darker side of desk clean-outs.
It’s no surprise the most frequent gross thing teachers reported finding was spoiled milk. YUCK! One educator tells this story:
“Last year, I told a kid who loved to hoard to clean out his desk, and he decided to lean it forward and dump everything out. Out came a swollen milk carton, and I watched in what felt like slow motion as it tumbled out and hit the floor, exploding everywhere. He must have buried it in there for months. Kids were gagging. The stench stayed in my room for daysssss.”
Marlayne P. describes another vivid milky tale: “It was not in a desk but a locker. A few years ago, a student left six open milk containers in his locker with milk in them. He never used the locker much, but when it came time to clean out lockers at the end of the year … well, I am sure you can imagine the smell. Kids and staff got physically ill, and the smell lasted for weeks. It was so bad we had to leave all windows and doors open.”
One teacher described finding rotting milk in a different place:
“Not a desk but a backpack. The middle school students leave their backpacks on a table near the door. For some reason, I moved one and thought I smelled beer. Since teachers cannot search backpacks, I called my admin. They began to call each student out with their backpack until the ‘beer’ was discovered. It was weeks-old milk from the cafeteria that was spoiled and fermented.”
We are so thankful for all the yummy milk our cafeterias provide for our students, but man—wouldn’t it be great if milk didn’t curdle!
Other food finds
I can’t even imagine the horror these teachers stumbled upon! Picture these:
“My first year teaching. I used to teach 1st. We decorated mini pumpkins in October (Never did it again. Way too messy! lol), but before Christmas, we cleaned our desks for a fresh start in the new year, and a kid still had his pumpkin. He said he forgot to take it home. Lol.”
This next teacher was sweet enough to admit the worst desk discovery was his own!
“I hate to admit it, but the grossest thing was something I pulled out of my desk. Rotten fruit—I’m sure that was in the black hole at the back bottom.”
And for those of us teaching elementary students, finding other old food like rotten apples, Halloween candy, year-old lunch boxes, spoiled yogurt, and old juice is not outside the realm of possibilities!
Live creatures …
I grew up in the South where it was normal for a snake to slip in and out of our classrooms on occasion. It was no surprise to me that a few of these teachers discovered live animals in their desks and rooms!
“I moved into a home economics classroom, and rats were in the cupboards. I must say that I reported it and never opened those cupboards again. Nope, I wouldn’t store anything of mine in them because I refused to open them up and see more rats.”
“Wormy acorns. After that, we had the ‘acorn talk’ each fall!”
“One of our teachers found a hamster in a kindergarten backpack.”
… and dead creatures
But the number of responses from teachers who discovered dead animals? Or just pieces of the dead animals? Yikes! Count me out!
“Dead bird in a backpack. He said he forgot his show-and-tell, so he looked for something during recess so he wouldn’t miss his turn.”
“Not on a desk, but on my back counter. We couldn’t figure out the bad smell when we returned from break. The police department even chose a different room to do training in. On the second or third day back, I found the little paper bag containing the frozen mice that one of the students had taken out to feed the pet snakes and forgot to put back in the freezer.”
“First grade—many years ago. Smelled something terrible before lunch. It wasn’t in his desk but in his backpack. It was the tail from an armadillo.”
And I can’t get over the shark theme from these two teachers!
“We have lab tables as our ‘desks.’ I found a preserved shark specimen from 2004 in one of them when I inherited the room. The fluid was gone. There were chunks and mold.”
“My grossest discovery was not in a desk but in the science storage room over the summer. In a corner, someone had stacked several buckets containing my sharks and other specimens for dissecting. The stacked buckets’ weight caused the bottom bucket’s lid to crack. (I teach aquatic science.) Some of the sharks in that bucket were protruding above the preserving fluid. Later that summer, when I came to write the curriculum, I found the AC had been shut off, and hundreds of flies were all over our science wing. I finally traced them to the supply closet and found a bucket of sharks teeming with maggots! They had gotten in through that cracked lid and laid their eggs. Those preserved sharks already smelled vile, but add in maggots, and that smell is permanently embedded in my nightmares! I wound up duct-taping the lid shut and hauling the bucket out to the dumpster because everyone else was still on vacation, and I was no longer leaving that in the closet! I haven’t dissected anything since then.”
Humans are complex …
As a former middle grades teacher, finding random pieces of poop in our hallways was surprisingly not uncommon. Some of these, however, left us stunned!
“It wasn’t me who found it, but a student messed on himself and stuck it in the desk! This student made it a point to walk down the hall and shake his pants leg so his waste would fall out on the floor.”
“In the cubbies of my lab table, I found a Chromebook case. To see if there was a name on any of the papers (there wasn’t), I pulled out a new pack of nipple pasties/covers. I never did find out who owned that cover.”
“Well, it was while cleaning out the previous teacher’s desk … a pair of thongs in a ziplock bag.”
(We hope that’s their word for flip-flops!)
“Just last year, a wet booger! I was cleaning out a student’s desk with my bare hands. I stuck them into the back when I felt something cold and slimy on the end of my ring finger. Yup, fairly fresh too! I still gag when I think about it.”
I feel like some of these require a backstory and/or update! 😳
As teachers delve into the annual task of cleaning student desks, they can uncover many surprises. From the repulsive stench of spoiled milk to encounters with creepy-crawlies, desk clean-outs reveal the messy nature of humanity. Whatever it takes to create a safe, secure, and *clean-ish* learning environment, huh?