Friday, March 20, 2009

Total Embarrassment

It happened today- that definite moment every teacher dreads.  The moment, the instance, you make a complete and utter fool of yourself in front of a classroom full of young impressionable students.  The moment you say something or do something that the whole school will talk about for years.  It will be mentioned in graduation, class reunions, emails, phone calls, and even perhaps my funeral service. 

Today we began our look at e. e. cummings (if you wonder why I refuse to capitalize his name, you've apparently never read his works).  We breezed through a brief biography to wet the student's appetites then jumped right into Grasshopper (or r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r).  

The second poem we read was called Somewhere I've Never Traveled.  It's one of his better known love poems.  I read it through once, then asked the students to read it a second time, picking out the line they felt best crystalized the work.   One of my guys pointed out the first line in the second stanza.  I read the line loudly for all the class to hear. 

It reads like this: 

your slightest look will easily unclose me though i have closed myself as fingers,

However, this is what I said:

your slightest look will easily unclothe me . . . 

Yes. Really.  That's what I said.  The class sucked in an audible gasp, and my face shown crimson.  Had I really just said what I thought I just said?  The look of horror on the faces of twenty-five 9th and 10th graders said, "Yes, you just said that Mr. Kistler."  

I've been mixing up my words all week, and I've blamed every mistake on the Nyquil I've been taking, but I didn't sip any sweet stuff today.  So I'll just blame it on cummings strange choice of syntax.  

The gaffe only began a more embarrassing series of unfortunate events.  After the gasp came the unavoidable laughter.  The class erupted.  This was something they'd mention in the halls, on the bus, and certainly at tonight's dinner table.  

"Mom, you won't believe what Mr. Kistler said in class today!"

Years of building a reputation forserious academic instruction would be forgotten in a moment.

"He said, 'With the slightest look you will easily unclothe me'." 

Even as I thought about that I prayed they'd put the statement in context.  

Yes, the class erupted, and after a moment I erupted with them.  I couldn't hold back the laughter.  I couldn't believe what I'd said.  I bent over double, both arms crossed in front of me.  Then, somehow adding to the moment, I lost control.  I've seen this happen before, but I've never actually experienced it.  I COULDN'T STOP LAUGHING.  I was physically unable to stop.


My best memory of this happening to some other poor slob was when my father led our little Pittsburgh church in singing, "My Jesus, I Love Thee."  Through a mistake in timing he actually sang (and I quote here), "And say when the death doo-doo lies cold on my brow . . ."  Please avoid that mental picture.  

So, I lost it.  I laughed and laughed more.  This, as you can guess, caused my students to laugh harder.  Soon tears flowed down my cheeks, and I had to excuse myself to the hallway.  This only served to get the attention of the class next door which couldn't decide if I'd suffered a long awaited breakdown or was using some strange demonstration to teach my lesson.  

When I finally walked back into the classroom there was almost complete silence.  The students, who have never witnessed anything close to this weren't sure what to expect.  I kept my composure, walked to the box of Kleenexes, and wiped the tears off my face.  Then I turned to the class and said,  "I'm so sorry."  

Then I lost it again.  

Then the class lost it again.  

Then tears of laughter streamed down my face again.  

After a few minutes I was able to pull myself together enough to ask a student to read our next poem. By the time she had finished class was over.  I don't know that a single student actually heard a word she was reading.  

As my class walked out here were a few of the comments I overheard. 

"I'm never going to forget this day!"

"I should memorize that poem so I can tell everyone about it."

"Have you ever seen Mr. Kistler's face turn so red?"

"I wish I had a camera so we could put that on YouTube!"

"My parents are going to think that's hilarious!"

So ended the moment all teachers dread.  I suppose that if I only do that once ever seven years I'll be doing alright.  Now I wonder what Monday's class will bring.  


phasejumper said...

Funny story! (It's no fire, but still funny!) My favorite e.e. cummings poem is "i thank you God for most this amazing". I memorized it in freshman speech class and can still remember it!

Keara said...

oh Ken - this story makes so much more sense now...

TwoMuths said...

oh I am laughing. my aching sides.

MJ said...

OH... MY.... GOSH! this is the funniest thing i've heard all day. i can just PICTURE this happening! why couldnt you do something like this last year??? hahaha!