Think of one of the filthiest words you could call a woman. Now, imagine an 11-year-old saying that word to you. Picture it again, only this time with the knowledge that the 11-year-old has no idea what he has just said to you and is simply asking what he considers to be a perfectly innocent question. Welcome to the first of many “fix your face” moments in teaching.
It was my second year of teaching middle school English, and I was having one of those drowning days. I was way behind in my grading and exhausted. I walked in that morning and decided that my students and I could use a “catch up” day, so I fired up the overhead projector and scribbled out some directions.
Read chapters 2 and 3. Write the main event of each chapter.
Not my proudest teaching moment, but I think we all can identify.
First period had done beautifully. Quiet little angels compliantly reading their novels and taking their notes. Second period was proving to be more of the same. I verbalized the directions for them, clarified any questions they had, and then went back to my desk to sip my tea and work on my grading. Next thing I know a figure appears next to me. One of the quietest students I have ever taught (literally someone you have to lean forward to hear even when he’s shouting) had approached my desk.
“Ms. M, I have a question.”
“Well, I don’t understand the directions on the board.”
“What do you mean?” They were pretty straightforward, and this was a GT class. C’mon kid. I sipped my tea.
“Well, we’re supposed to identify the major cunts of each chapter?” NEAR SPIT TAKE.
Did he just say what I think he said?! My mind starting racing trying to figure out what in the world would prompt this super sweet and painfully shy student to utter that word to me. I quickly glanced up to the projected directions.
Now, something you might need to understand about me is my handwriting is bad. I mean really, really bad. Atrocious, even. I probably should have gone into medicine or something instead of a profession which often relies on my ability to communicate with children through the written word. One time when I was getting a new driver’s license the woman processing my application asked if I wanted to re-do my signature because it was so illegible. You might be able to see where I’m going with this…
I looked at the screen and zeroed in on the word “events.” Sure enough, my “e” looked like a “c.” My “v” looked like a “u” and the second “e” had somehow turned into a flourish of the pen right before the “t” at the end of the word. I had ostensibly written “C You Next Tuesday” for display to a room full of sixth graders.
“Events…that says events.”
“Oh ok. Now I get it. Thank you.” And back to his seat.
Once I recovered from my shock and slight embarrassment, I realized I had a decision to make. Do I immediately correct the issue before another student (one who might be a little worldlier) notices? Or, do I take a risk for the next two periods until lunch when I can parade my mistake around to some of my closest colleagues for a likely needed laugh at my expense?
I’ll let you draw your own conclusion and leave you with this simple question: what would you have done?