The Day Flannery O’Connor Screwed Me

The Misfit

Image by haagenjerrys via Flickr

Someone really smart once said, “Kids seldom misquote; in fact, they usually repeat word for word what you shouldn’t have said.”

In fact, that person might actually have been sitting in my classroom the day I taught Flannery O’Connor‘s short story “A Good Man is Hard to Find” to a bunch of 11th graders.

I had taught the story dozens of times and found the simple premise and the unfulfilling ending always led to great discussions.

One particular day, I asked my students to take out their copies of the story. A simple directive, right? Only this time, my students started snickering.

Initially, I assumed that perhaps someone had farted or something.

(What? It happens.)

We started to discuss O’Connor’s work, and everything was going along swimmingly. I asked someone what he thought the point or message of the story might be.

Four or maybe five people burst out laughing.

I wondered if I had pit stains or if I was dragging toilet paper around behind me as I walked around the room.

I couldn’t figure it out.

The laughing flared up again. And again.

Finally I couldn’t take it anymore.

“Why is everyone laughing?” I demanded.

Silence.

Of course.

I insisted, “Seriously, I’d like to know what is so funny.”

One brave girl tried to help me. “Mrs. Jacobson,” she said, “The story is called ‘A Good Man is Hard to Find,’ but you keep calling it… something else.”

She pointed at the blackboard behind me.

I turned to look at the board and sure enough, I’d even written it out in chalk: “A Hard Man is Good To Find.”

Oh. My. Holy. Embarrassing.

And did I mention that I was about 6 months pregnant?

Well, I was.

So they were all thinking about how I had gotten it on with a “hard man” and it was “good.”

Or something like that.

Teachers have to be careful to watch what they say whether in the classroom or out in public, and I have found the best approach is to assume that everything I say could be published or broadcast to the world. That way, I have to be sure what I am saying is appropriate, clear and concise. And cannot be misinterpreted.

But sometimes I stick my foot in my mouth.

So I’m guessing I was heavily quoted that night.

Unless, of course, that batch of students forgot all about my faux-pas.

Because teenagers do that.

I mean, a lot of stuff happens between 7:50 AM and dinnertime.

In her short story, O’Connor goes to great lengths to show her readers how meaningless many of the small things we concern ourselves with are in the grand scheme of things: how many of the things that we fret over are really not very important at all.

I mean, obviously, in the larger scheme, there are many worse things than jostling up a few words in front of one’s students.

So maybe that moment was not very important.

I can buy that.

So why do I remember it so vividly?

And can somebody help make that memory go away?

Done anything wildly embarrassing recently? Anyone like to predict some dumb things I’ll probably do this semester?

55 responses to “The Day Flannery O’Connor Screwed Me

  1. I know I do these things, so why can’t I ever think about them when asked? If I can remember through the mortification, I’ll take a mental snapshot of the next such moment so I can recall it quicker.

    I can tell you my sister had a repeated (pornographic) slip of the tongue re: Reese’s pieces. (I should add this was well outside of pregnancy!)

    Rather than predicting, may I wish that the most embarrassing thing you do this semester is drag some toilet paper around on your foot for a bit?

  2. Well, that would make the follow-up of “Everything That Rises Must Converge” take on a new meaning, now wouldn’t it?😉

    I imagine that it endeared you to your students even more, as who doesn’t enjoy a good sexual innuendo from time to time? As for my own embarrassing situations, they happen every day and sometimes I blog about them. Sometimes I just try and forget…

    • “Everything That Rises Must Converge” — that’s the new slogan for Viagra, isn’t it? No? What?

      A good sexual innuendo “from time to time” would be great. I seem to always pick the wrong word from the word shelf. Sometimes, everything I say sounds naughty.

  3. Awesome mistake, Renee. And they’ll never forget Flannery O’Connor, that’s for sure.

    I mean, pointing out the sexual innuendo is one of the keys to making Shakespeare palatable to teenagers, right?

    Might as well hook ’em how and when you can.

    Of course, being six months pregnant REALLY sealed the deal…

    • Julie:

      See, even when you wrote: “hook ’em,” my brain immediately took that in as “hooker.”

      Do you think this could be an early (and as yet undiscovered) form of some strange disease? And if so, do you think it could get me out of doing laundry for the rest of me life?

      If so, I’m cool with this strange affliction.

      If not, I’ll just really have to keep working on the whole “not laughing out loud at myself” thing.

      Honestly, most of the time my students don’t seem to notice my naughty little goofs.😉

  4. Thanks for that post! I needed that chuckle before heading off to my 8th grade so-much-smarter-than-I-am students! I know I embarrass myself all the time, but my mind has an uncanny knack of self-preservation and I simply cannot remember my faux-pas from day to day. What a blessing! I wish you the same for the rest of the year.

  5. You like Flannery O’Connor?! I thought that was just a southern thing. I enjoy her work quite a bit. Larry Brown, who is another favorite, called Flannery O’Connor one of his greatest influences.

    Anything embarrassing recently? No. But only because a new puppy joined our family and I haven’t been out in public much. Your flub made me laugh, though. Thanks.

    • Catie! Keep in mind I did live in N’awlins for several years. But I must admit, I first learned of Flannery O’Connor in college. Her writings are so quirky. And how could a fledgling writer not love a female published writer named Flannery?

      Glad I made you laugh. I’m starting to think that’s why I was put here.😉

  6. Renee, I feel your pain! When I was Student Teaching for my Music Ed degree back in the 80’s, I thought I’d look pretty cool in the eyes of my 6th graders if I did a lesson on pop music. Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” was very popular at the time, and I thought discussing musical elements in the song would really win them over. As I finished writing the title on the board, giggles and laughter abounded! You guessed it…I wrote “Another One Bites the Bust”! So much for trying to look cool!

    • That is hilarious! “Another One Bites the Bust.”

      Knowing me, I would have writtten something equally embarrassing like “Another Bites the Butts.” Isn’t it nice to know you are not alone.😉

      Thank you for making me feel like less of a doofus.

  7. Hmmm… You seem to have what we in the field call “Gutteritis”. Or: One’s head lodged so firmly in the gutter you will always (and usually at inopportune moments) say something unintentionally vulgar. Sadly, there is no cure. On a plus note: Welcome to the club!

    I don’t think I’ve done anything WILDLY embarrassing recently… Nothing more embarrassing that usual anyway…

  8. So what? You were channeling Mae West–a very impressive skill!🙂

    I have done nothing embarrassing because I have given up taking myself seriously enough to be embarrassed. (I keep repeating this to myself aloud while I walk my dog and try not be embarrassed when people look at me strangely).😉

  9. That’s pretty funny. We all make those mistakes after standing in front of the classroom so much. Sounds like you made a real boner that day😉

  10. I embarrass myself all the time. Your moment is hilarious. Mine are usually because I forget someone’s name or am not focusing while I’m talking….I introduced myself at a party recently and in front of 10 other people the “lady” said, “We have already met at least 2 other times.” Oops. Looking back, she embarrassed herself…..Great post!

    • Susie:

      Oh puh-leeze, I do that all the time. I mean it’s gotten to the point that hubby and I have a secret non-verbal code. Because if I don’t recognize someone, it’s not good for anybody.

      But you are right, people who call others out and are unforgiving of our humanity, well… they are just kind of lame.😉

  11. I just recently had a day at work where I kept saying “well, you know what I mean!” I called people by the wrong name, couldn’t come up with the right names for different reports, I was just out of it all day. I chalk it up to lack of sleep. At least I had mostly forgiving adults and not teenagers to own up to. LOL

    • Jess:

      Believe it or not, I think teens are much more forgiving than adults. Plus teens have very short attentions spans.

      Squirrel!

      See, it’s gone. The whole lesson.

      Sorry about your “doofus” day. I hope it’s not because you’ve been hanging around this twit!😉

  12. Hilarious. I wouldn’t forget that either. A couple of years ago I was teaching ninth graders about the difference between static and dynamic characters. I knew they had read The Outsiders in Grade 7 so I said, “Remember Dally? He was hard throughout the entire novel.”

    Yup. Busted.

  13. One one of my accent video false starts, I was directing people to the links at the bottom of the post and said something like, “And if you want more, there is a whole lot of fun stuff down there!” while I was pointing down. I actually probably would have kept that in if the rest of that attempt had gone well, but my god, I was so dorky in that one and I refuse to save any record of it!

    My ESL classes offered more opportunity for embarrassment because the students were much more likely to ask personal questions than most of my American students tend to be. It was guaranteed, for example, that within the first week, one person would ask if I was married. So one day, I was introducing a topic for debate, and as I was finishing, I sat on the desk and asked, “So what do you think of that position?” A student said, “Oh, I like that position very much.” I actually blushed. I never blush, but I was bright red for several minutes. And I didn’t even say it!

  14. Yup – saw that coming.
    (As the actress said to the bishop.) It did cross my mind that you did it deliberately – apparently in all innocence – as a cunning technique to keep them interested. But you’d never be that shifty, would you?

    • Blackwater:

      I wish that I had a sharper wit and could dream up things like that to keep my students interested.

      Usually, it is an accident. I promise.

      But sometimes it is circumstance.

      Like having a pole in my room last year helped a lot.😉

  15. Hey I shared your story at lunch today and the girls loved it! Everyone can relate to embarrassing moments!

  16. Others before you have made the same Freudian switch. O’Connor’s title begs for it. I heard it years before you started teaching. Maybe it was Mae West. Mr. Spooner had his day with “Our queer old dean”. Shakespeare did enjoy word play and innuendo. What if he meant “Friends, Romans, Cuntrymen, lend me your rears.” Hey, you could start a contest for other tangled titles. “Sale of Two Titties,” maybe?

    My work includes explaining game rules. After I heard myself say “four players” and “her piece”, I am now careful to say, “four people” and “her playing piece”.

    Always enjoy your posts. Keep up the good word [sic]. — Kate

    • “Sale of Two Titties.”

      Oh. My. Gosh. Kate!

      See, some people are so good at those kinds of things. Like Leanne Shirtliffe (Ironic Mom). She can go to town with Shakespeare.

      But I can’t even think of one.

      Until I do. By accident. In front of people.

      Awk. Ward.😉

  17. Well now….. that’s just downright CLASSIC!!! I could visualize your frustration, as well as the students snickering…. oh to have been a fly on that wall!

    See – you make class fun and I presume dinnertime, as well!🙂

  18. Oh my goodness. AGAIN. I’m snorting wine through my nose, again! Love it.
    I for one cannot wait to read about what new dumb things you do this semester because they’re sure to be hysterical.
    Also, I’ve said it to Leanne, and now I’ll say it to you. Wish I’d had you as a teacher! ha ha

    • Elena:

      Well, Leanne and I are definitely dorky. I wonder if she drops things as much as I do.

      Maybe we should have someone film us, if for no other reason than to count the number of times we drop stuff.

      I bet I’d win there.😉

      PS: Sorry about the whole wine-snorting thing.

  19. One time I told my son`s kindergarten teacher that he repeated everything she said. She replied, “And children repeat everything you say too.”

  20. Thank you, I needed a laugh this morning. I make mistakes all of the time and I hear those giggles and often wonder what is so darn funny. Fortunately, we don’t read that story! I teach seventh grade and this is the thirteenth year of seventh grade – I honestly don’t which one is longer, the one I survived as a student or the one’s I get to teach. I suppose it depends on the batch of kids and how well (or not) we work together. I don’t have the slightest idea what you’ll do to embarrass yourself or what I’ll do, either. But, I do know one thing, my face’ll turn bright red when it happens!

    • Hey Clay! I’m glad you showed up! Get ready… I have something for you next Friday. I think you might hate me a little. But look for a pingback. Or stop by next week.

      I hope you are off to a great start. I have a good bunch this year. Very forgiving.😉

  21. I ROARED at this story! You can’t ever forget it; it’s hilarious.

    One of my more embarrassing moments was when I was 19 and went to the wrong house for my boss’s Christmas Eve party (the house next door), and no one noticed for about 15 minutes because they were also having a [small, elegant, grown-up] party. Finally I said, “I don’t think I’m in the right place. I don’t know any of you.” I’m sure they were laughing WITH me…

  22. Hilarious! If I knew how to make an embarrassed smiley face I’d post it here. Sorry you will likely take that memory to the grave!

  23. You did Freud proud! 🙂

  24. Oh man! Better you than me on that one. I embarrassed myself today (like every other day). We picked a puppy from a rescue shelter. I’ve had dogs for fifty-five years and when we told them we wanted the male dog (afraid our female would have issues with another female) we took a peek under the hood and I pronounced the puppy in my arms a male. Fortunately, the lady who was helping us concurred.

    We carried the puppy to the office, filled out paperwork, and when we stopped by to speak to the director on the way out she said, “Are you certain that is the male?” It wasn’t.

    Fortunately, we had already held the sibling puppies and Rick preferred the one who was actually male. I scratched my head and wondered why I had made such a simple error. It turns out I’m not comfortable checking out stranger’s thingines and because I was pressured to do so, I panicked.🙂 Of course, this means I also know the answer to your question about why the memory of your faux pas remains so vivid. If I had been one of your students I would still remember. You accidentally created A CLASSIC!

    • I like the idea of creating an “accidental classic.”

      Perhaps I can be more gentle with myself if I think part of my job description as being a person who is responsible for creating “accidental classics” on a near daily basis.😉

  25. Saw Flannery O’Conner at Miami Book Fair do a reading. 1985 I think. Saw Dave Barry and Garrison Keillor there too-my humor heroes along with Mark Twain.

    • Carl, according to Wikipedia:

      O’Connor completed more than two dozen short stories and two novels while battling lupus. She died on August 3, 1964, at the age of 39, of complications from lupus, at Baldwin County Hospital and was buried in Milledgeville, Georgia, at Memory Hill Cemetery.

      O’Connor was an only child.

      Perhaps you saw some hot librarian reading of her stuff.

      Or perhaps you were ‘shrooming?😉

      I’ve heard Garrison Keillor read. I hadn’t really been a fan until I heard him read. Live performance can add so much to a piece of literature.

  26. Hilarious! I had quite a good laugh reading this!

  27. Oh my, I laughed so hard at this! It’s excellent. When I was in high school – and my high school was BIG, like 4000 students- there was a US history teacher who was trying to say “organism” and said, you guessed it, “orgasm”. Twenty + years later I still laugh about it, and it wasn’t even my class.

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