Who Wouldn’t Love a Talking Pig?
There are conflicting reports about my reading abilities as a youngster. My dad says all I asked to do when I was young was read. My mother says I didn’t want to read and will tell anyone who will listen that I couldn’t read when I went to Kindergarten, as if it is some sin of which I can’t be absolved. The only thing I can say with any certainty is I loved to read after third grade.
My third grade teacher, Mrs. Spurgeon, was a throwback to a different time. When I had her in 1984, I was confident she was at least 85, when in fact she couldn’t have been more than 50 or 55. She was “Mrs. Claus” with yard stick and a West Virginia accent. She meant business. Her career started in the 40’s in a one room school house, where she had perfected a loving nature, mixed with just enough grumpiness to keep the wild boys in our class in line.
The reason I remember her so vividly, when the memory of so many of my other elementary teachers has faded, is her art for reading a story. Over the course of the school year, I imagine she read us hundreds of chapter books and short stories but by far my fondest memory comes from her reading of E.B. White's Charlotte’s Web. She had a voice for every character, which brought them to life. We read a chapter everyday, and I looked forward to the time after lunch when we gathered on the “reading rug” to hear the next adventure of Fern, Wilbur, and Charlotte. I have read the book no less than 30 times. I still hear her voices.
Mrs. Spurgeon died in 2007. The picture in her obituary showed she had changed little since 1984. Her passing caused me to reflect on her teaching and what I learned from her class. I realized that I learned a lot about being a good teacher from her. Successful teachers know when to be a warm-hearted “Mrs. Claus” and when to use their “yard stick” to teach students the important lesson that their success is based on their choices. But more importantly than that, I learned from Charlotte’s Web what it means to be a good friend. I imagine that is what she wanted us to get from the book - that and a lifelong love for talking pigs. Fortunately, I got both.