|The Pig's Bladder
© Copyright 2002 by Jacquie McTaggart
Most of us have had the good fortune of spending time with at least one very special teacher. The special teacher creates memories for the mind, laughter for the soul, and love for the heart. The special teacher enriches a student's life, and is never forgotten. I think Special Teachers may have their own little room in heaven. There might even be a chalkboard above the door with a message that reads, "Reserved for Friends of Kids."
Ironically, I was never a member in the class of the lady whom I regard affectionately as my special teacher. Instead, I was her colleague. In 1968 I was living in Independence, Iowa with my husband and two young sons. I had just completed my tenth year of teaching first grade when I decided to go into "temporary retirement" and become a stay-at-home mom.
Just as the new school year was about to begin, one of the third grade teachers resigned unexpectedly. The superintendent called me and said he was desperate. He needed a third grade teacher to start the following Monday! Would I please consider coming back to teach for one more year? (Unlike today, there was not a mile-long line of elementary teachers waiting for a job.)
Although my "retirement" had been in effect for less than three months, my feet were itching to get back in the classroom. I missed the sound of chalk squeaking on the blackboard and 30 kids asking questions on thirty different topics - all at the same time! After about five seconds of deliberation, I told the superintendent that I would take the job. Silently, I wondered what in the world I would do with kids who already knew how to read. Because my entire teaching experience had been with five and six year olds, I didn't have the foggiest notion about where to start or what to do with "big" kids.
Enter Mrs. Hatfield. Mrs. Hatfield was somewhat older than I in calendar years, but light years younger in spirit and vivaciousness. She was the teacher every third grader hoped for, and every parent requested. She expected high achievement from her students, and she got it. She treated her kids with respect, and in return she earned theirs. She saw beauty in nature and felt a responsibility to protect that gift. She passed her beliefs on to her students. She believed every child could learn, and she exerted extra effort to make it happen.
After reading a Mary Ingalls Wilder book to her students, Mrs. Hatfield would help them share Laura's experiences through engagement in a hands-on activity. Each year she took her kids to a nearby farm to observe the task of making soap from animal fat and lye. She brought a churn to school and watched as the kids made butter. She obtained real cream from a farmer, and the children made ice cream. She helped her students make candles by repeatedly dipping a wick into melted paraffin. After Mrs. Hatfield received a call about some antique candle molds that had been discarded at the town dump, her students made two types of candles - just like Laura's family did. Laura's family made apple leather for their nutritional sustenance on journeys away from home. Mrs. Hatfield's kids made apple leather for fun. Year after year Mrs. Hatfield drove to a neighboring community to purchase a pig's bladder. With the custodian's assistance she would inflate the bladder, secure it with a string, and Viola. Her students had a "balloon" just like the one Laura played with. (The kids' squeals were as loud as the animal that produced the bladder.) She annually invited guest artisans to her room to demonstrate the washing, carding, and spinning of wool.
The "mountain-top" experience for Mrs. Hatfield's students was the annual puppet show. Each spring the students selected a fairy tale or a Punch and Judy episode and developed it into an "invitation-only" Puppet Show. Each child chose the character he wanted to portray, and then set about making his puppet. Puppet heads were fashioned from a sawdust, glue, and water combination. After several days of drying, each kid painted his puppet and applied hair - yarn, fabric, corn silk, or pasta! Some wore glasses. A few had hats. Others were adorned with earrings. Each child's imagination dictated his finished product. The kids used their recess periods and noon hours to work on their puppets. (Mrs. Hatfield was adamant about not eliminating real learning strictly for the purpose of having fun.) Mrs. Hatfield's husband built a puppet theatre - and the kids practiced their lines. They designed and made clothing for their puppets - and then they practiced their lines. They wrote and delivered invitations - and they practiced their lines some more.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity to the students, production day arrived. Every parent, grandparent, student, and teacher valued the privilege of watching "The Greatest Show on Earth." It was impossible to discern which group had the most fun - the producers or the audience. After the final presentation each student took his puppet home and tucked it away in a very special place. A place that was warm and dry and filled with beautiful memories.
Mrs. Hatfield is my Special Teacher because of her willingness to take me by the hand and share her wisdom with me. She was my mentor and my friend. She was (and continues to be) an inspiration not only to me, but to all those whose lives she has touched.
This admirable lady continues to teach, but in a different
way. As a victim of Parkinson's disease, she now demonstrates how to accept
the bad and savor the good. It is a valuable lesson that is being taught
by a Special Teacher.
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