Sounds good, I thought.
We’re transferring you to another class, they swore.
But over the summer my parents forgot their concerns and when school resumed that September, there I sat in Mrs. Geyser’s fourth grade class at Horace Hawes Elementary in Redwood City, California.
Now many years have passed since then, and I’ve taken hundreds of classes with hundreds of teachers. None, however, have had the impact of Mrs. Geyser. Why?
She was the teacher who taught me the joy of reading.
The first day of class she announced that every afternoon after lunch we would have reading time. Every day, we groaned? Couldn’t it be every other day, we tried negotiating, with arts and crafts in between? Mrs. Geyser held firm. She had selected the Laura Ingalls Wilder's “Little House” series, she informed us. We would begin with the first book “Little House in the Big Woods” and by June would conclude with “These Happy Golden Years.”
Happy schmappy. This was going to be a long year.
And so it was that every day after the lunch bell rang, Mrs. Geyser came out in the yard to collect those of us reluctant to give up our game of dodgeball or hopscotch. We would grudgingly troop in, sweaty, hyperactive, and out of breath. We would plop in the chairs behind our wooden desks and heave a sigh of frustration over the boring fifteen minutes that lay ahead. And midst a roomful of rowdy children twitching from Ho-Ho and Ding-Dong sugar highs, Mrs. Geyser would sit behind her desk and take out the dreaded book.
“Rest your heads,” she instructed us, “and close your eyes.” Then, ignoring our giggles, snorts and whispers, Mrs. Geyser would begin reading.
At first we were restless. Indifferent. Guffawing, giggling, passing notes and kicking the desk in front of ours for no reason other than the sheer pleasure of being bratty. The kinds of behaviors children absolutely excel at.
But over time something funny started to happen. Each day when the lunch bell rang, fewer stragglers remained on the playground. We were discovering that the last round of tetherball wasn’t quite as exciting as learning what happened when Mary Ingalls went blind from scarlet fever or when Pa Ingalls met a bear in the woods. The day finally arrived when the lunch bell actually found Mrs. Geyser’s fourth grade class sitting attentively at our desks, wiggling in our seats with excitement. We’re all here, we eagerly informed her. Could she begin reading now? Please? We simply had to learn what happened when the swarm of locusts descended upon the Ingalls' farm and threatened to destroy their crops. Obediently we laid our heads on our arms and closed our eyes as she read to us about the Ingalls family latest hardship, antic, or endeavor.
Reading time soon became the most anticipated moment of our day. On special days, if we were particularly good, Mrs. Geyser read beyond the fifteen minutes. So enthralled was I of the “Little House” books, I sought out our school library, which beforehand I had no idea even existed, and read the entire series ahead of time. And there, in the library, I discovered hundreds of other books waiting to be read. The Egypt Game! Black and Blue Magic! The adventurous Nancy Drew and those brilliant Hardy Boys! A whole new world had opened up, thanks to Mrs. Geyser.
On a warm June day, on the last day of class she kept her word and finished reading the final chapter of the final book where Laura Ingalls marries Almanzo Wilder. The entire class was spellbound, barely daring to breathe. We didn’t want to miss one single word until Mrs. Geyser closed the book and dramatically announced, “The end.” And then it was over: our beloved “Little House” books and our school year with Mrs. Geyser.
Decades later, I fondly remembered Mrs. Geyser when I purchased “Little House in the Big Woods” for my niece, Meggie, who was seven at the time. Recalling my teacher’s soothing voice, we snuggled on the sofa and I read to her the way Mrs. Geyser had once read to us. Meggie was enthralled. One day she phoned me.
“Aunt Elly,” she crowed, “I already finished the book you gave me! She continued breathlessly, “Mommy says she’ll take me to the bookstore right now if you tell me which Laura book to buy next.”
Shivers of delight crept down my spine when she added, “I’m saving my allowance so I can buy other books too.”
My niece was embarking on the same love affair with reading that I have. A love that was nurtured because of a teacher like Mrs. Geyser.
And as Meggie chattered on about which books she wanted to read next, I couldn’t help but have the same thought I’ve had a million times before:
How grateful I was that my parents forgot to transfer me from Mrs. Geyser’s fourth grade class.