Thank you, Mr. Moran

Alicia BessetteLibrarians are gatekeepers of books and words. My fourth-grade teacher, Mr. Moran, played a similar role.

Every school day after recess, Mr. Moran walked on our desks. He stepped from desktop to desktop, reading aloud from A Wrinkle In Time or Little Women or James and the Giant Peach. After fifteen minutes or so, he would pause on a desk in the middle of the room, stop reading mid-sentence, gaze out the window, and close the book. We’d beg him to keep reading — to at least finish the sentence — but he liked to leave us hanging in suspense. We liked it too, because it gave us something to look forward to.

The year was 1984, when home recording devices were all the rage. Unfortunately for me and the other shy kids, Mr. Moran was a huge fan of incorporating audio-visual equipment into class assignments.

In the first such assignment, we each were to dress as a president, and report on his life. In front of the whole class, and a video camera.

I was terrified.

We drew names out of a hat. My president: Grover Cleveland.

On taping day, Mr. Moran asked for volunteers. Hands went up, and one by one every student (except me) dragged their props to the table in front of the chalkboard, looked into the camera, and gave their report.

Finally Mr. Moran scanned the room, saying, “Did we get everybody? Is there anyone who hasn’t gone yet?”

I sank deeper into my chair and picked a hangnail. I was going to get away with it! Then I peered up and saw Mr. Moran cross-checking his list.

Crap.

“Uh, President Cleveland?” he said. “Looks like you’re the last one.”

I sighed, pulled on my father’s old sports coat, stuffed a pillow up my shirt, and took my seat at the table.

It was the first time in my life I spoke into a microphone. It was horrible. Horrible. My face went completely red, my voice quavered, my hands trembled. I felt like crying. I almost did.

When I finished, Mr. Moran smiled and said, “You have a golden voice.”

It wasn’t true, of course. But I loved him for saying it.

In another assignment, we wrote five-paragraph short stories. And of course, one by one we read our completed stories into a microphone while the class — and Mr. Moran’s enormous video camera — looked on.

Now, I’d written poems and stories, but I’d never shared them with anyone. So this assignment was even more horrifying than the first.

In my story, a loquacious palomino named Goldie swept the narrator from a haunted attic to a deserted beach. Then, in a heartbreaking turn of events, Goldie sank into quicksand and was never seen (or heard from) again.

I read without taking my eyes off the paper. My voice was even shakier than when I impersonated Grover Cleveland. But I made it through.

After I said “the end,” Mr. Moran turned off the camera and nodded.

“Alicia, maybe you should try writing when you—” He shrugged. I think he was going to say, when you grow up. But instead he said, “Well, maybe you should just try writing.”

I’m sure my Goldie story didn’t indicate literary promise. Rather, Mr. Moran simply realized I was a desperately shy student with weak math skills and a vivid imagination, and maybe if he coaxed me in the right direction, I’d become braver.

And thanks to his coaxing, I found the confidence to attempt Watership Down that same year, even though a previous teacher categorized me an average reader. (It took me a year to read it, but hey, I did it.) Thanks to Mr. Moran, I continued to write — first as escape, and eventually, as communication.

Also because of him, I can recite “Stopping by woods on a snowy evening” by Robert Frost beginning to end, from memory (another video-recorded assignment).

Was there someone like that — someone who made stories and poems not only magical and accessible, but necessary — in your past? Perhaps a librarian or a teacher, a relative or some other adult, who brought words to life, and wielded much more influence over younger you than she or he might have realized?

~Alicia Bessette

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22 thoughts on “Thank you, Mr. Moran

  1. The summer before my 5th grade year we had just moved to Denver. To keep me busy my mom signed me up for a reading contest at the Denver Public Library. I discovered that books held all sorts of new worlds, people, adventures, etc. and I was hooked for life on reading. I read twice the number of books on the list. I won a certificate with a piece of ribbon on it and I remember wondering why the winning prize wasn’t a book.

  2. My elementary school librarian was a wonderful woman who celebrated everything about reading. I can’t remember her name and I don’t know where she is, but I hope she knows how much she influenced me.

  3. I sure hope Mr. Moran gets to read this. As a former high school English teacher, I can tell you that it would mean the world to him. Until you stand in front of students for an entire school year, you have no idea how hard good creative teachers work. If you care, it’s one of the hardest jobs in the world. I just did an author appearance at a local high school. Three hours. Went really well. But I was exhausted afterward. I asked Alicia, “How did I do this every day for seven years?” Good teachers are artists and they use extraordinary amounts of creative energy to create experiences such as what’s described above. Thank them every chance you get. It gives them much needed fuel! Also, I remember in elementary school we were often taken to the library and encouraged to ‘explore’ silently. We were supposed to walk around just looking at whatever books caught our eyes, and when we found a good one, we were supposed to sit down wherever we were and just read. Those hours hidden within the bookshelves were some of the best I’ve ever spent. I too forget the librarian’s name, but I remember her now as a wonderful and magical woman.

  4. About 5 years ago my high school class started a website. On this they had the email address of my 6th grade teacher. He was one of three teachers I had over the years who really made an impression on me. I emailed him and told him that and how much I appreciated being in his class. He wrote back and said he remembered me (40 years later) and thanked me. I was very pleased I had the opportunity to thank him. Good teachers are very much under-appreciated. (Would have loved having Q as a teacher.)

  5. Fourth grade! My favorite age group. I began my teaching experience with fourth grade. My two favorite teaching experiences were in fourth grade. It is the age between innocence and “animal!” My last fourth grade class, Burbank CA, had my James and the Giant Peach experience. By the time I let them go from the experience they had more of James than they ever anticipated. We did plays, poems, science lessons, math lessons, dioramas, etc etc etc. I was Cecile B. DeMille with a camera filming their presentations! I was recently located on Facebook by one of those students, Laura. She remembers:-))

  6. Beautiful story and hurrah for Mr. Moran!

    I’ve reconnected with one of my favorite teachers and thanked her in the acknowledgments of my book. She actually took me seriously as a nine-year-old (who even then wanted to be an author) and explained to me about “show, don’t tell.” I still remember that lightbulb turning on as I thought, “Wow, that IS better!”

    A good teacher is priceless.

  7. Mr. Steltz was the reason why I chose to teach. He was such a presence in front of the room. I loved how he read everything that he touched. I loved his passion for life and how he cherished his wife and family. For two years he served as a father to me. He just understood me when so many people did not. It made me realize how honorable the teaching profession can be. There are good teachers doing amazing things with young people every single day. If it weren’t for Mr. Steltz I wouldn’t be doing what I am doing today.

  8. I had very good teachers myself and now I try to give a bit of this feeling to my students.
    That means I always try to encourage them and develop their abilities in various activities, especially when they are shy.
    We have a lot of regional competitions for children who write poetry or stories and sometimes there are even winners from our school.
    There is an intensive cooperation with our city library and so we regularly do “silent exploring” in the library rooms (like Q said) and have authors at our school who introduce their books or talk to the students about literature. That’s always a great experience for our kids.So I hope they might remember something for life.

  9. For me it was Mr. Frank in the 5th grade – he told me I was a good writer, made me “editor” of our school newspaper and yearbook and let me read to my heart’s content! Mr. Frank is mentioned in the acknowledgments of my book. I tracked him down and sent him a copy. And got a lovely gift from him in return – a silver star-shaped paperweight that reads “Congratulations on Your First Book!”

    Alicia, I hope you can find Mr. Moran and tell him about your book. I’m sure he’d be thrilled.

  10. I love teachers who walk on desks… what a great way to get kids to listen. And we authors could learn a bit from his technique about closing a chapter and having the audience want more..

  11. my fourth grade teacher used to pull on people’s ears when they were bad. he didn’t inspire much interest in reading for some reason. but our library had a nice selection of Peanuts comics in library binding, so I studied those closely. otherwise, libraries overwhelmed me. plus, the Dewey Decimal system was all hype and then got taken away from us.

  12. I don’t remember the librarian in fourth or fifth grade, but I remember my homeroom teacher, who was also the language arts teacher. It was an open space school with no letter or number grades, just “comments” by the teachers on our report cards. Thus, I got away with doing little to no math or science those two years, but gained a huge love of reading and writing.

    My teacher (and I remember her name — Ann Wotipka at Foothill Elem. in Boulder, CO) would take us to the library several afternoons a week, lead us into the cozy reading corner with enough beanbag chairs for everyone wanted one, and read aloud to us. Joan Aiken’s The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is indelibly stamped in my memory, as well as several others. I’ve tried to find her over the years, but sadly, I never have. She was one of my greatest influences.

  13. In grade school we had “reading days” where all we did the entire school day was lay on the floor with a pillow and mat-and read. Those were my absolute favorite days!

  14. Mrs. Gosner, the children’s librarian for our town, amazed me. She read to us holding the book wide open, so we could see the pictures fully. To do that, she had to know the words by heart. I was in awe.

  15. Reminds me of the time my buddies and I did a video dramatization of a scene from Tom Sawyer, only to be chided by our English teacher for it being vaguely racist. Ummmm…yeah. It was Tom frickin’ Sawyer…

    It took us 3 days to shoot it and we thought it was awesome. How about a little slack?

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