Riding the South

The blog of Scott and Jenny Morris

By Jenny Morris

I start teaching reading again in one week with the beginning of fall semester. The possible reasons that my students test into a remedial college classroom are legion. But more than likely, they grew up in word-poor environments, and they for sure didn’t have Miss Moseley for fourth grade.

I was 10 years old that year and my memories of it bunch together like an overlapping collage. In our wall-less classrooms, there was the teacher who gave out candy, and the teacher who brought her guitar and sang The Carpenters’ “On Top of the World.” And there was Miss Moseley. I liked the candy, and the song still makes me smile, but Miss Moseley changed my life.

Looking back, I realize she must have been fresh out of Judson College when she arrived at Eastwood Elementary School. And she hadn’t been there long when I had her for homeroom and Language Arts.

Every day after lunch, Miss Moseley sat us on the floor in a circle, then read to us. She introduced us to the likes of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series, Elizabeth George Speare’s “The Bronze Bow” and Madeline L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time.”

My epiphany happened when students asked for her endorsement of their personal interpretations of the allegory in “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” She refused.

Her silence opened part of my brain, a part that filled with wonder. Miss Moseley wasn’t being nice or diplomatic by not choosing one student’s idea over the other. She wasn’t bereft of an opinion of her own. She was showing us — although not many of us noticed — that there are multiple ways to interpret literature. Some questions don't have just one answer.

Learning in Miss Moseley’s classroom was as much about asking the right questions as knowing any answers.

By fourth grade, I already devoured books on a daily basis like some people devour chocolate. But now books were as different as Godiva is to the Sixlets my sorority pledge sisters and I would sell in the halls of Decatur High School.

In a beautiful moment in my life — never mind the circumstances – Miss Moseley told me once I was worthy. In my younger world it was tantamount to hearing “well done thy good and faithful servant.”

Those are words I’m sure she’ll hear some day, but I hope not too soon. When the time came to finish the dissertation written for my degree in children’s literature, I dedicated it to her. I’m up to five readers now — if you count myself — and each of them sees her name and my feeble praise.

I can never do for my students what she did for me. But because of what she did for me, I’ll spend this fall semester trying.

Better than