5th Grade English Teacher “Willing To Die” To Teach Hatchet
Linda Watterman has been a fifth grade English teacher at Sun Crest Elementary School for forty years. At age 68, she is at higher risk of death and serious illness should she contract COVID19, the disease sweeping the country.
Then again, she says, “the students watching me wither away from a preventable virus will certainly be a teachable moment.” She smiles, before raising her voice.
“Hatchet is a great novel for kids about a kid with a hatchet, and if I have to fucking die teaching the moral lessons of that novel, I’m prepared.”
Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen, was published in 1986 to great acclaim. The book won a Newbery Award, and a movie adaptation was made in 1990. The story of a boy’s survival in the wilderness with nothing to aid him but the titular tool soon became a mainstay in classrooms across the country, including Watterman’s. It has sold millions of copies to date.
“It was right before the Harry Potter craze,” says Suzie Benche, chair of the National Association for Young Adult Literature. “The book was a great way of introducing kids to the idea that hey, you know, you could crash into a lake and everyone dies but you and you only have a hatchet and what then?”
Watterman’s been teaching the novel for decades. Assignments over the years have included written reports, field trips to national parks, simulated plane crashes as well as “more creative” tasks like making your own hatchet and trying to escape the school after being locked inside.
As the coronavirus races through American communities, many of the most experienced and celebrated classroom teachers — who often are at risk due to age — are worried about what the future will bring.
“My colleagues in the department are talking about retiring or striking to save lives, but I guess I’m just old school,” says Watterman, speaking. “I just think about Johnny Hatchet, the main character of Hatchet. And how he only had a hatchet. And he made it, right? So why the heck can’t we survive this plague? Maybe Hatchet is our hatchet.”
Student reaction has been mixed. “I don’t want Mrs. W to die,” says Zach Gildean, 10. “But I wanna find out what the kid will do with the hatchet, and I really don’t want to wait six months to find out.”
Glenda Elwood, who insists she is 11 despite clear evidence that isn’t until next week, disagrees. “I definitely think we should cancel school because it sucks and other governments are preparing their students for the digital future and we are still sitting around with our dumb butts out because we are addicted to a false idea of individuality and freedom from responsibility that has no relevance in an increasingly connected world.”
As of press time, Sun Crest Elementary insists it will open “on time” in late August.
“Teachers like Mrs. W are what make this school great. We are so excited to have students accidentally kill her and struggle with feelings of guilt for the rest of their lives,” says Superintendent Dr. Richard Garcia via Zoom.