Inspiration

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I just read a Facebook post from a friend who was crediting her sister (wonderful picture of the two of them!) for inspiring her in her work.

I immediately thought of Martha. Martha MacDermott. She was a consultant at the school where I did my internship. Our director had trained at Xavier in Cincinnati, where she was on faculty.

You can see Martha above, laughing. This is how I remember her. This is a celebration of her, so in the larger picture below, you can see the bagpiper celebrating her Scottish upbringing. Her speaking was even more intriguing because of her lovely accent.

Montessori herself was an intimidating, inflexible person, it seems. You had to be, to be a woman with a powerful international presence at the turn of the century. Look at Margaret Thatcher, 50 years later! And Martha was also tough, but it was always clear that she was only telling you what she knew to be true, and that she was always on the side of clarity for the children. She wanted children to understand, and to love what they were learning, as she did. This was so obvious.

In the above video, Martha tells that she started her training in London, in 1958. This was just at the beginning of the Montessori “revival” in the US, so, soon after, she came here to mentor many new schools.
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I have many “Martha stories”, and I love telling them. It is wonderful to have a new place to tell them:) My staff and children will be so pleased, that I am not telling them, again!

1) Martha comes, and it is her 60th birthday. She does the “walk around the sun”, and does it by decades, after giving a lovely lesson on counting by 10s with the bead materials. Then, instead of telling us a story for each year, or decade, she sat and told us (3-6 class) about a birthday she spent in an air-raid shelter during the London Blitz. Not a sound was heard, as all the children watched her face.

2) All the teachers are watching Martha give a variation of the checkerboard (Montessori multiplication lesson). The boy, with whom she is working (aged 7 or so), is intrigued by being the center of attention, and starts to make himself belch on command. Fascinating! What will Martha do? She stops, and puts her hands in her lap until he is brought up short and looks at her. She asks, quietly: “Do you know who I am?” He stammers: “Well, yes, you are Martha!” She answers, with delight: “Yes! And I am also someone who very much wants to do this lesson with you today. Will you do it with me?” Lesson continues from there, with great appreciation from both participants.

3) Martha comes, and tells the children (3-6) all the stages of her trip, from leaving her apartment to getting on plane to fly to Charlotte, to driving to Boone, with all the stops on the way. The children are riveted.

4) A 3 year old watches Martha and an older child do the entire 50 piece US puzzle map. She obviously loves it, and, when it is put back, goes and gets it, and falls, scattering all the pieces. Instead of telling her that it is too big for her, and that she has made a mess (reading out of my own script), Martha looks in the face of crying Lou and says: “We can fix this together.” The she helps Lou match the pieces to the control map by color: “Which color shall we do next?” This all takes about an hour, during which Martha does not look annoyed, or like she would rather be doing more important work. When I asked her later why she did not name the states as they put them in the puzzle (cramming in information was always in the back of my mind), she answered: “That was not what drew her to the work, and she has plenty of time to learn them. She was having a sensorial experience with the shapes of the pieces.”

5) My daughter adored Martha, and wanted to write her letters. As a 5 year old, they were brief, and had invented spelling. Martha answered each one, with stories from her day.

Martha said, “Maria started a new conversation on the planet for the possibility of children and it will never be completed.” Thus, the Montessorian’s job continues.

I am striving every day to see children as Martha did.

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