A Face in the Crowd 

Maria Montessori, developer of the popular educational model that bears her name, is no longer with us. But her spirit is alive and well within the walls of the Montessori Centre, which Catherine McTamaney directs. McTamaney has devoted much of her educational career—sometimes unwittingly—to the Montessori method, which stresses the development of a young child’s own initiative. “My first teaching gig was as an English and history teacher at Hunters Lane High School,” she says. “I was there for almost two years before realizing that I was trying to do Montessori with high schoolers.” Not that that was a bad thing: Her efforts made her one of the most popular teachers there, and she won the state’s First Class Teacher of the Year award in 1997. She says that the key to teaching young children is realizing that every interaction with them is meaningful. “There is no difference between 'education programming’ and anything else when you’re working with young children,” she says. “Once you’ve put yourself in that mind-set, and realize that every action and word a child is exposed to becomes a part of how that child understands the world, it raises the bar.” While it’s great for kids to be reading by age 4, she says it’s more important for teachers to respect their childhood and understand how kids learn. “People either say that Montessori is far too rigid and teacher-directed or that it’s far too free and child-directed,” McTamaney says. “In actuality, it should be a perfect balance of both....” Appropriate to the Montessori philosophy of lifelong learning, McTamaney is a doctoral student at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College—in addition to being involved in cultural and community organizations around her adopted town. It’s clear when she opens her mouth that McTamaney wasn’t raised here, but she nevertheless loves Nashville—a place where “I can do the work that speaks to my heart without giving up the occasional fabulous pair of shoes.”

—By Roger Abramson

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