My son and I went to a memorial service the other night. On the outside, the funeral home looked like any other, but we opened the door to the sound of children. They were quiet, in respect, as you would expect Montessori students to be. But they were full of energy, and the place fairly buzzed with it. Adults stood nearby, present but not hovering, as you would expect Montessori parents to do, trusting their children.
It didn’t show on the outside, but the children were likely dealing with confusion and sadness on the inside. Their teacher, Francis Wallace, Miss Francis, was in the classroom with them just weeks ago, and now had died of an illness, very recently diagnosed. Hospice followed, and her death, all within days.
The outside signs of the grief of the community were easy to see – small white flags in the ground outside the school to represent the 500 students she taught in her 35 years there; others at the memorial service signed by her current students.
Two of her sisters, one from Ireland and one from Spain, were there. Her younger sister spoke of their childhood play – Francis was the teacher and she the perpetual student.
The fifth of eight children, Francis entered Montessori training. At the end, she surveyed all the open positions in the U.S., and chose Joliet Montessori School. For the next 35 years, she offered her unblinking attention to her students, and displayed trust in their innate curiosity. One of her long-time colleagues and friends shared that the school was where she belonged. She was not interested in being lured away by other offers.
Every day, she showed confidence that her students could learn what they were ready to learn.
She wasn’t much for competitive sports, instructing the pitchers to throw balls that could be hit. She wasn’t much for courting prospective parents, preferring to get back to her students.
My son, now in his thirties, was one of her students, beginning in her fifth year; my daughter her student three years later. We credit her with their excellent start, and lifelong traits of curiosity and exploration.
One life, one mission, simply carried out, over too soon.
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