This June, after 17 years of teaching at Plymouth Meeting Friends School and an almost 40-year teaching career, much beloved teacher Martha Wolf retired from teaching. Martha is known for her warmth and sense of humor, her vast knowledge of child development and advocacy for young children, and her deep respect for each child who has crossed her path. Most who have known her at PMFS think of her as the anchor of the Pre-Kindergarten program, a program she created when she first began teaching at PMFS. Under Martha’s care, three- and four-year-olds developed their social-emotional and literacy skills, practiced their early mathematical thinking, spent a lot of time exploring and playing in the natural world just outside their door, and had their growing sense of independence and self-advocacy nurtured. Martha also served as a valuable mentor to several assistant teachers who then went on to lead their own early childhood classrooms.
In her final year of teaching, Martha moved out of the Pre-K and returned to the very first grade she ever taught… First Grade! She welcomed the chance to reengage with a slightly older age group, incorporating her early childhood expertise into her work with six- and seven-year-olds and the First Grade curriculum. When PMFS switched to online learning this past Spring, Martha continued to bring her grace and passion to her work, often staying up late at night, determined to bring her students the best experience possible. As she moves into this next chapter of her life, she has promised to stay connected to the PMFS community, and we are going to hold her to that.
Read on to learn more about Martha’s impact on the PMFS community, as shared by her colleagues and parents of children she has taught:
“Martha is an incredibly dedicated person full of knowledge, resources and experience that clearly does not go unnoticed, especially during this time when parents had the chance to experience ‘a day in the life’ of our kids in class. Everything she taught had a meaning. We knew she was always caring and passionate about teaching our children, and we certainly saw so much creativity and fun in everything she did. My child was extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to spend this year with her, and the PMFS family will surely miss her sweet and loving smile.”
“Martha’s mark on her students is palpable, even as they graduate PMFS. You can see their sense of community and being a team, their ability to work together, their creativity as learners. The foundation of these qualities began in Pre-K with Martha. She never hesitated to have them play in mud, snow, or with bugs. They were taught to embrace all elements of nature. Martha taught all three of my children with great love and flexibility for their vastly different needs. She respected each of them for who they were, as I know she did with all of her students. Martha did things like actively seek toys, materials, and books that reflected the diversity of her students in all ways. There was a celebrated and affirming space for every student in her classroom and my children certainly felt that.”
“My child loved how honest Martha was, how she talked to the kids about hard stuff and silly stuff. He loved her idea that you need to make 15 mistakes a day in order to grow and learn.”
“Our three children all had the great fortune to have Martha for Pre-K. Martha created a classroom that made them excited to go to school every day. They learned things like how to write their name, and even more important things about how to be a good friend and member of the community. We will be forever grateful for everything that Martha has done to provide a foundation for their love of school and of learning.”
“We are fortunate as a family that my son was able to experience the love and joy in learning that is Martha. I’ve listened to many Zoom lessons when Martha took each question and sometimes quirky answer and validated that child’s curiosity each time, turning it into an experience to learn from each other and to dig deeper. This happened with topics from the birds they kept watch over on the live webcam, to discussing the social injustices that people in our country face. There’s much more to be said, but I am just thankful that my son was a part of her special experience this year.”
“Martha was such a wonderful First Grade teacher for our son. I will always be grateful for her telling the kids that if they didn’t make 15 mistakes a day, then they aren’t learning. A year later, I still return to that with him often. She is kind, immensely thoughtful, and loving. Congratulations on a well-deserved retirement. We love you!”
“For us, Martha was the gateway to the magic that is Plymouth Meeting Friends School. She embodies so much that is essential about the school. I thought I knew something about the importance of play-based early childhood education before I met Martha, but she showed me that it is a sophisticated practice which can be honed through decades of knowledge and skill. I was blown away when I first heard her talk about her teaching practice and hearing her talk about her passion and expertise inspired me to be a better teacher.”
“She knew each of my kids so deeply, loved them as unique individuals and helped me know them and appreciate their strengths even more. She has been such a gift to the school and to our family. We will miss her so much at Plymouth Meeting Friends and I am sad that future students and parents won’t experience her unique teaching and love, but hope that she will find bigger, broader ways to share everything that she knows and embodies beyond PMFS.”
“In the Pre-K classroom, Martha worked to empower her students to recognize that they can be a part of finding a solution to a problem. A question that she frequently asks is ‘How can you fix it?’, encouraging her students to be fixers and helpers throughout the day. It’s one of those things that might seem small, but is actually fundamental to the PMFS program. This simple, well-posed question sets the stage for so many important aspects of a child’s sense of self and wellbeing by giving each child the message that they are capable and resilient.”
“Working with the very young is the hardest teaching there is. It embodies everything that all teachers try to do, need to do, attempt to do. It takes a special person to do this. And it takes a unique and committed visionary to maintain this for years on end. Martha worked a long time at Plymouth. She also worked for many years in other places – always with early childhood. She has spent her life looking into the eyes of her students on their level. Martha bridges the heart of the very young and sees them as the adventurers, explorers, intellectuals, creators and change-makers that they are.”
“Martha shines life and love into her students each and every day with each and every one in their each and every way. She has done this through the years with care, patience, and dedication. She is a humble hero of early childhood education. She has shown us each and every day in each and every way what teaching and education are all about.”
“As a new faculty member, I met Martha in August as I set up the library space. Martha immediately made me feel welcome with her friendliness and warm smile. She was the person I would talk to if I had questions, if I was seeking a second opinion on some aspect of curriculum, or if I just needed to converse with someone for a moment who was over the age of 12. Her generous spirit and her love for her students was obvious. I wish her many adventures in retirement.”
“I have always looked up to Martha as a parent and a teacher! Her teaching was filled with insightful Ideas and logical approaches to difficult situations. It has been my pleasure to have worked with her for many years, and I’m so happy for her as she embarks on this new stage of her life. She will surely be missed.”