Marveling at Miss Marti Class act: Teaching preschool reaps lots of love, but requires even more energy.

April 29, 1996|By Maryalice Yakutchik | Maryalice Yakutchik,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

"Miss Marti " Tentative. "Miss Marti?" Questioning. "Miss MARTI." Protesting. "MISS MARTI!!" Tattling. "Miss Marti!" Greeting.

The preschool teacher's ears are fine; it's just that the demands of her 4-year-old students are simultaneous, incessant. Her eyes are good, too. She admires Katie's trimmed bangs, marvels at the spots on a ladybug. It's her nose that isn't working. Last night, while preparing vials full of scents for today's lesson on the five senses, she inhaled too much chocolate, peppermint, strawberry, vanilla -- and especially cinnamon.

""All I can smell is cinnamon," laments Miss Marti, with a wrinkle of her nostrils.

All the better to relate to Rachel, who's so engrossed in cutting paper that she seems oblivious to her stuffy nose, except for an occasional swipe with her sleeve. Ever resourceful, Miss Marti produces a tissue.

"I think you have a little cold," the teacher observes. "Can you blow it? Here, watch me. I'll show you how."

An audience gathers. Interlocking blocks, marking pens and safety scissors are abandoned in favor of something eminently more interesting: Miss Marti.

A wife and mother of three, with flowing dark hair and an expressive face, 32-year-old Marti Carrington reigns supreme here, at the Tots Fun Center in the Seventh District Elementary School in Parkton. Her throne is a wooden rocker on a carpet remnant; the subjects at her feet are 3-year-olds on Tuesday and Thursday mornings and 4-year-olds in the mornings and afternoons on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Usually the mothers and an occasional father take turns as royal vizier; this is a cooperative nursery school program run by parents. They bake snacks, wipe up glue spills and ready craft projects per Miss Marti's instructions.

Miss Marti's crown jewels are the parents' contented support and her children's unconditional love. In fact, they're the only riches associated with this kingdom. For her bachelor's degree in early childhood education and years of teaching experience, for her boundless enthusiasm, creative ideas and days so exhausting she barely has the energy to clean up from dinner at night, she earns $7.23 an hour. Her salary exceeds by one penny the national average earned by preschool educators in the private sector, according to Barbara Willer, the public affairs director of the National Association for the Education of Young Children in Washington.

There's no overtime, though Miss Marti spends plenty of nights and weekends preparing for class. Benefits are nonexistent; she gets no health insurance, no paid vacation. Still, she's luckier than many. Twice a year, she gets a lump-sum bonus that works out to about $4 an hour for the semester.

In fact, Miss Marti, who lives in New Freedom, Pa., with her husband, Hap, and three children, commanded more money as a part-time gymnastics instructor a decade ago, earning $13.50 an hour just to teach children cartwheels.

"I would love to be paid more," she says with resignation. "I think I always knew I would not make a lot of money" teaching tots.

Love, not money, is the preschool teacher's bottom line. Spend the morning with Miss Marti, and you'll see why.

A day in the life

Miss Marti is already gathering the supplies for the craft projects when the mothers start hurrying in, often with with young siblings in tow, to deposit their 4-year-olds in a colorful classroom with art hanging on every available wall space.

Judy Baseman of Whitehall, the mother on duty today, tells Miss Marti how her son's ear infection led to a chain of events that ended with the family dog getting hit by a car. Miss Marti lets out a low whistle as her eyes widen in horror: "Oh, I'm sorry to hear that."

Other parents quickly check Miss Marti's myriad lists and charts: Volunteers are still needed for next week's field trip to a pizza VTC place; parents are asked to bring in empty toilet paper tubes and plastic scoops from powder laundry detergent. Then they head to the cars.

Miss Marti notices that one little boy's arms are still around his mother's neck, long after the other kids have separated from their parents and littered the floor with Legos. She makes her way over to the couple and compliments him on his polka-dot paper tie, a homemade creation worn proudly over a striped rugby shirt. He beams at Miss Marti, but continues hugging his mom. Miss Marti resists the urge to ruffle his hair or pat his arm. She knows he's torn, senses he needs time, space. Transitions can be tough.

Her ability to soothe children -- and to keep chaos at bay -- always amazes parents. "I don't know how Miss Marti does it," says Janet Hiller, who has daughters in both the 3- and 4-year-old classes.

Most parents agree a couple of kids of their own are more than enough to frazzle them, let alone a dozen or so of somebody else's. Somehow, Miss Marti handles it all with aplomb.

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