TRURO — Lynne Ready says there is a sequence to teaching children how to use scissors. First, you must pick the right type of construction paper — not too floppy. It must be a light color, so the students can see the black line. Then, you tell the students, “I’m going to make that black line disappear.” With one snip, the line vanishes and the two pieces of construction paper fall into a waiting basket.
“The kids are mesmerized,” said Ready. “And with one snip, they have success.”
Ready should know how to help kids succeed. She has been an elementary school teacher for 49 years. For the last 20, she has been head of the preschool program at Truro Central School.
Ready is retiring at the end of June, having taught generations of human beings how to use scissors and much more.
“Part of being a teacher is trusting kids to learn even if you don’t think they are learning,” Ready said, as a wild box turtle lumbered toward her impressive vegetable garden. “Yes, we want them to be successful with the curriculum, but there is more to life that they can learn in their time with us. They can learn a lot about themselves.”
Ready lives at the bottom of a hollow in Wellfleet in a little house she bought and maintains on her own. The grounds are impeccable. This is where she raised her adopted son, Mateo, who is now 30.
That’s the story behind this gentle rebel of a preschool teacher. Though she giggles at the adorable passions of four-year-olds, she’s dealt with the seriousness of adulthood quite well.
Ready was born to a working-class family in Norwalk, Conn. She spent two years at the University of Connecticut at Storrs before quitting school — which she said she never liked, anyway — to live in a barn and raise goats, chickens, and a donkey.
She considers herself an old hippie, not a former hippie, but, she says, she was never the type to drop acid or drop out. Immediately after leaving school, she took a job as a part-time teacher in a Montessori school in Storrs.
“In a year, I paid off my $1,000 student loan,” she said. Four years later, at age 24, she was the director of that Montessori school.
Her next move was to earn a master’s in education with a minor in environmental science. Working part-time in Storrs, she commuted to Antioch University in New Hampshire. During the summers, Ready volunteered aboard the Clearwater, a sloop owned by Pete Seeger, educating students about the Hudson River.
And then, by the mid-1980s, tired of the way Montessori schools seemed to attract only elite families, she began pursuing jobs in public education.
Ready applied to districts in the two areas where she had enjoyed vacations — Vermont and Cape Cod. When the Provincetown Schools hired her to teach first grade, “I was so nervous,” she said.
She was a passionate believer in the Montessori method, and she was unsure if public school bureaucracy would be a fit.
But Provincetown Elementary welcomed her, she said, and people there understood her love of nature and her ability to try different educational approaches. She taught a multi-age classroom, which gave her the opportunity to have some students for five years straight.
“Montessori’s idea was, ‘You don’t do the teaching, you let the materials do the teaching,’ ” Ready said.
When students are drawn to a particular material, it is the teacher’s job to create a “prepared environment,” bring the tools to the child, and “watch them to see what they need,” Ready said.
Nola Glatzel, 30, said she remembers what Ready taught her at the Provincetown multiage classroom, which Glatzel attended for three years, more than any of the lessons in middle and high school.
“She was just an amazing teacher,” said Glatzel, now the owner of the Earthstar Play School in Truro. “Everything was so hands-on. She really taught us to be critical thinkers. We wrote a petition about ending Columbus Day.”
When the Provincetown Schools held Middle Ages Day, Ready’s students dressed up not just as Europeans but as people from every continent.
“She was always questioning the Eurocentric focus of history, and so when I’d go to other classes I was already looking out for the story of the unrepresented group,” Glatzel said.
Truro Central School, Ready said, has been supportive of her practice: Brian Davis, the former principal, made sure the preschool playground and classroom were large enough and stocked with the essentials of the Montessori toolbox.
Ready said she had no idea that her first year of teaching in 1972 would be the most open, learn-by-doing time in education. Now, she said, the pendulum has swung “far, far in the other direction.”
Whether that’s a positive direction or not, Ready would not say. But, she added, “In 49 years, I feel like I’ve watched the evolution of our country. But what kids need is exactly the same. They need to know they are safe and that we’re looking out for them. And they need to know there is something interesting for them to do.”