Why I Teach Montessori - A Real Teacher's PerspectiveFor as long as I can remember, I've wanted to be a teacher. My favorite toy as a child was a chalkboard that my grandparents had given to me. I spent countless hours “teaching” my younger sister how to read. While other children were playing hide-and-go-seek, I was playing “school”.
After taking French in high school, I decided to become a French teacher, largely in part due to my teacher and mentor, Ann Henderson. I remember reading about Montessori as an undergraduate but thought she was just another educational psychologist/philosopher like Piaget, Rousseau, and Pestalozzi. I don’t even think I knew then that there were schools dedicated to the Montessori way of education.
As a young teacher, I became intrigued in alternative methods of education. This was due largely in part to the Rudolf Steiner College [Waldorf education] near my house. At this time, I learned there were Montessori schools, but again, didn't really follow up as to what they were.
About ten years later, when my son was 5 years old, I burst into tears upon visiting the public kindergarten he was to go to. The classroom had no student work displayed, the largest corner of the room was dedicated to toys, and when asked where the books were, the teacher kindly told me that since kindergartners couldn't read, she didn't keep books in the classroom. I was shocked! I asked what she was going to do with my son since he was already reading. She told me he would learn his letters and sounds like everyone else. She insisted I was wrong; a kindergarten boy can’t read. I was furious.
My town had a Montessori school in the basement of a church, and I had driven by it for years without paying much attention to it. That afternoon I called them to see if they had an opening for my son for the next year.
During my initial visit, I absolutely fell in love with the Montessori Method. I observed in a 2 ½ -4 year old Montessori classroom. (The 5 year olds had a separate kindergarten class). There was a sense of calm and wonder as the children gathered for morning circle. The group lesson was on the solar system and planets. Not only did these young children know the names of the planets, they could place them in correct order.
Then, I watched a teacher use sandpaper letters and a tray of objects to teach the “m” sound. The intensity and joy on one little girl’s face as she traced “m” with her finger and then collected “m” objects was incredible. In all of my years in education, I had never seen such a joy for learning. The fact that the child was able to do it herself with such a kind and patient guide was more than I could ask for. I signed the contract for my son that day.
Although my son was the one attending kindergarten, it felt as though I, too, was reaping the benefits of Montessori education. Learning about practical life activities was as much of a joy to me as it was to him. His teacher was wonderful. Many days when I’d pick him up, she’d let me explore the classroom and give me lessons on the scent jars, sound cylinders, spindle boxes, the pink tower and the blue and red rods. I found myself thinking time and time again “this makes perfect sense”.
Unfortunately, there was no lower elementary class, as much as all the parents pleaded. I enrolled my son in the aforementioned public school for first grade and resigned myself to the fact that since he already knew the 1st grade curriculum, he would spend the year developing his social “public school” skills.
I also began thinking seriously about opening my own Montessori school, and in fact, almost bought a property. I decided that I needed more information and began researching Montessori training programs. I was a single mom working full-time in educational publishing and unable to quit my job in order to “go” to school. Finding the North American Montessori Center (NAMC) was truly a blessing. I enrolled in and completed my 3-6 training with NAMC and by the next spring, I was sending out resumes all over New Jersey, Eastern Pennsylvania, and upstate New York. I sent out over 30 resumes and received positive feedback from all but two schools. In fact, I was offered over five positions as lead teacher! At one school, I was asked if I would be interested in teaching in their Upper Elementary program. Since I didn't have my Upper Elementary certificate, they paid for me to take an intense summer training course. (At that time, NAMC did not offer an Upper Elementary program!) By the time my son was in third grade, both he and I were back in the Montessori classroom, happier than ever.
Our stories are all unique, but we share one common thread: Maria Montessori. Her passion for children around the world and her quest for the respect of the individual has lead us to follow in her footsteps. What is your story? I’d love to hear it.
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© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Thursday, September 11, 2008.