Thursday, August 02, 2012

My Most Rewarding Montessori Student - Making Friends

Most rewarding NAMC montessori student boy readingThe head of the school approached me in the hall on the day before school started. “Miss Michelle, you speak French, right? You are getting a new sixth year student in your class from the Cote D’Ivoire; he speaks no English,” she said. What to do? I had just finished my Montessori training, been given the lead position in an Upper Elementary classroom, and my co-teacher had been hired just one day before school started. Now, I found myself with an even greater challenge. However great my challenge seemed, my new student faced a bigger one.

“Jean-Marc” came to the U.S. sponsored by the Rotary. He needed both heart and eye surgery, so his mother sent him from Cote D’Ivoire to the U.S. to save his life. He entered the Montessori classroom with trepidation. How was he going to make friends in an environment that was so foreign to him?

My Most Rewarding Montessori Student - Making Friends

Jean-Marc became my shadow, sitting next to me at circle time and during all lessons. For a time, I translated everything from English into French so he could understand. Jean-Marc was so grateful when I presented him with a big box of books I had ordered from Montreal. Finally, he had something he could read! Unfortunately, because of his limited English, Jean-Marc was an easy target for some of the other boys in class. One boy in particular took to speaking very loud Pidgin English to him. I felt like I was constantly at the peace table at times trying to help him with the other children.

Despite his troubles, Jean-Marc worked hard to learn English and it came to him quite easily. One day in November, Jean-Marc approached me and said, “Miss Michelle, no more French. Speak only to me in English.” This was a huge turning point for him, and the rest of the class knew it.

As his confidence grew, Jean-Marc made more friends and took on more responsibilities in the classroom. He was a big jokester and enjoyed watching people laugh. And his love of sport helped him connect with the children, too. He was an excellent soccer player and he enjoyed playing American sports. He was also eager to try skiing (and was very surprised to find snow so cold!). Looking for ways to help Jean-Marc contribute to our classroom, I created a small French class and invited him to be my aid, which helped his self-esteem.

At the end of the school year, it saddened me to have to tell Jean-Marc that he was returning to my classroom the following year. He had fully expected to move on to the middle school with his peers, but he just was not ready. He had spent the entire year becoming fluent in English. One more year as a sixth year would help him learn the academics he needed to succeed in the middle school.

The next year proved challenging. Jean-Marc had wanted so desperately to move up and felt left behind. Thankfully, he did become fast friends with a boy who was new to the class. They were inseparable and became mentors to each other.

Most rewarding NAMC montessori student two children writing making friends

Jean-Marc’s biggest challenge was the year-long research project that we required of all sixth year students. Fascinated by the lighthouses he had visited along the Jersey Shore, Jean-Marc decided to devote his entire year to studying lighthouses. The night of the oral presentation, I found him hiding in a classroom, crying. “I can’t do this, Miss Michelle. There are 200 people out there. I can’t do it.” I held him in my arms and assured him that I would not ask him to do at which he could not succeed. I reminded him how he had come to me unable to speak any English and in less than two years, was capable of presenting his research without a single word of French. He had done it all through sheer perseverance and I believed in him. I knew, in my heart, that he would succeed.

And he did! Jean-Marc received a standing ovation for his achievements. People could not believe how far he had come in such a short time. Although he was with me for only two short years, Jean-Marc’s spirit and determination have lived with me ever since.
As much as possible, NAMC’s web blog reflects the Montessori curriculum as provided in its teacher training programs. We realize and respect that Montessori schools are unique and may vary their schedules and offerings in accordance with the needs of their individual communities. We hope that our readers will find our articles useful and inspiring as a contribution to the global Montessori community.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Thursday, August 2, 2012.


  1. How wonderful. He was lucky to have you. You make me really miss the classroom though:(


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