This fall, I've taken quite a bit of time to reflect on the important values I've learned from being a Montessori teacher.
What I've Learned from Montessori - A Real Teacher's Perspective
I may have the best lesson planned, but it all depends on the children. If they are not ready to receive my lesson, I will have to wait. Or what if someone brings a snakeskin that they found in their backyard? All of a sudden, the fascination with the snakeskin usurps all else.
I've also learned to be patient in terms of stages of development. I hear colleagues say things like “Why don’t they [the children] 'get it'? What’s wrong with them? Why won’t they grow up? Why don’t they act their age?” I admit it, I've said it myself. But I’m starting to understand. In fact, my 6th graders were so silly the other day, that we ended the lesson in laughter. But I was able to laugh with them and chalk it up to they were only acting as they should be. I had another sixth grade boy come to me and tell me he thought there was something wrong with him. When I asked why, he said it’s because sometimes he acts so silly and goofy. I told him it’s okay; he’s supposed to; he’s a sixth grader.
Look around a Montessori classroom and you’ll see lots of Montessori materials. The basic wooden materials look rather plain when compared with those found in today’s traditional classrooms. I have watched children see a shelf filled with both Montessori materials and contemporary materials and inevitably they will gravitate toward the Montessori materials. The simple design calls to a child “Come work and learn with me”.
Where there is order, there is peace
When my world is in chaos, I cannot function. Learning how to arrange my Montessori classroom and shelves has taught me to bring more order to my life. There is a place for everything. In my rush to be a teacher, mother, wife, and daughter, I often find myself setting things anywhere when I get home. There is so much to be done, surely I’ll return and pick it up later. Then, one day, I find myself all out of sorts only to realize that my immediate environment, my home, is also out of sorts. Once I've straightened and cleaned my space (with a little help from my family), all is right with the world and my life is no longer out of balance. I now know what it must feel like to a child when the Montessori classroom is out of order and I strive to make sure they are welcomed to a carefully prepared and ordered environment each day.
Before my Montessori training, I will admit to ignoring much of what was in front of me. Bugs were a nuisance. Sunsets were beautiful, but fleeting. Rain was, well, wet. Now, I love it when my students rush to show me a chrysalis hanging in a tree and I go eagerly with them to see it. I take the time to watch baby frogs leap across our path. I turn around and hurry when my son calls “Come see the huge praying mantis”. I take the time to pause and reflect on the beauty of the dew clinging and glistening on an early morning spider web.
Silence is golden
One of the hardest concepts to grasp in my Montessori training was the proper presentation of a 3-period lesson. I wanted to add more information than what it was I should be presenting. I wanted to ask questions before the students were ready. I wanted to give them the answers before they thought it through themselves. I've now learned to pause, breathe, and give the child a chance to absorb information before moving on. I've learned that the less I say when presenting material, the more the students own the information. They are more responsible for their own learning, not me.
Silence is also important when listening to children. I had a young 3rd grade girl last year come to school one morning in tears. When I asked what was wrong, she told me her beloved dog had died the previous evening. I held her hand and said “I’m sorry. You must be quite sad.” She replied “I am.” And we stood there in silence, holding hands, reflecting on her loss. After a moment, she slipped her hand from mine and quietly went about her day. No other words were needed. Simply acknowledging her feelings and having a moment of silence was enough.
Children are to be treated respectfully
I started teaching when I was 21 years old. In fact, I did my student teaching when I was just 19 and my students were 18! But it wasn’t until my Montessori training that I realized I wasn’t teaching the curriculum; I was teaching children. This simple change of thought turned everything around. I no longer saw children as obstacles to what I was teaching. Children became my focal point. Everything I did or said came under scrutiny; how would it be interpreted by the children?
I cringe when I hear parents or teachers yelling or belittling children. It breaks my heart to see a child crying, knowing that his feelings were hurt by angry adult words. I take the time to listen to their side of the story. Teachers and parents who give ultimatums without listening are turning away what is truly precious in this world. Telling a child “I don’t want to hear it” is just another way of saying “You are not important”. It sends a message of distrust and one that a child is not likely to forget.
Being a Montessori teacher means I’m learning every day. Each day is a surprise, full of joy and wonder. The beauty of a lesson, the amazement of a child, the sense of fulfillment of a good day’s work. These simple truths are ones I hold dear and cherish as I step into the world of the child.
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© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Tuesday, September 30, 2008.