Montessori and the #TeacherLife

Recently I took a homeschooling philosophies test and received these results:

I’ve actually taken the test a few times, with slightly varying scores, but the top approaches have remained the same each time. Montessori takes top place, closely followed by classical education (no surprise there), Reggio (something I’ve wanted to research more), unschooling (that was a bit of a surprise but I can see why) and Waldorf (also a surprise, and something I know almost nothing about).

Towards understanding Montessori a bit more, then, I checked out Montessori in the Classroom by Paula Polk Lillard. What touched me was how the Montessori philosophy emphasized faith in the child; as well as her own reflections on the teaching profession.

Faith in the Child

The Montessori philosophy is described as being child-centred, in the sense that the teacher’s role is to introduce and maintain an environment wherein the student is enabled to choose what they work on and when. In a kindergarten classroom, for example, children might be taught to care for their environment (wiping tables, dusting, cleaning up spills), make maps, trace shapes, and learn letters, but after the teacher has introduced these activities and modeled how to complete them, the child chooses what they want to work on each day. Lillard recounts:

The environment is arranged carefully so that five-year-olds can function in it as independently of the teacher as possible… I do not break the schedule of the day into small time segments. The children demonstrate over and over again their preference for an uninterrupted work period of two and a half to three hours. Free choice of materials during this time is a major factor in the development of the children’s discipline and love of learning. They do not tire, because they pace themselves (p. 12).

Polk Lillard, P. (1980). Montessori in the classroom: A teacher’s account of how children really learn. Schocken Books Inc.

The best part of this is the choice and development in love of learning. To expand on the point:

In establishing freedom in the classroom, it is important to remember that freedom is based on choice, and choice is dependent on knowledge. The child must be prepared with knowledge of his environment, how to function there, and what use he can make of the materials there (p. 225).

Ibid.

Really, this sounds like my dream classroom. If I could somehow parse high school English into a series of tasks or activities that all students could choose to do at their own pace, I would. Yet by the time public-school students reach high school, it’s possible that this system would be motivated only by grades (i.e. NOT intrinsic motivation), and I’d have to do a lot of pushing around. But the chance to instill a love of learning at a young age? Yes.

Now this being said, I’m sure that any parent can instill a love of learning in their child as well, regardless of their choice of schooling. (One of the common homeschooling myths, by the way, is that if you aren’t a teacher you can’t teach your own children. This is false; being a trained classroom teacher is important for managing groups of children who aren’t your own. But if you’re the parent, you do actually have a special connection with your child, ha). What does make use of the Montessori philosophy stand out is the belief that the child will continually reach new places of revelation, and our place is to foster and cultivate but not force a change according to our own wishes.

We rob children of their opportunity for independent thinking by second-guessing them every step of the way, and getting there first with knowledge they would have enjoyed discovering on their own (p. 214).

Ibid.
I was looking for a suitable teaching photo and remembered that I didn’t take many out of professional reasons. This somehow sums up my teaching life though, lol.

Reflections on Teaching

Up until a few weeks ago (before I read the book), every time I remembered what teaching was like, I remembered all the terrible things I did. I remember especially the times where I failed to treat a student the care and respect that they needed, and not the care and respect that I thought they deserved. After reading this book though, my recollections have changed. I am able to recall now the pleasant, the wonderful, the lovely; in sum, the joy of teaching. In no particular order, these were the quotes that made me sigh and nod in full agreement.

On being with students:

It is so hard to keep faith with the child and not get discouraged (p. 175).

Ibid. So hard to keep hands off toys to show ‘how it’s done’ or to keep asking leading questions when the student takes longer to answer, instead of standing by with a waiting smile.

On the playground I was thinking that this was the most interesting group of children that I had taught. I smiled at myself then because I remembered that I had thought the same thing last year and the year before that (p. 197).

Ibid. Yes, this. Every year. I miss meeting kids and their potential.

I wanted to be back with the children because I never think about the outside world when I am with them. It is as if it didn’t exist for me. Perhaps that is one reason why I like teaching so much. It is a totally absorbing experience for me (p. 199).

Ibid. This is also why I don’t think I can teach and be a mum at the same time. Someone will suffer.

I keep telling myself… My time for this child is over. I no longer have a place in his life. That is the way the system is set up in this country. It makes no sense to me: nine months of building a depth of understanding and caring and trust, each for the other, teacher and child, and parent and teacher, so that learning can happen, and then – nothing more. It is all over a few months later, and must be carefully developed from scratch all over again, another teacher, another child, another relationship the following September (p. 207 – 208).

Ibid. This made me sit up straight and say, “Yeah, what’s up with that?!” I get that people have to move on eventually but nine months is not a lot of time.

And on trying new things in the classroom:

To try something new in one’s teaching is to place a burden on one’s own life. There is more self-doubt and anxiety to deal with, experiences which are already prevalent in a profession where there can never be perfect solutions. There is danger of pride when successful and defensiveness when failing. There is a need for more energy to deal with others who wish to understand what you are attempting… On the other side of the coin, there is the exhilaration of the wholly new. Pioneering presents the opportunity to learn something new each day about what children are like and what will beset aid their development. And though it often hurts at the time, there is the pleasurable outcome of ever deepening self-knowledge (p. 195).

Ibid.

All in all, a wonderful read, and one I’d recommend for any teacher, regardless of their educational philosophy. I’m looking forward to the next Montessori book, not so much because of my quiz results but because I think there is more to enjoy in this philosophy that looks for so much excellence in children.

Featured photo by Manja Vitolic on Unsplash

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