Montessori Moments

August 31, 2009

First Day of School!!!

Filed under: back to school,classroom,montessori education,teaching — The Full Montessori @ 6:09 am
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The school year starts today, and I’m up by 5:00am to make my lesson plan.  I have 22 children this week, including three 2.5-year olds (two more start next week, thank goodness!).  One of my favorite things about Montessori is that the children stay with their teacher for the three-year cycle, so this year I will continue working with 11 of the children I guided last year, plus four new ones and nine that have come to me from other classrooms.  I hope to have time this evening to post about how the first day went… I’m sure there will be lots of “Twinkle, Twinkle” and “Wheels on the Bus” action today.  Sometimes, it’s the only thing that will make the new ones stop crying… *sigh*


July 19, 2009

Back-to-School Jitters

Filed under: back to school,classroom,teaching — The Full Montessori @ 12:33 am
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Exactly one year ago, I began my career as a Montessori guide. Armed with a year of intensive theoretical schooling and hundreds of hours of observations and practice sessions, I entered the classroom excited and confident. My composure lasted about ten minutes.

During my first days as a guide, I was struck by the exhaustion I experienced at all levels: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. You might look at a Montessori classroom towards the end of the year and see the teacher moving calmly as the children go about their work with focus and diligence, but in reality the first few weeks of school are utter and complete chaos.

I remember dashing across the room just in time to grab a 2.5-year old who was scampering up a shelf, and then swinging back around to stop a 3-year old from slamming a fishbowl on the floor (I was too late, but the fish survived). Then there’s the constant crouching and stooping to interact with the children at eye level and show them how to use materials. (We call it “giving presentations”, and it involves either perching on a little chair, sitting cross-legged on the floor, or hunching over a knee-high table).

The crying of the new children is incessant, and those who aren’t howling are speaking loudly so they can be heard above the chaos. I’ll never forget standing in the teacher’s kitchen and opening a cupboard to get a glass. I was confronted with an array of OTC painkillers; it seems each teacher has her drug of choice for coping with the pounding headaches that characterize those first hectic weeks.

Apart from the physical challenges, you become mentally exhausted trying to remember 24 names, 24 personalities, assorted food allergies, 300+ presentations, a dozen children’s songs, and to whom you showed what material. After the children leave for the day, the phone calls begin. Two dozen parents, anxious to know how their child’s first day of school went, overwhelm the phone lines. My favorite line to parents: “Oh, no, Johnny stopped crying as soon as he entered the classroom.”

Emotionally, the first week of school is a roller coaster ride. Your heart goes out to the tiny ones who are crying, and you remember how it felt to be left alone by your parents in an unfamiliar environment. You rack your brain to find the right material to charm one child; just as her cries subside and she takes an interest in a piece of work, a little boy across the room remembers that mommy isn’t there, and belts out a plaintive wail. You look around the classroom and ask yourself if you have what it takes to deal with the day-to-day challenges of the profession, such as cleaning vomit, wiping noses, and singing “The Wheels on the Bus” for the 435th time.

The part that wears one out the most, though, is the constant self-analysis (or, as Maria Montessori called it, spiritual preparation): Am I allowing the children to reach their full potential? Am I guiding or am I teaching? Did I present that material too late? Are my movements slow and concise enough to leave clear imprints in the child’s mind? Why didn’t I become an accountant?

There comes a moment, normally a few weeks into the school year, when all of this madness becomes worthwhile. It usually starts out with something simple like squeezing a sponge into a bucket. As you kneel on the wet floor with the child solemnly sitting by your side, your eyes meet. You squeeze the sponge and make a funny face. The child, who until then had hovered near you wide-eyed and hesitant, looks deep into your eyes and emits a laugh that comes from her soul. In that brief moment, the chaos of the classroom falls away and all that matters is that golden bond, that light that sparks when two souls meet. The child understands that the teacher is someone she can trust, someone who is coming from a place of love. The teacher, in turn, knows that her true work as a guide can begin.

As I prepare to return to work tomorrow, I write these words to remind myself to trust. I will trust that I have the physical strength to get through each day, the mental acuity to remain sharp and focused, the emotional maturity to see the big picture, and the spiritual insight to learn from my mistakes. Above all, I will trust the child, the Method, and the knowledge that I don’t walk alone.

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