Friday, January 8, 2010

Montessori Experience--pt I

I have been speaking with the director of a new local Montessori school through email for the past couple of weeks. I told her I was interested in volunteering, and she replied that she would love to have anyone interested in Montessori. So today I went for an interview. Having done very little research on Montessori (it's still on my to-do list), I had no idea what to expect.

The school was brand new, hidden behind a maze of miscellaneous office buildings, camouflaged with its neighbors, bearing no brightly colored school sign like one would expect. It didn't even have a somber-colored sign, no attempts to mark this building as a place of learning what-so-ever. Beginning to doubt that I was in the right place at all, I finally noticed a few small, colorful paper snowflakes in a far, dark window giving the identity of the unknown building away.

The entry way of the school was a tiny, security enhanced room that sounded a "Front door open" alarm when I arrived. It had two doors on either side leading in. I later learned that one was to the elementary side while the other was to the early childhood side. Both were shut, and finding no buzzer to push to announce myself, I wondered what to do. I didn't have to wait long; the director, having heard the door alarm, soon came to greet me.

On the inside, the school was a large, open room, learning materials organized neatly against the walls, low tables and chairs to the sides, a big colorful carpet in the center, everything cleaned to the expectations of a surgery room. There was a courtyard in the center of the school, where, I was told, vegetables and plants would be grown in the spring, and a large, fenced-in yard around the back perimeter for a playground. In the back of the building was a kitchen for learning for the elementary students and a shared library in the process of being filled. I understand that the school had been open for less than a year, but I couldn't believe how clean and perfect everything looked. The children all had their shoes off, showing their tiny socked-feed, and the three adults wore slippers. I felt awkward for having kept my shoes on, although I was not told to remove them.

The director showed me around the building, introduced me to a few key learning materials, and then we sat at one of the low tables while the seven students (one-third of a normal class-size, they didn't have many families sign up. There were four first-years, two second-years, and one third-year, the director's daughter, no one over the age of eight), who had been learning with the teacher on the carpet when I arrived, ate lunch at the long table at the other side of the room.

The children seemed intellectual, while still child-like and silly, of course, and the two teachers (the director and the teacher I saw when I came in, the other I only saw briefly--the early childhood teacher?) seemed amiable enough. The environment, however, struck me as more like a home than a classroom. Because the student-to-teacher ratio was so low, the students seemed more like children at their own home, rather than at a school. They were addressed quickly whenever they had a question, they were allowed to learn whatever they wanted (this group was fond of science, and a few had taken up crocheting), they were reprimanded easily (one boy had poured a glass of someone else's soy milk and was told he must drink it because he had already drank from the glass today), even the fact that they all ran around in socks, it was like being home-schooled by someone other than your parents (with the exception of the director's daughter).

The director asked if teaching Montessori was a future goal at the moment, to which I had to admit, it is not. When I started my education career, I told myself that the best place I could be is at a Title I public school, reaching out to as many students that need a positive role model in their lives as possible. I had considered teaching in a private school, back when I was considering teaching English, because I wasn't sure if I would be able to handle public school children. However, having now worked at a public school for a year, I realize that it is where I belong and where I can make the biggest difference. Every day when I walk into a classroom at Griffith, I am greeted with 20 small bodies that depend on me and their teachers to grow. A lot of them don't have anyone else they can rely on, anyone else that tells them that they are smart, capable people that are special and really matter in the world. They need that. At the Montessori school today, I met seven children whose parents care the world for them, read to them at night, and probably hug them constantly. I know that they need the devoted attention their parents pay good money for them to have, but I feel like I have bigger problems to attend to: the kindergartener that doesn't know his letters, the first grader that doesn't talk to any teacher, the third grader whose mother was taken back to jail last night.

I would love to explore Montessori. I want to spend as much time volunteering as they need me. But I don't think that it holds much future for me besides gaining experience in different fields of education and in learning new techniques to take back to my own students.

The director said she would call after she contacted my references as to if she had a position for me. I just have to shake that awkward feeling that every adult there was afraid for me to touch anything, lest I get my dirty public school hands on them.