Saturday, July 27, 2013

Why the Author Chose to Discontinue Her Pursuit of Formal Montessori Training

Well, I'm back home, and if the title is any hint, it's earlier than expected. I completed the Foundations course (which is basically the 9-month long Primary training condensed into a five-week course) but chose against continuing into the actual Elementary I and II training. There were a number of reasons why, which I will go into at length below, but briefly, it just seemed like life was telling me that now is not the appropriate time. I've gone through my blog and rewritten every mention of which school I attended (though it probably wouldn't be difficult to figure out, regardless). I just don't want anything I have to say to reflect badly upon the training center. It IS a good school and a good program; it just wasn't the right program for me. I'm glad I had the opportunity to study there, even if it was only for a short time. I did learn a lot, and I consider it to have been a positive experience, during which I grew as an educator.

That being said, more after the cut.

To begin with, there was a very large amount of compulsory work. It didn't take me long to realize that this class was not going to be what I expected. (When they say "intensive," they mean intensive!) Yes, the Montessori training was not to be taught in a Montessori fashion. From the very beginning, there were so many papers to write. So MANY papers--four (five-page) a week during the thick of it. Normally this wouldn't have been a problem. I LOVE writing. I love reading education material. I love reflecting. I do it for fun. I'm pretty passionate about it. But this was NOT fun. After seven hours of lecture, I was expected to go home, read more, write, and be up early for the next day. Lather, rinse, and repeat. There was no time to breathe--the schedule didn't allow for it.

This is NOT the way my brain works. I need to take it slow, giving myself ample time to digest what I've taken in, letting everything sink in and then sitting down to write and reflect, usually digging up even more information from the internet in the process. Being an adult, I know the way I learn best, and my brain flat out rejected anything else. It took a lot of coaxing to get myself just through the five weeks.

First, the compulsory aspect. Yes, the topics I was asked to write upon were important--necessary to the Montessori pedagogy--but they were not the particular topic that I would have explored in length if given the choice. And from a Montessori perspective, choice is key to true learning. There is little to be learned, in my opinion, from compulsory work.

Second, the time frame required much writing with little time for reflection. I received my first few papers back unaccepted because there wasn't enough substance in them. I had to rewrite many times to get all of my papers accepted. After a while, I discovered a method of writing that would get my papers accepted the first time through. How? Taking ample notes during lecture (literally writing as much as I possibly could), and going home to regurgitate that same information, slightly rewritten, onto the computer screen. Concerned, I went to the instructor and administrator, saying that this was the only way I could get my papers accepted. Neither disagreed with me. One tried to rephrase what I had said into something like, "Take notes from the lectures and the reading and write based on those notes." So, yeah, basically that. Regurgitation of information. This is what was expected of me.

But, of course, we would never ask this type of learning of our precious children. Montessori training had become an instance of "do as I say, not as I do."

I understand that this was mainly an issue of time constraint. The instructor needed to know that we had and were given all the correct information in the short amount of time allotted. Yes, merely that we were given the information--not that we internalized it. There's plenty of time for that later, as I was told.

Oh, and let me just mention that I was once reprimanded for citing a source that was not in the approved bibliography. It was in a Montessori publication. I understand that not all Montessorians are created equal ("Montessori" is not a copyrighted term, so anyone can use it freely), and our course was meant to cover only primary source material, but come on. Seriously?

And then there was the issue of collaboration--which, put bluntly, was not allowed. There were several "reminder" lectures about how all of our work needed to be completely our own. We were not to receive help from any of our classmates (who, understandably, were not yet fully trained either). But how much of our work could possibly be our own when we're regurgitating it directly from lecture (and reading)? More importantly, it is now mid-2013, and it is fully the era of collaboration and open sourcing in education. But perhaps Montessorians don't know that yet. I'm scared to even begin thinking about what I can and cannot share online. But that's another matter.

And briefly, AMI? In my own opinion, totally looking at Montessori from the wrong angle. Yes, the materials were scientifically created to give children the "keys" to further exploration, particularly the sensorial and math materials, but no, they are NOT necessary. As I've said before, you can have a rich environment that encourages development without spending thousands of dollars at Nienhuis. What's more important is the manner in which one teaches--their own pedagogy, how they interact with the students, and how they use the materials available to them. (Maria Montessori taught counting with knitting spindles, something the children at that time had seen used countless times at home. And Division with Test Tubes? Sure, it gives the students a subtle impression of using test tubes in science, but that's not why they were originally used for this purpose. Maria Montessori was a scientist and medical doctor. She just so happened to have a bunch of test tubes laying around and thought they would be useful for holding and sorting the different colored beads.)

Around the third week or so of training, I had received and accepted an offer to teach third grade at a private non-Montessori school. The principal is unfamiliar with Montessori education, and thus my training is not priority. I would be missing the first week of school (the most pivotal week). I was not required to, or even asked to, come home early. In fact, we were both resigned to this unfortunate circumstance when I signed my contract. However, upon learning more about my Observation requirements, it became apparent that I could hardly keep both my new job and the training. I would be required to observe in a Lower Elementary classroom for two weeks and an Upper Elementary classroom for two weeks. Yes, four weeks of Observation. Four weeks off. That's quite a lot to ask off, especially for a first year teacher, especially in a non-Montessori school. So that was that.

But by this time, it wasn't even a hard decision to make. Yes, I could suffer through this training for three years, making myself miserable. Or I could just stop. Get off the boat. Continue at my own pace. No, there'd be no certification at the end, but does that matter? I wouldn't be able to teach at an actual Montessori school, but are Montessori schools the only good schools? (I've considered other training, including AMS and online schools, but that's another, less important matter.) Can't I be a wonderful teacher no matter where I am? Can't I build a great school up around me?

Which brings me to my final, most personal point. One thought I had while I was struggling to force that very first compulsory paper out of me was, "Isn't there something else that I'd rather be writing about at this time?" Somewhat unfortunately, it almost became a mantra for me all summer long. In tears, I asked myself what I was doing. Why was I here? It all started because of this blog--Nontraditional Teaching. I wanted to research all sorts of things--all sorts of various nontraditional education methods and pedagogies. But when I discovered Montessori... I stopped. I just stopped. I had decided, "This is what I want. No need to look any farther." ... What? What kind of a person decides that, subconsciously or not? What kind of a person stops looking for more information and knowledge and ways of doing or being? Certainly not me. That's not the person I am. That's not to say that I wouldn't or won't come back to Montessori after my search is completed. It IS a wonderful pedagogy and methodology, and I AM in love with it. But I've realized that I DO need this time to continue looking, learning, and growing. And perhaps this time will never end, for is there ever an end to learning and growing? I certainly won't stop learning about Montessori education, but I don't need to specialize in it, at least not quite yet when there's so much else to do. Why settle down with something when the whole world is so wide open?

It just so happened that while I was in the city where I spent the summer, I stumbled upon a garage sale where I found a copy of Summerhill School for a quarter. I'd been meaning to borrow this from the library for years, and I'm incredibly excited to read it and reflect upon it.

But I'm also so very excited to try some of the teaching techniques I learned during my Montessori training with the third graders I'll be with in three weeks. Three period lessons? Definitely. Multiplication and division with concrete materials, taught in the Montessori way? Absolutely.

Life is wonderful, and everything is looking up. I have made the decision that was best for me, and I have no regrets. Again, I value my experience at the training school. Honestly, what has happened was probably the best possible situation. Prior to now, I would NOT have accepted only going through Montessori Foundation course knowing that Elementary training was an option. I wouldn't not have stood for knowing that there existed more training that I was not getting. (Other people gaining more knowledge than me!? Unacceptable!) But now that I know it's not the right program for me, no qualms. No qualms, man--I'm going my own way.