Get ready. This is about to sound crazy, kitschy and maybe a little simple. Assuming you’ve already made the choice to embark on a career as a teacher, imagine waking up and knowing you can make a difference not just in your classroom children’s lives, but in the world? This is how I’ve felt almost every day since jumping ship and making the decision to become a Montessori Teacher. I am amazed and humbled by the transformations that happen in a Montessori classroom when you learn to give a child the freedom to explore and soak in the world around them, and at the same time provide guidance and developmentally appropriate tools to assist them.
The Montessori Method of teaching is dramatically different from traditional education. Some of the ways in which it differs are misconstrued. When you study Montessori, you’re taught to “follow the child” and the materials are displayed on the shelf where the child is free to explore them. This sometimes taunts parents or prospective teachers with the image of young children running wild, sweeping materials off the shelf in an outrageous free-for-all not unlike a jungle. However, allowing children to explore materials unbelievably has the opposite effect.
Montessori emphasizes Freedom within Limits. The children are invited to explore the materials and are given the freedom to observe older children’s lessons, as the classrooms are multi-age . But they are also taught they must first be shown the lessons by a teacher, which are taught in a very specific way. Instead of unruly chaos, you develop a classroom full of children whose natural curiosity and enthusiasm is stoked and primed to learn. You create a classroom full of children who are taught to follow their instincts, make decisions for themselves, and learn early on - with the help of well-trained teachers as guides - what it is they love and have an affinity for. How many adults do you know that could have benefitted from growing up in a Montessori environment and cultivating a sense of inner direction as a child?
Montessori classrooms also look very different from traditional preschool or elementary school classrooms. They are not adorned with signs, rules, and loud pictures displaying the alphabet. They are purposely beautiful, neat, orderly, and tidy to encourage children to feel calm, relaxed, and inspired to explore and learn. The lessons are similarly thought-out and purposeful to engage a child’s interest whilst (unknowingly to the child) teaching him countless lessons at once. For example, the Practical Life lessons, things like Washing Dishes or Bathing a Baby, cater to a child's natural instincts to explore and work with water, engage in purposeful movement that requires them to slow down and become aware of their body in space by transporting water from one side of the class to the other. These long, sequential lessons also teach them responsibility, care of the environment, and attention to detail. When cleaning up they are taught to do everything left to right so as to reinforce how we read and write later on. And best of all - the lessons are designed to interest children so they want to work with them for hours on end, amazingly transforming the attention span of a 3 year old by directing his energy and giving him purpose.
In Montessori training you will find every single lesson has multiple purposes and has been time-tested to develop children that are eager to engage with materials. The lessons focus not only on teaching children Math or Language skills, although the scope of what a 3-5 year old is capable of in these subjects will blow your mind (Binomial Addition and Multiplication at 5 years old?!) Teaching in a Montessori room, you will discover that when a child is left to follow his interests without pressure or prompting from adults, reading and writing come naturally. However, the Montessori curriculum focuses on developing the whole child. Teaching manners, leadership, even a complete peace curriculum. What emerges after 3 years in Primary is a child who excels academically, can confidently express themselves, and cares for other people and the world around him. He is beginning to realize he is part of something greater than himself.
When you make the decision to become a Montessori teacher, you don't do it for the money. It is not always easy. Some days you will laugh. Some days you may cry. You will worry about doing too much for the child and squandering his sense of independence, or not enough and missing the “sensitive periods,” but you will never doubt your purpose. And in those moments where you are frustrated with yourself or perhaps it's rained for a week straight and your kids haven't had any outsidetime to expel their 5 year old endless energy and you are tired, a little girl or boy will see you and instinctively give you a hug. Or take a new, younger friend by the hand and gently help guide him to work. Or simply ask you to show them a lesson, so innocent, sweet, and full of curiosity that you have helped awaken, and you will be filled up again to the very top. And you'll remember why yours is one of the best careers - not a mere job - but a calling.