Finding my Calling by Falling (into Montessori)

by Casey Hardigan

In May 2012, I graduated from The University of New Hampshire an enthusiastic, wide-eyed 22-year-old with a BA and the world in my hands. I was thrust down to Earth from the fluffy clouds of The College of Midday Naps and Cereal Bar Buffets when I realized I was about to move home--and I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I majored in English, but wasn’t interested in being a writer; I was definitely not as interested in Law School as some of my other classmates. I enjoyed Education and was always a good student, so I figured I would try teaching. I did not have any certifications and wasn’t ready to commit by taking the required exams; therefore, I began with the intention of getting my feet wet. I moved home and began substitute teaching in Massachusetts.

I started with high school.

Too smelly.

I tested out middle school.

Too moody.

I even tried subbing gym classes! It turned out I was not as athletically gifted as I’d hoped. Finally, I began substitute teaching in elementary schools. I was shocked to find how much I loved the younger classes where the children were just starting to become avid readers and had an insatiable thirst for knowledge alongside an unabashed love of school that wasn’t yet dashed by fear of being “uncool.” After a few months, I applied for a permanent substitute position. I began working as an aide to a little boy in first grade with developmental delays. I was interested in what the children were learning, how they interacted with one another, and I loved watching their personalities blossom. However, I couldn’t help but feel something about the setting was not a perfect fit for me. I couldn’t picture myself being happy teaching the same subjects at the same scheduled times, every day, year in and year out with little attention given to the learning styles of the students. As my time in my substitute position ended, I was hesitant to take the plunge and register for the exams that would qualify me to be a teacher in Massachusetts.

“We view our work as a Job, a Career, or a Calling. People with a “job” see work as a chore and their paycheck as the reward. They constantly look forward to the time they can spend away from their job. [...] People who view their work as a career work not only out of necessity, but also to advance and succeed…Finally, people with a calling view work as an end in itself; their work is fulfilling not because of external rewards but because they feel it contributes to the greater good...and gives them meaning and purpose. Unsurprisingly, people with a calling orientation not only find their work more rewarding, but work harder and longer because of it.” The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor, p 78
— The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor

Around the same time, I was encouraged to join a friend moving to Atlanta. I decided maybe this experience would be what I needed: what did I have to lose? I packed up my things and set up a few interviews at various schools and random businesses before I made the drive. After being petrified that I would never make it in the big city post interview at an insurance company, I found the Suzuki School. I had no experience in preschool and had no idea what a Montessori was, but thought I’d give it a shot. I began subbing at the Northside campus. I was blown away by the beautiful, bright, organized classrooms. Gone were the cluttered walls that can be unnecessarily overstimulating in a traditional setting. Montessori classrooms are designed to be neat and orderly to draw children in and make them feel calm, relaxed, and ready to learn. The effect is not lost on adults, either! I was given the opportunity to work in Level I with the babies and toddlers--some of the latter are just learning to walk--and finally in the Primary rooms. I quickly found my favorite level was Primary. In the younger rooms, the teachers explained the tenets of Montessori essential at their level: observing each individual child to see what they could do independently and giving them opportunities to do things themselves--such as holding their own bottle when they are ready--while also bridging the gap when they needed assistance. While the lessons changed, and became more complex for the older rooms, the ideology remained the same. It was no great surprise that, as I observed in each of these levels, I found Montessori seemed to go hand in hand with everything I had learned, and agreed with, in school about child development.

I worked in one room for an extended time and was amazed by several things. The Suzuki teachers were dedicated to teaching not only the children, but me as well. They took time to explain how imperative it was to use a soft voice to create a peaceful environment where the children can focus uninterrupted, as well as modeling behavior and manners I wanted the children to emulate. The Suzuki Northside teachers not only allowed me to read their Montessori manuals to get a grasp on some of the lessons that were foreign to me—for example, why in the world were the children being taught to Polish a mirror?—but they let me take them home and suggested lessons I might want to practice with a child the next day. I remember studying the “Mirror Polishing” lesson and showed a child the next day as one of the teachers in the room sat next to us, patiently observing. The Teacher did not interrupt or say anything to undermine me as I showed the child; but, later, she gently explained the importance of slow, precise movements when demonstrating a Practical Life lesson so that the child remains engaged and learns to mimic your focus, concentration, and attention to detail. She also explained that each lesson has many purposes that are not obvious. For the lesson I instructed, the mirror is polished left to right as the child will later read from left to right, at the same time their ability to focus and follow directions is improving by watching these lessons with many sequenced steps.

My first impression of the Montessori environment was awe. There was an undeniable feeling of respect for learning and growth. There was an understanding that growth comes from trying; you may sometimes fail, but you will have the opportunity to try again, and learn from your mistakes. This was not only present at the child’s level, but amongst the adults as well! The feeling of a lifelong love of learning and passion for teaching I observed and felt first-hand was not exclusive to just this room. It was, and is, an ambience that permeates the Montessori classroom. It is a method that can seem baffling in its differences from traditional education; however, once you see it in action, it makes such simple sense, inspiring and awakening both a student and instructor’s inner yearning to learn, teach, explore, and thrive.

Finding my Calling by Falling (into Montessori)
By Casey Hardigan


Casey Hardigan is a Teacher at the Ponce City Market location of The Suzuki School. She is a dedicated teacher with a passion for constantly learning and growing in her profession. She brings her enthusiasm for education into the classroom and inspires a love of learning in the children.

Ms. Casey joined the Suzuki School in January 2013. She fell in love with the Montessori system of education because she loves how this method does not only focus on Math or Language. While the children learn these concepts seamlessly through the carefully thought out lessons, the Montessori method provides an emphasis on helping to develop the whole child. The children learn grace and courtesy lessons such as The Soft Voice and Practical Life activities like Washing Dishes. The breadth of lessons in Montessori help to guide the child into becoming a responsible, capable, kind-hearted human being who is ready to take on the world and make it a better place.

Originally from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Ms. Casey moved to Atlanta in 2013. She comes from a large family with 3 brothers and 2 sisters. She enjoys spending time reading or outside with her rescue dog and family.

A graduate of The University of New Hampshire with a Bachelor’s Degree in English, Ms. Casey has also completed training with the Pan American Montessori Society at Kennesaw State University and is a Certified Montessori Teacher.