Y’all, sometimes I get a really nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach, like I’m doing this whole teaching thing wrong and if I were to do it “right,” it wouldn’t feel right.
You see, Montessori education is scripted. And I don’t buy that. Technically, I should be following the lesson plans step-by-step in the manuals I was given this summer. I should be checking my manuals before I give lessons, looking at them while I give lessons, and reflecting back on them after lessons. I should be telling the students what exactly they should be doing in each subject area, and giving them choice on when they want to do those items. I should be having them work through series of task cards for everything from subtraction with exchanging to the function of nouns. I should be putting all those little word cards for language in drawers that look like this, numbering the sets of cards and having students work through each drawer in sequence:
I should be isolating concepts, only teaching one concept at a time and not asking students to use multiple skills. I should be correcting their writing in their notebooks, and focusing on the completion of “correct sentences.”
Y’all, I love Montessori. I love that it’s a method that doesn’t give students letter grades, but rather checks to see if they have mastered certain “grade-level” concepts. I love that it promotes cooperation rather than competition. I love that it holds a Cosmic perspective, that everything in the universe is interrelated and that there is a certain level of universality that unites humankind. I love the focus on peace education and social-emotional learning. I love that it’s a method that gives children freedom from a young age. Montessori education does a lot right, particularly in theory.
But what I also like is allowing students to build preying mantis “houses.” I like allowing them to research what bugs eat or to go outside and see the helicopter that is flying overhead because they are curious about the noise. I love allowing them the freedom to create their own experiments. I love having them design their own postal system in our classroom and cook real food using real ingredients. I like having them create their own sentences to edit, and to come up with their own math problems. I like creating a classroom where students have a great deal of agency and freedom to help create the curricula.
But they can’t do that when it’s scripted. And as much as some Montessorians say to teach the curriculum according to the script and let the children be creative in their follow up work, that’s not really how it works. Students, in practice, need to stick to the task cards and their work plans, particularly in public school settings.
It is so incredibly conflicting to agree with a method on a higher theoretical level, but then to hate practicing it, or at least parts of it. When I decided to be a teacher, I wanted to be a teacher who gave her students real, authentic tasks. I wanted to help them craft identities as writers, scientists, historians, and mathematicians. I wanted them to design their own projects, make their own discoveries, create their own original art, and guide them to think critically and creatively. Copying nouns down from a stack of noun cards is not thinking critically or creatively. Sorting objects by whether they are solid or elastic is not really using the scientific method. Isolating concepts in a world where no concepts are truly isolated seems inauthentic.
I love that Montessori isn’t cutesy, like a lot of elementary school curricula. I love that it allows students to learn about the time periods of life, the scientific names for the parts of plants, and see concretely that a square of eight beads by eight beads equals sixty-four beads. But I do not like the discourse prevalent in the Montessori community about certain things being “Montessorian” or “not Montessorian,” especially when it’s just straight up bad pedagogy. In a scripted curriculum, no room is left for learning from unexpected experiences, students’ individual backgrounds, and funds of knowledge. There is no room for culturally relevant pedagogy or crafting the curriculum to fit the community you are teaching. There is no room for exploring students’ sudden interests when there is a set sequence or presenting information through students’ interests (like exploring fractions through nature, for example).
It’s frustrating to want students to be creative with a method that, in practice, doesn’t even allow for teachers to be creative. It’s frustrating to want students to be critical in a method that, in practice, doesn’t allow for teachers to be critical. I am not a scripted teacher, not will I ever be a scripted teacher, which makes me wonder sometimes, and doubt, if I’ll ever be Montessorian or, for that matter, if I really want to be.