- The progress some of my students have made with reading: I have one second grade student in particular who speaks English as a second language. All last year I encouraged her to read mostly in Spanish so as to build her foundational skills for decoding and comprehending texts. However, for whatever reason, she struggled to decode words in both languages, sounding out individual sounds and not blending them together. At the beginning of this year, she was about a year behind in her English reading, and behind in Spanish reading as well. However, through tutoring, one-on-one time during silent reading, book club, and her own determination at home, she has advanced about a year in reading over the past four months, in both languages. She is even starting to read for fun!
- The progress some of my students have made emotionally: I had one first grader in particular who started out the year yelling, running, disrupting and defying every direction he was given in the room. He refused to come to lessons. He refused to do work. If he wasn’t slamming doors or ringing the chime unnecessarily, he spent his first days cutting up bananas and other fruit for smoothies because that was all that he was willing to do. He still is not an easy child to guide, but this week he has: volunteered to stay in at recess and clean the our pet betta fish’s bowl, showed another first grader a new math lesson, designed his own experiment and recorded results, made an abstract painting using watercolors, and responsibly run around on the playground for ten minutes each day (without supervision) and come back. Not every moment with him is peaceful, but more and more of them are becoming so, and, most importantly, he feels proud of himself for doing so well.
- How much pride my students take in working hard and doing challenging work: If I could sum up what I say to my students over and over throughout the day, it would be ” Do challenging work and help others do challenging work.” At the beginning of the year, it was like pulling teeth to get many of my students to do what they should have been doing. They all wanted to chat with each other or do arts and crafts or do works that were way too easy or eat snack for long amounts of time. I had to say no, set limits, take away certain freedoms, and redirect what they were doing a lot. It wasn’t very pretty or very fun. However, we’ve finally gotten to a point as a class where I’ve almost worked myself out of a job. I looked around the room this morning, and looked at my lesson plan, and realized I didn’t really know what to do because all of my students were doing what they suppose to be doing. They were all doing challenging work and helping one another. I was able to sit down with one of my second grade students who just started showing an interest in division this week and give him a rather long division lesson, that he loved and really understood (which, was amazing given that he came in this year at a beginning of first grade math level). My students have started saying that they want to works because they are challenging or because they want to master them (and that they hate doing other works because they are too easy). They also love to count the number of works they have done each day, and take pride when they’ve completed a high number.
- How much my students respect the community and each other: I would say the worst teaching moment this year (other than the one where I cried the week after Halloween because I was feeling so sick and no one was cleaning and it was time to go home and everything just felt really overwhelming) was when it took my students half an hour to settle down in circle. It was perhaps the second or third week of school, after recess, on a Friday, during the last hour of the day, and after telling my students over and over to be quiet, I decided to take out a book and wait it out. I thought it would maybe take five minutes max for my students to realize I was waiting and quiet each other down, but sadly it took thirty. Looking back, I definitely could have done more to get them to settle down (sung a song, clapped a rhythm, etc.), but I was also curious to see who the leaders were in my room at that point. No one really was. However, like with #3, through a lot of reminding students to be quiet in circle, encouraging them to help others be quiet, reminding them to respect the speaker and look at them with their eyes, we’ve finally gotten to the point where the students are able to settle themselves down on their own (mostly). I switched over to having second and third graders sign up to lead community circle a few weeks ago, and it’s been amazing to watch as people sit down in the circle on their own on some days, listen to the student who is speaking, and remind each other to be paying attention. It doesn’t always happen 100% of the time, and have had moments where I’ve had to intervene, but we’ve had a couple of circles that have been completely self-run by the students and, once more, I feel like I’ve worked myself out of a job.
- The way my students care for one another and the world: Empathy is no easy skill to cultivate, especially when I often find myself not being full of it. There are moments when I just don’t really want to empathize with a student who is loudly sobbing because he accidentally misplaced his water bottle for the fifth time that week (and he needs it right now!) or when I don’t want to help a student who was leaning back in his chair (despite warnings) and fell down feel better or when a student who constantly makes annoying noises gets frustrated at any other student for doing so. Empathy is so hard. Helping others is hard. Caring about the world when things are constantly going wrong is hard. However, despite my own cynicism and apathy at certain moments of the day, I see my students growing. This week, a new student joined our room, and I’ve taught her all of three, maybe four, lessons. However, she has gotten about ten works done each day, and learned how to use probably about twenty of the materials in the room because I have had so many students who have been willing to help her and teach her at every moment of the day. It has been beautiful to watch. Last week, during Problem Solving Circle, my students also voted to have a discussion about guns that went on for thirty minutes because they felt really passionate about making sure kids their age weren’t shooting pretend guns at each other, given all of the violence in the world. They also wanted to figure out exactly what guns are for (hunting, shooting ranges, etc.) and what they are not for (hurting or killing one another). They even brought up on their own how harmful playing violent videos games is in terms of making violent behavior seem normal or more okay in real life. They have also really started empathizing with Muslims in the U.S. and are disturbed by how the media and certain Americans keep stereotyping them as bad. Empathy is probably most visibly seen with the pets we have in our room (a guinea pig and a betta fish) who I rarely have to take care of myself because my students are so on top of making sure they have food, water, and clean spaces to live in. They already even have homes for the holidays.
If anyone wants to check out my student teaching portfolio from this past semester, you can find it here:
I highly recommend checking out the “I wonder” letters my students wrote, which can be found under the “Student Work” page.
I thought I would share with you all the final reflection I wrote for student teaching this semester. I think it sums up this past year fairly well (having spent all of 2013 assistant/student teaching) and also where I think my future is headed. As much as I struggle with the theoretical, ivory tower nature of academia, I’m thinking more and more of getting a PhD or Doctorate in Education, while still having my grounding as an elementary teacher. This post also ties in well with what I wrote here, back in April. This essay is part of a whole portfolio I created on wordpress for my student teaching, and once I anonymize it more, I think I’m going to make it public and link it here, if you all want to check it out.
Reflective Essay: On Theory and Practice
I think one of the biggest dilemmas I face in becoming a teacher and trying to become a teacher is the one of praxis, of trying to unite theory and practice in a way that is beneficial to students and myself as a teacher. As someone who has spent the past year of college working on her practice as an educator, assistant teaching at the Cloud Forest School (CEC) in Monteverde, Costa Rica, and student teaching at the Philadelphia Montessori Charter School (PMCS) in Philadelphia, PA, and the two and a half years beforehand studying educational theory, I think I’ve found at a relatively young age how little of practice in schools is informed by theory and how little of theory in higher education institutions is fully cognizant of the burdens of practice.
Prior to this year of practice, I thought I had my praxis relatively figured out. I had developed a fairly articulate theory of instruction while taking Education Psychology, one that reflected the work of Eccles et al. (1993) and the need to create an environment that is developmentally appropriate, engaging, and challenging to students. I incorporated the work of Nolen (2007) to create a theory of practice that focused strongly on the needs and benefits of writing in an elementary classroom. I built on the research of Yamuchi et al. (2005) and the need for creating culturally-relevant projects in classrooms that involve the community and its needs. I looked at Mark Springer’s (2006) work in Soundings and strived to create a pedagogy that would allow students to have a voice and a say in their own learning. I especially thought about Dweck (2000) and the need to constantly reinforce that intelligence is mastery, not performance-based, something that I myself have often struggled to believe.
Moreover, I took Urban Education the same time I took Education Psychology and I incorporated many of the readings and theories from that class into my theory of instruction, since my main aim since my freshman fall has been to teach in an urban setting. Particulary, I looked at Martin Haberman’s (1994) article “The Pedagogy of Poverty Versus Good Teaching” and tried to make sure my practices were as reflective of good teaching as possible, and not just focused on having students understand the basics. I thought about discipline quite a bit and the fact that urban schools often focus on discipline first, content second (Noguera, 2003). While not explicit in the paper I wrote at the time, I made the connection between Yamuchi et al. and Moll et al. (2005) and the need to not only work within students’ communities, but also build on the existing knowledge that stems from their community. It was particulary this semester, my fall sophomore year, where I saw all of these various theories I had read about fitting neatly together in my head to create a pedagogy that, I thought at least, would work well for students.
Other classes contributed as well to my thinking about how I would go into this year of practice. I consistently thought about my reading from Special Education in terms of disability being a social construction. I thought about how to make sure I saw all of my students, regardless of their learning challenges, as smart, gifted, and abled individuals. I thought about how I would best give extra help to certain students without making them feel alienated or different than the other students in the room. I thought as well about the readings and theories from Teaching Diverse Young Learners and my desire to create read aloud spaces where students could fully express themselves, and math lessons that would be conceptually, rather than procedurally, based.
Add all of this processing and thinking about theory taught at Swarthmore to the fact that I am also interested in Montessori education. Having read Angeline Stoll Lillard’s (2008) book Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius winter my sophomore year and externed in a Montessori classroom that January, I fell in love with the order and structure of Montessori classrooms and the way that many of the practices within them are supported by the same educational theories and findings that I had just read about in Education Psychology. I saw my own professor’s name cited numerous times as being support for the environment of interest and engagement that a Montessori curriculum can create. Despite that it is a hundred year old pedagogy that has changed little over the course of the past century, and despite the fact that it is often considered a “fringe” or “alternative” form of teaching in the United States, and that I had never read about it in any Swarthmore classes, I really loved Montessori education. I loved the style of teaching and interacting with students, and the idea of giving students choice and independence over their learning in a controlled, thoughtful environment. I also loved the emphasis on peace education and the global perspective that Montessori took. There is something awe-inspiring about a pedagogy that is not just native to one country, but found all throughout the world, in more or less the same form. It shows that many aspects of learning and thinking truly are universal and gives children around the world a shared experience, despite the vast distances and differences in culture. The Great Lessons that Montessori created also struck me. The idea that students can learn about the Big Bang as early as six years old and have that as a reference point for all the rest of their learning was something I had never encountered before. It showed me that children can learn more than we think they can, and about more complex material than we think we can, so long as we tailor it to their developmental level and make it more impressionistic than detailed and exact.
Given the six education courses I took prior to this calendar year and my own reading on Montessori education, I came into both of my classroom settings well grounded in theory. However, what I soon found, and I knew this somewhat before coming in, especially from my own school experiences, is that the majority of practice in schools is not really tied back to theory. There is a lack of discussion about theory in actual schools that I found to be just as frustrating as the lack of discussion about practice in many of my Swarthmore classes. I felt a strong disconnect between all that I had learned the two and a half years prior and the way that schools are actually run. Neither of the schools I taught in were “bad” per se. Neither of them were trying to do wrong by children. Both wanted their students to grow up to succeed and do well in life.
However, neither institution had an ongoing discourse about praxis, about how to best make various educational theories and practices fit well together. Especially in my time at PMCS, I found many curricular choices being made because they seemed to be the lastest and greatest development, or because they supported students’ performance on standardized testing. From AIMSWeb® testing to StudyIsland® Benchmarks to Fundations® (Wilson Phonics), I found myself in a sea of trademarked terms and practices that are meant to prepare students for the PSSAs. My experience was not as test-driven or focused or corporate as it might have been at other urban charter schools. Afterall, PMCS is Montessori-based, and there was a fair amount of time in the day spent using materials like the Stamp Game, Bead Chains, and Three Part Cards. However, I did not see or experience any ongoing discussions at the school about how to add more community-based or culturally-relevant forms of learning, despite the support of research for those forms of learning, or how to make sure that students have a mastery rather than performance-based form of intelligence. I did not find this either at the CEC. I found there to be numerous conversations about rules at recess, rules in the lunchroom, how to handle particular students, how to make sure students’ IEPs were up to code, etc. I found policies and procedures to be taking precidence over theories and research-based pedagogy.
In my own teaching, I tried my best to incorporate the two. I taught a unit where my students wrote letters to experts about questions they wondered about, similar to what students do in the Soundings classroom. Many of them have received replies back. I created a persuasive writing unit and had conversations with my students about the community they live in. We talked about both the beauty and ugliness within it and how to persuade others to make the ugliness more beautiful. We talked about people experiencing homelessness and the need to treat all people with respect because that is part of the process of creating peace. I consistently reminded my students that I wanted them to work hard because I wanted them to get smarter, and that the brain is like a muscle that needs to be exercised in order to become stronger. I taught a few of Montessori’s lessons, about the formation of galaxies, the fundamental needs of humans, and foundations of geometry (points, lines, and rays). I tried my best to have read alouds be a time when students could share their thoughts, and where I would listen to everything they had to say. I tried my best to create math lessons that were conceptually, rather than procedurally based, that used manipulatives to show why something is the way it is. Most of all, I tried to give my students the opportunity to write as much as possible and share what they wrote. In Costa Rica, I had my students write and share poetry (the first poems they had ever written!). In Philadelphia, I gave my students’ journal prompt after journal prompt, including one after they had been too noisy during their worktime and I made them sit down and write, that I then gave them the opportunity to write about, share, and discuss. I tried to amplify my students’ voices as much as I could, and make it so it wasn’t just my own that was being heard, a concept that stems all the way back to my reading of Dewey in Intro to Education.
I am realizing, though, that my role in the education system is small and that the forces dividing theory and practice are stronger than I’ll ever be able to tackle. At least at the moment, education policy is and will continue to be influenced by raw test scores and this idea that there’s an “achievement gap.” Education will keep being influenced by money and funding, and the practices that get you those, rather than by solid educational theory. Moreover, teachers will keep being controlled and regulated, and not seen as real professionals, so long as the profession is dominated by women, and sexism exists. There are forces beyond measure that keep practice from truly reflecting good theory. However, this does not mean I do not want to be a teacher anymore. Rather it makes me want to be a teacher even more. I want to bridge the gap between theory and practice in my work. I want to be a voice in faculty meetings that asks why we are doing things a certain way and wonders how new practices best fit with current research. I want to speak up for teachers, and help create spaces where other teachers can speak up for themselves in terms of education policy. Just as importantly, I want to bring more practice into theory. I want to give teachers more of a say and voice in what is published in prominent education journals. I want to conduct my own research rather than just being the subject of research. I want to show just how hard teaching is and how often times what is theorized is incredibly hard to put into practice. Essentially, I want to keep one foot grounded in academia and one foot grounded in the real world, so that hopefully the dilemma between theory and practice becomes just a little bit less profound.
Dweck, C.S. (2000). Self-Theories: Their role in motivation, personality, and development (pp. 1-28). Philadelphia, PA: Taylor & Francis.
Eccles, et al. (1993). Development during adolescence: The impact of stage-environment fit on young adolescents’ experience in schools and in families. American Psychologist, 48(2), 90-101.
Haberman, M. (1994). The Pedagogy of Poverty Versus Good Teaching, In J. Kretovics (Ed.), Transforming Urban Education. Boston: Allyn and Bacon. Pp. 305-314.
Lillard, A. S. (2008). Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius: The Science Behind the Genius. Oxford University Press.
Moll, L., Amanti, C., Neff, D., and González, N (2005). Funds of Knowledge for Teaching: Using Qualitative Approach to Connect Homes and Classrooms. In N. González, L. C. Moll, and C. Amanti (Eds.), Funds of Knowledge: Theorizing Practices in Households, Communities, and Classrooms. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Pp. 71-87.
Noguera, P. (2003). City Schools and the American Dream. New York: Teachers College Press. Chapter 3 & 4.
Nolen, S. B. (2007). The role of literate communities in the development of children’s interest in writing. In S. Hidi and P. Boscolo (Eds.), Writing and motivation (pp. -255). New York: Elsevier.
Springer, M. (2006). Soundings. Westerville, OH: National Middle School Association.
Yamuchi, L. A., Wyatt, T. T. R., & Carroll, J. H. (2005). Enacting the five standards for effective pedagogy in a culturally relevant high school program. In A. E. Maynard and M. I. Martini (Eds.), Learning in cultural contexts: Family, peers, and school (pp. 227-245). New York, NY: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers.
I feel like a lot of people in my life know why I want to be a teacher (education can be a means of empowerment, I love kids, love learning, and love helping kids to develop and grow intellectually, emotionally, and socially), but less people know why exactly I want to teach Montessori. During the course of my time student teaching at a public Montessori charter school, people have said things to me like:
“Wait, there’s more than one Montessori school? I thought Montessori was just the name of your school.”
“You seem to have taught a lot of writing. Does Montessori have a strong focus on writing?”
“Do your kids get to do whatever they want?”
“How do you teach first through third graders? How can you differentiate all of your lessons?”
“Do you want to teach at a Montessori school?”
“Is your school religious?”
“I thought Montessori schools were just for pre-school and kindergarteners.”
And most often:
“Wait, Montessori? What is that?”
I’ve decided to write a (not so) quick and dirty post here about what Montessori education here is, and why I want to be a Montessori educator, just so I can try to put a lot of these questions to rest. It is an interesting and unique model of education that is vastly different than more traditional methods of education in many respects. I’ve really appreciated all of the questions people have asked my regarding it because, if anything, it has gotten me to think critically about why I do what I do and if this really is the approach for me.
To begin with, let me have you watch this video:
I promise I’m not trying to get you to donate money to a documentary (though feel free to!). I just think this video strikes a good balance between explaining the ideals/background/overall spirit of Montessori education, and showing what it actually looks like in a classroom (which just so happens to be in my home state). Another good video to watch, and which has the most views on Youtube, is Montessori Madness. I don’t like it quite as much because it doesn’t show actual materials/classrooms, but it does do a good job explaining the pedagogical differences between Montessori and conventional schools.
While I don’t know everything about Montessori education, because I haven’t been trained, I would describe it best as a progressive approach to education that focuses on the whole development of each individual child, rather than on the overall academic development of a group of children. Rather than focusing on meeting a set of grade level curriculum standards for a group of same age children, Montessori education focuses on meeting a group of mixed age children where they are, socially, emotionally, and intellectually. Rather than placing children into groups and differentiating from there, it individualizes from the get go. Each child is given the materials and problems to use that best meet his or her developmental levels. Some children are given materials that help them do three digit addition, others are given materials that help them do two digit multiplication. Oftentimes, those children can be the same age. Moreover, the materials children use are versatile. Students start working with bead chains as early as three years old and continue to use them until they are nine, going from counting to addition to multiplication to squaring and cubing. The materials in Montessori classrooms are standardized and pretty much the same as they were when Maria Montessori developed them. The curriculum is highly based on the use of these, especially in the primary and lower elementary classrooms, because children still think very concretely and kinesthetically. One of the best parts of this standardization, is that a child can move from a Montessori school in Minnesota to a Montessori school in Bhutan (they truly do exist worldwide!) and pick up on his learning exactly where he left off.
Another aspect of Montessori that makes it truly unique is the structure of the school day. The way that the school day looks for my children personally is that we have breakfast and a math or reading packet first thing in the morning, followed by a community meeting. After that, my students have two hours of solid worktime. During this time, my cooperating teacher and I teach small group and individual language, math, and science lessons. When students aren’t in lessons with teachers, they are working with the various materials in the classroom, and filling out workplans, which list the materials and activities they can do. Each day, students are expected to complete one math and language activity. Overall, they are expected to complete four to five activities in a morning. Activities and materials include: three part cards (which have information about everything from plants to seasons to art to ecosystems to geometry terms), the Stamp Game, journal writing, puzzle maps (in which children carefully trace each country onto paper, fitting them together), sight word Bingo, math workbooks (both are not really “Montessori”), spelling booklets, and geometrical insets. For the most part, the students can choose which materials they would like to work with on a given morning and when they would like to work on them. Giving children this level of choice and independence is something that is rarely seen in most traditional schools. In the afternoon, after silent reading time, we usually do a whole group activity, either science, writing, music/culture, or any other activity that we think all of the children will benefit from. There is a lot of flexibility in terms of what this time looks and what subject or topic it focuses on. Last week, we made clocks as a class and learned some songs in Spanish. Other weeks, we have made models of the Earth’s layers using clay and written autobiographical timelines. The way the afternoon, and the overall school day, are structured allows many interdisciplinary approaches to be used to teach topics.
Other reasons I love Montessori education, which I won’t extend upon as much but quickly summarize here, are:
- Its focus on peace education and global citizenship. As said in the first video, Montessori schools can be seen all throughout the world, and because of this, Montessori pedagogy has a strong focus on cooperation and interdependence. Montessori education isn’t tied to one particular country’s ideologies or ideals. No country is better than another country.
- The mixed age classrooms. There is something cool about seeing a third grader teaching a group of first graders how to use a certain material, or seeing a second grader and third grader, who are learning the same topic mathematically, work together. It is also really cool to see the friendships that develop across grade level, to see a first grade boy and a third grade girl always sit together during writing time. It mimics real life more, where work environments aren’t composed of people who are the same age, but different ages, and where mentorship is constantly going on.
- The time and flexibility it gives to explore and work. This is similar to what I said above about the structure of the workday being unique, but something that I would like to point out explicitly. In many traditional schools, if a student is not done with a certain task in fifteen minutes, he’s not going to finish it. Or if the bell rings, it’s time to move on to the next task, whether or not the students are ready. Students are expected to do only a certain amount of work and nothing more. In Montessori classrooms, that is not always the case. Just last week, I gave a geometry lesson to the first graders about lines, rays, line segments, and points. After the lesson, I gave them the assignment to work with a partner to make a list of ten line segments around the room in their journals. I sent them off to work and twenty minutes later, four of them came up to me (two separate sets of partners), showing me the lists of thirty line segments they had found throughout the room. I had given them an assignment that apparently had piqued their curiosity and they were able to spend as much time as they liked doing it.
- Its comprehensive developmentally-appropriate approach. As mentioned in the video, Maria Montessori created an education plan that extends from birth to age twenty-four, which is when the brain more or less reaches full maturity. She divided those twenty-four years into four stages, and each of those stages into two sub-stages. Each stage takes into account fully what a child, adolescent, or young adult is able to do and not do developmentally. They also take into account the regressions that people naturally make as they develop, for example how adolescents (ages 12-18) are often much like infants and toddlers (ages 0-6) in terms of egoism and emotional fragility. Montessori education treats each of these changes and occurrences as natural, and not things to be worried or concerned about.
- It’s stability. There are A LOT of trends that come and go in education, and that aren’t always scientifically proven to work. The Montessori method has been around for over one hundred years now, and has been proven in study after study to produce students who are intellectually curious, creative, and independent. One of the best books to read about why Montessori education works from a more academic, psychological approach is Angeline Lillard’s book Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius. Study after study that has come out in the field of educational psychology over the last twenty years (including those that my own educational psychology professor has done) support schools taking on approaches similar to those already existing in Montessori education. Moreover, Montessori is fundamentally different from many educational approaches because many educational approaches are created, implemented and then scientifically tested. Science plays little role in their actual creation. Montessori, on the other hand, developed her approaches using the scientific method. She observed a child’s behavior, created a material that he could use, noticed his behavior with the material, changed the material as needed, and so on until she had made a material that truly worked for the child as she intended it. She did not come in with any pre-conceived notions of what her pedagogy should look like, but developed it from the ground up through observation and testing. She also discovered many of the same things that Piaget discovered (the two were actually friends!), but of course she is cited less because she’s a woman. Sigh.
- The level and kind of content that is taught. Because the Montessori method is so tactilely and concretely based, children are able to learn many complex concepts at an early age through the use of materials and visuals that they would not be able to learn at such a young age if the lessons were taught more abstractly. Children learn about such scientific concepts as the Big Bang and the creation of the world, as well as stellar nucleosynethesis (the creation of all types of matter through the birth and death of stars), and the formation of galaxies through the use of visual demonstration and various materials. They learn about how numbers have developed over time, where the concept of zero came from, how languages have developed, and how humans formed. History and science are closely linked together, and there is a strong focus on looking at the development of various concepts and beings over time. Rather than having a super narrow and limited understanding of the world, students are given broad, sweeping, impressionistic understandings that develop and become more detailed over time.
- It’s based on formative, rather than summative assessments. Students’ development and understandings are constantly assessed and observed as they work with materials, rather than when they take summative tests. In fact, Montessori schools are often known in the wider culture as being places where no tests or homework are given. While my school does give homework, and my students take many assessments to get ready for the PSSAs, these two ideas are generally true, especially at private Montessori schools. Maria Montessori believed that assessment should be authentic and happen through teacher observation and the use of self-correcting materials. She also believed that children should not be given homework because they need time to rest, especially after a hard day of work at school. Moreover, in a Montessori home environment, students are expected to help clean, prepare dinner, and do other household tasks from a young age. These sorts of tasks are the work of the home, and not worksheets or textbook readings.
While I don’t think Montessori is the only way to educate a child, I do wish more people knew about it. I think there are many areas of education where the Montessori model could be incorporated or applied more. While there are a few Montessori-based special education schools in the U.S., many of which have produced really positive results, I think many of the Montessori materials would be wonderful to incorporate in any special education classroom because they are so tactile and allow for students to use multiple modalities. Moreover, they are oftentimes self-correcting and control for error. I personally want to work towards having more urban Montessori schools. It’s frustrating to me that a method that was originally developed for impoverished kids in Rome has been co-opted, at least in the U.S., to be mostly for children in white affluent suburbs. While I don’t necessarily think it’s “wrong” for children in these areas to be going to Montessori schools, I do want Montessori education to become something that is accessible to everyone, and especially to children who live where “drill and kill” is the normal method of instruction. Whether this means working in Philadelphia or Chicago or St. Paul or starting my own Montessori school one day, I don’t know. But it is decidedly something I feel passionate about and want to see happen in my lifetime.
So right now, when the going gets tough, and my cooperating teacher and I are holding class in the school’s cafeteria for the next one to three weeks as our classroom gets cleaned up from a sewage leak, I will keep reminding myself that what I am working towards is something that is really empowering and needed. Many people in my life may not understand it, but it’s what I care about, and perhaps even what God is calling me to do.
Have any additional questions about Montessori education? Or stories about being in a Montessori school yourself? Feel free to leave a comment below!
It’s that time of year again.
Target and Wal-mart are stocking and restocking ever-dwindling supplies of pencils, pencil sharpeners, erasures, notebook paper, post-it notes, and way too many folders with Justin Bieber’s face on them.
Yesterday I stopped by that section, originally thinking I would just buy myself a planner to keep track of all of my random seminars, workshops, etc. this coming semester, but I ended up leaving with some kickass Dr. Suess pencils, erasures, Spanish-English dictionaries, and other supplies to send to my first-now-second graders and cooperating teacher in Costa Rica. I miss them all so much.
And with that, I begin a new teaching venture. Student teaching at the Philadelphia Montessori Charter School. And to be honest, I’m not really all that nervous. I’m just straight up excited. There is something so calming and restful about being in a Montessori classroom. The way all of the students are quietly working at their own pace. The way the teachers don’t raise their voices, but softly direct students back to their work. I’m really looking forward to being in such a balanced atmosphere, especially with the (good) stress that I know will come from being at Swarthmore and with other Swatties.
And since I haven’t written about it at all on here yet, I would just like to say that this summer has been absolutely wonderful. I’ve had the chance to live with my dad again, something I haven’t done for three years. We’ve had some really good meals and runs together, and I even got him to watch the Bachelorette finale for two whole minutes. Definitely something he has never done before. I’ve also gotten to spend more time with my high school friends than I have basically since graduation. And I love that while we have grown apart geographically, we have grown along the same paths metaphorically. We have all come to realize how privileged (and elitist to a certain degree) our backgrounds are, that no solution to a problem is perfect, and all we want to do is serve people as best we can. How Midwestern.
I also had the chance this summer to witness the marriage of two of my closest friends in South Dakota, to journey up to the Boundary Waters and become a true Minnesotan, and to spend lots and lots of time at my favorite coffee shop in the Twin Cities (love you, Nina’s!). I’ve seen my little nephew take his first guided steps and practice his phonemes. I celebrated my mom’s and sister-in-law’s birthdays. My dad ate his first Japanese food (aside from sushi) on Father’s Day. My sister and I have seen movies and drunk beer together and finally had sister-sister days (which is what we called them when we were little) that haven’t ended up with her telling me to do something, and me saying I don’t want to, crying, and running to my mom. +1 for growing up. Life here in MN isn’t half bad and I’m excited for all the good beginnings to come this semester.
Here’s to senior year.
I thought, as I make the transition from the peacefulness of Monteverde to the difficulty of home, that I would share a few poems with you all. I can’t find words to describe how I feel right now upon my arrival to the U.S. (though liminal might be a good one), so I’ll let these beautiful (and sometimes quite funny) poems fill in the blank spaces on here. I miss my first graders so much, and hope, once the chaos dies down in my heart, that I’ll be able to find the words to describe just how amazing my experience with them was. Until then…. here are some really great (unedited) poems written by a few bilingual six and seven year olds:
One day a coconute
rolde dawn a snoeee hil
a prsin-pictit up and
hee sed onle if it had a
litd bit of bred
my name is finolee ned
dy ime going to bed
Wan day a cat
go two tha haus of
she and den she it
and see is delichius is
(I forgot to ask to the student who wrote this poem to read it out loud to me. My interpretation of it is that she offered the cat some lunch, but I feel like it could also be read as the cat being offered for lunch… Hopefully, it’s the former.)
Una Rima de Una Guayaba
Guayaba guayabita de color
verde te voy a comer porque
te veo muy rica
My mom is too crisi
Alexandra is a gud fen too mi
Ran too fast
It lunch in the shclool
Somtame my mom is engri
Ocean is too cold
Lion is too engri
(This is one of my favorite acrostic poems that the students wrote. Mostly because of it’s honesty…)
live so many unicorms and
slip hast de
amanecer slip to de
mornyn hast de atardecer to amanecer to
(I’m so impressed by the intersection of idiomas in this poem.)
alto por el
vuelan por casas por
vuelan con las
(This poem is so gosh darn beautiful. I can’t get over it.)
(And now for a few short ones, all written by the same student, that make me laugh every time… I hope he gets a twitter someday)
The Gut Frens
I am gup brawn or dawn
The greyd day
Greyd day you most get
The Engri Boy
You want to pley
No, no, I not want
I fain sneic
in may bed
the is sceri
I been in
in may haus
for 3 wix
now I in the
I fain a maus
in may haus
(Literally, those last three could be really poetic twitter updates.)
(These last two are from two students who struggle to write anything, English or Spanish. I was so proud of them when they were each able to publish three poems.)
Con dos palos puedo naeer
La cruz se pareese avono
El avono vuela
El avono vuela alto
A mi, me gusta el cobete
Mi mamá le gusta el cobete
Mi papá le gusta el cobete
My kids wrote so many more wonderful poems, but I think I’ll leave it at that for now. I’m super proud of them and all of the work they got done during their last writing unit of first grade. It was definitely a super fun topic to plan for and teach.
Today my first graders sang Raffi’s song “All I Really Need” at the high schoolers’ graduation. It was the cutest thing ever. Sadly, my camera isn’t the best (at taking pictures, and definitely not at taking video), the lighting wasn’t the best, and the sound wasn’t too great either. So basically don’t expect a high-quality vid below (or a very long one for that matter). But nonetheless, regardless of how poor the technology was, my kids really sang their hearts out and I am so proud of them for standing in front of so many people and not being too nervous. I’m going to miss these guys so, so much.
You guys, for whatever reason, I don’t know why, I’m trying to find the key to happiness, or, at the very least, contentment. But the thing is, stuff keeps getting in the way. The second I think I’m fine or, dare I say it, enjoying how life is going, something happens. Take tonight for example. I had a pretty good day helping teach first graders. Many of them finished writing their first ever poems and tomorrow we’ll be starting on their second ones. I think I’ll be able to get all the interviews I need to get have for my thesis done in time, and I have some pretty good data in my fieldnotes. I cooked empanadas de plantanos con queso with the fellow interns and our Spanish teacher for class after school, and then I went for a pretty magical run in the fog with Snoopy. Just now, I was able to relax with my host mom and sister for two hours, eating pasta and watching TV, before quick writing up some fieldnotes. Overall, not a bad day at all.
However, when I logged on to check my email just now, I discovered from my dad, who I love dearly, that things aren’t going quite as well in my family as I had thought (and as he had thought). Nothing unusual, new, or life-changing, but simply a reminder that progress isn’t always made as fast as you want it to be made, and that sometimes it feels like all the work you do for something may have just been for nothing. Anywho, when I read this email, my gut reaction was to cry, like I did every time last fall when I received a depressing email about my family.
But if there’s one thing my time here (and just growing up in general) has taught me, it’s that life is not just about how you act, but also how you react. Take teaching for example. Over the past four months, I’ve learned from being in the classroom with my wonderful host teacher and watching her teach that one of the main keys to being a good teacher, especially among little ones, is to not let your visceral reactions to situations take over, to not immediately become frustrated when all twenty of your students won’t listen to directions, to not call out a student for not immediately cleaning up a mess they made, you name it. Teaching is all about learning how to remain calm and collected, even when it feels like chaos is happening around you (or, at the very least, that your kids are acting just like what they are: kids). Obviously there is a time and place for frustration in teaching (especially when students don’t listen after the fifth time you’ve given a directive), but most of the time, this frustrated tone of voice is not the one you should use, even if it’s what you feel like using. Choosing to act calmly in a chaotic situation, even when you feel the opposite of calm, is such a hard skill to learn, but necessary in getting kids to act calmly as well. No student will act calm if you aren’t calm as well. They’ll just act crazy or scared.
Reactions matter in so many other situations as well. Today, when it started pouring rain in the afternoon (the second true day of the rainy season), it was hard for me not to become depressed and think I wouldn’t be able to run for the second day in a row, and possibly not for the rest of my time here. But I told myself to shut up, stop worrying, and enjoy cooking with my friends and to wait it out. There might by a window later in the afternoon with less rain during which I could run, and, if not, I could just enjoy more time with my family. It turns out that that window did come, just an hour before sunset, and I ended up going for one of my best runs here. I could have spent my afternoon worrying about losing my fitness and not being able to train properly for my half marathon in July, but I told myself not to think this way, as hard as it was, and everything ended up more or less okay.
Deciding not to think a certain way is probably one of my favorite things about becoming an adult. When you’re a kid (and especially when you’re an adolescent), you just feel things so intensely and quickly that you don’t really have time to think about how you’re reacting or if you could react in a better way. Luckily, as an adult, there is more of a conscious choice and awareness regarding the whole matter.
So about that key to happiness and contentment I’ve been looking for? I have no clue where it is. A lot of people say it’s Jesus, but he tells us to give up our lives and follow him, so I don’t know if that’s so much happiness as it is an uncomfortable, but good amount of sacrifice. All I know is that, to some degree, I have control over how stressed or depressed I feel about the negative things in my life. My family will probably always have issues, but you know what? I have so many positive and beautiful things in my life, and will continue to this summer and next fall back at Swat, that I am going to focus on those, and not let the negative actions and reactions of life take over again.
I think the Costa Rican life is getting to me… Pura Vida.
You guys, in one month I’ll be back in the States. And boy is it making me sad. You see the thing is that I miss home (and, by home, I mean both Minnesota and the East Coast) like crazy right now. I miss running by the lakes and along the Mississipi River. I miss the change of seasons, and the smell of melted snow. I miss long o’s and friendly hellos. I miss state pride and shared culture.
I miss sitting in Suburban Station or running up the steps from it, only to find myself right next to City Hall and Love Park. I miss the weird smell of the sewers coming from underneath the streets. The people walking and cars honking. I miss searching through my backpack for a SEPTA token or a dollar to buy something from Insomnia Cookie or a bakery in Chinatown. I miss the chilliness of BSM’s sanctuary and the early morning light in the city as I leave SREHUP.
I miss all of the perfectly inscribed labels, next to every flower, tree, and shrub. I miss the odd angles of the roads and brokeness of the sidewalks. I miss the peacefulness of the rocks looking down on the Crum, the steady sound of fellow students working and complaining about work in McCabe, the cozy messiness of the WRC, the back and forth surveying of the different bars in Sharples, and peaceful late night walks back to my room.
I miss walking into the library and seeing students waiting, with their homework already out, backpacks slung on the floor. I miss seeing the librarians go back and forth making copies for patrons, parents talking to the children’s librarian, with their hands on a stroller. I miss running to catch one of the buses or thanking a fellow co-op member for an unexpected ride. I miss church basements and fellowship meeting halls. I miss the familiarity of the transportation center and its people. I miss all of the friendly hellos.
But I know, even now while I’m still here, that this feeling of missing is not going to go away once I return to one of these homes because, as soon as I leave here, I know I’m going to miss the sound of Snoopy barking at night, the laughter of my host family as they chat and watch TV, the smell of coffee, the taste of platanos con natilla, the expectant silence among Quakers, the feel of dirt roads, the dense life of the cloud forest, and the beauty of a sudden rainbow. I know I’m going to miss seeing dogs wandering around on the street, my kids waving hi to me from trees, and cows and horses tied up by the side of the road. And, Lord knows, I’m going to miss the early morning light in the first grade classroom, the hushed whispers between students as they write, the waving of raised hands and calling out after a question is asked, the sound of the microwave beeping during lunch, the view when hanging upside from the monkey bars, and the feeling of a student finally “getting” it. I am going to miss this place a million times over in the months to come after this one. I know that already.
But still my feet are itchy, and it’s not just due to the mosquitos that, without fail, find themselves in my room every night. I love newness, whether it’s in fresh views or fresh perspectives. I love the feeling of discovering something others have known for ages, and the moment when something unfamiliar becomes just a little more familiar. I love the moments of clarity that come with foreign situations, when you realize you really don’t know anything at all, but, luckily, you’re always capable of learning so much more.
Needless to say, I know where I’ll be this summer (back home in Minnesota), and next year (student teaching in Philadelphia and living at Swarthmore), but after that, I haven’t a clue. And, for the first time in my life, I like that. Missing things is good.
A Story by Jodi and Christina’s First Grade Class
Once upon a time there was a giraffe in the zoo.
Next, a dragon named Raúl ate the giraffe.
The dragon ate the giraffe because he was hungry.
There was another dragon that came to the zoo. His name was Pépé.
After Pépé came to the zoo, three dogs came to the zoo and they saw the dragon and they ran and ran and ran.
Then Pépé ate a lion because he was too, too hungry.
Pépé was hungry again and ate a seal. Then the dragon at Paolo. Poor Paolo.
Then Pépé ate a dog. Then Pépé ate a bear, a cat, an armadillo, a boat full of people, another cat, and, for dessert, a little rooster.
Then Pépé burned down the zoo.
Then Pépé found some friends and he got super hungry, so he ate his friends.
Pépé was so full. But then another dragon came and fought with Pépé.
The other dragon’s name was Joshua. Joshua was bright green, like the grass, and he had horns. He and Pépé lived in the water.
Then came another dragon named Celimo. He was green and had horns all over his body. Then Celimo ate Raúl and Pépé and all his other friends because he didn’t want to fight more.
Then they both found friends and they were so full that they didn’t eat them. And when they got hungry, they ate leaves and grass.