From Non-Believer to Believer
Twelve years ago, I graduated college, eager for a teaching job. I applied and applied with no luck. So instead, I took what I could get to make ends meet…I ended up as a manager for a cosmetic counter. And still, I continued applying until one day my friend told me, “Hey you should apply at this Montessori school I just got a job at.”
Let’s be honest, I had no idea what Montessori was. Was it religious? Was it some hippie thing? Wanting to be prepared for my interview, I did a little research on Montessori, so I would be able to throw out some buzz word: mixed ages, hands-on learning, child-centered, three-year cycle. I must have done and said the right things because just like that, I got the job! I was so eager to leave the cosmetics world behind and begin doing what I truly loved, teaching. This “Montessori” thing was, at the time (and hard for me to admit), in the back burner of my attention. I was quickly thrown into my new job and did my best in the beginning to be “Montessori.” But again, although I knew the buzz words and basic philosophies behind it, it wasn’t until my training that I realized what true Montessori was and the potential that it could unlock in EVERY child.
I can remember vividly the exact moment at training when it all changed for me. I was sitting with other new teachers and we were given the Montessori Long Division Material (a.k.a The Racks and Tubes) lesson as if we were students. With very little direction from the instructor, I was moving the beads around and using the material to solve the problem. Five minutes into working with the material, I had what some would say a light-bulb moment. The “rules” that were drilled into me as a child (divide, multiply, subtract, bring down) totally made sense to me because I was able to see firsthand WHY the rule worked. I can remember thinking, “Why did I not know this before?!?!” It clicked for me and was a powerful realization that every student should have the opportunity to learn this way; that they should have concrete experiences that provide meaningful learning and deeper connections; that they should understand the rules first without even knowing the rules.
From that moment on, I fully embraced the philosophy. I began to delve deeper into Montessori after that moment. I read books, observed, and completed my training. And what I discovered was more than just the use of materials… it is an educational system that focuses on developing the whole child. Montessori was no longer in the backburner of my thoughts. It was on the forefront of everything I did in my classroom and I don’t think I would ever want to teach in any other setting.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I went to public school my entire life. And I turned out just fine. In fact, I excelled. But I always wonder “what if?” What if I was provided with the hows and whys? What if I was given time to explore learning with the materials through a hands-on, meaningful way? What if my learning was completely individualized for me? What if I was able to follow my interests and be an active part of my learning? I am now a believer…and there is no going back.