A few years ago I taught a boy named Derek, a difficult yet bright and caring 12-year-old on the Asperger’s spectrum. Derek could be challenging, to say the least. For example, one day at school we couldn’t find him for over an hour; turns out he had hid himself in a closet because he believed “no one would even care if I were gone!” (Oh boy, that was a scary mess. I remember the experience like it was yesterday!) Despite all of Derek’s “issues”, he was a thinker, and a young man who felt deeply. While his unpredictability and outbursts in class brought out insecurities in us nascent teachers who were (wrongheadedly) craving control, his inquisitive nature and kind heart reminded us of why we chose to be in the field of education in the first place.
Archive for Montessori Blog
I had a humbling experience last week in my community of 3-6-year-olds – one of those moments that reminded me to put my faith in the power of the child’s own inner guide to lead them to the experiences they need for their own satisfying development.
The other day I took a call from a prospective parent. I had not given her tour, and she was calling to talk to the director and ask a few questions. She wanted to know if I knew the national average ACT or SAT scores for Montessori alumni. I had to admit that I don’t, and I am not aware of anyone who has narrowed down that population for that sort of study. I asked her what she was looking for in that question. She told me that what she really wanted was for her daughter to be happy.
It begins with the increasingly noisy tap – tap – tapping of brush on bucket, that first signal of digging in and lying low and simultaneously signaling readiness for the potential struggle to come. This is soon accompanied by nonsense chatter and noises. “How quickly we can get into these cycles, “ the guide thinks to herself.
They came in from the playground knotted together by tight feelings for their injured friend. “He’s hurt. He fell off the slide. Ned pushed him.” Ned was supporting Bart, who was hopping along, his face squeezing out tears and his jaw clenching in sobs. Breathing heavily, pushing and stumbling, with heads bobbing and backs bent as they jockeyed for close, clear gapes at the bloody knee, Ned and Bart’s buddies accompanied them to gain the safety and reassurance that presenting the disaster to me always bestows.
Parents and teachers are some of the most inspiring people at work in the world today. We’ll break into song when the first robin appears, dance a jig when the sun breaks through the clouds, cry on the last day of school, and laugh when it snows in April.
We begin each day hoping to impart knowledge. At day’s end, we consider all we have learned. Cliché, Pollyannaish, but true: learning really is the best part of teaching. The best part of parenting really is seeing the world through the eyes of a child once again.
I come from a HUGE extended family. Growing up, my Mom, Brother Kevin, and I lived with my grandparents. There were thirteen of us in a house with one bathroom. On Sundays, all of my aunts and uncles who didn’t live at the house would come over with their kids, too. The place was full to bursting. There was never an empty room. I loved it.
I began my research by asking my son, “What inspires you to keep working, even when the work is difficult?” His quick reply was, “I keep working by choosing the most challenging thing I’ve had a lesson on. Then it’s interesting to figure out.” I pressed, “But what if you encounter a problem you cannot solve or have trouble finding a solution even with a lot of effort?” He answered, “Then I find a friend and ask them for advice or see if they have a good idea.”
The perseverance practiced early with concrete life tasks, later takes the form of tackling the complicated math equation, mastering that difficult list of spelling words, and getting the research project done by the due date. But hand-in-glove with the feeling that you can do hard things is the desire to do hard things.
The theory goes something like this: if you use legal drugs such as tobacco or alcohol, or even what some consider “soft drugs” like marijuana, you are more likely to slip down the slope to using “hard drugs” like amphetamines, cocaine and heroin, than people who never get started using soft drugs in the first place. The starter drugs are often referred to as gateway drugs because use of them is seen as the first step through the gateway to even more dangerous behaviors.
Since leaving the classroom recently, after thirty-some years in the delightful company of children, I have spent a considerable portion of my time leading the development of the parent education programs for our school. It has given me a new and different joy, and a great appreciation for parents. It is an honor to work so closely with parents who are the primary educators of our children, who are the children’s models, their supporters, and their greatest source of love and admiration.
Two boys took turns reading with zest and dramatic expression the tale from Shakespeare’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream” to a small group of children, alternating with one another as their voices gave out. How well they read this difficult language and how genuinely they enjoyed it!
Ever experience something so transformative, you wished for others you love to have that same experience? Perhaps an incredible trip to a faraway place? Or a delicious meal at a fine restaurant?