I have officially survived my first week as a Montessori Teacher’s Assistant working with 7th graders! In this one week I have learned so much about adolescent Montessori and at the same time have been reassured that 7th graders are just as I remember them (not scary at all!).
If you have ever worked in education than you know that teaching the “whole child” is a buzz word with rarely any real world examples. Working with Montessori adolescents is the first time in my education career that I feel like I am working within a structure that actually allows for this to happen; time is specifically given to developing skills not necessarily covered in the traditional core subjects. For example the students are assigned daily outdoor chores that could range from checking the water level on the pond to feeding the chickens (yep, we have chickens!). The total time taken for these chores may be as short as 10 minutes, the same amount of time many schools use in just two passing periods. The time is short, but the impact of these chores is huge. The students have genuine real world responsibilities, for example if you don’t feed the chickens they will die.
Another thing I have observed is that in a Montessori classroom students are allowed and encouraged to talk, to explain concepts to one another, and to share their opinions and thoughts. I remember spending most of my first year teaching 7th grade Texas History trying to get my students to stop talking instead of finding productive and appropriate outlets for their need to express themselves verbally.
A concern I have heard from friends and parents is how do you prepare the students for the state exams, isn’t Montessori just good for private schools? As a public Montessori school we are bound by the state standards and exams, true, but even the Montessori approach to the state standards is exciting to me. For example, the students are currently learning about the Native Americans in early Texas which is likely similar subject matter to their peers in traditional schools. The difference comes in the “how”. The lead teacher recently told a story about how the Native Americans came to Texas and just a few other details about where they lived in our state. The students were then asked to reflect and develop questions on what they wanted to know about Native Americans in Texas. As a whole group we wrote all of the brainstormed questions on the board, after about ten minutes the students had asked enough questions to cover all of the state standards on Native Americans in Texas. They hit on the standards without an adult telling them ahead of time what they were supposed to learn! The next step is for the students to research and teach others the answers to the questions they posed. The state standards are therefore covered, perhaps even in a similar timeline to their traditional peers but the student not the teacher is in the driver seat.
I have also found that the classroom and structure are not as intimidating for a person coming from a traditional school as I previously thought. The students still read, write, check math homework, and sit mostly in chairs at tables daily. They aren’t specially hand picked students or students that had to test to get into the program. They represent a range of backgrounds and abilities. The only thing that makes them unique is their willingness to go on this new adventure, just like me.