Layers of Students

It’s no secret that Montessori teachers are observers. We consider observation to be the primary tool of our profession. After all, we can’t know best how to serve the students in our classroom if we don’t first observe them. The beginning of the school year is an especially observant time of year for me, and though I avoid “putting children in boxes,” I’ve realized lately that I have been categorizing them, kind of like the separate components of a salad dressing or the layers of the earth. No layer is less important than any other (and hopefully they’ll work in concert with each other someday), but they are distinct from one another.

Here are the layers I’ve been noticing in my classroom:

  • Returning students: These are the students that I’ve had in my classroom before. They know me, I know them. They know the rules and I can expect a certain level of understanding from them, despite the long summer. For example, they know it upsets me when they drop the Prismacolors on the ground (it breaks the lead inside the pencils). I have to be careful not to overwhelm them with expectations, but I love having these students in the classroom. They make my life so much easier, especially when it comes to pairing them with new students. 
  • Returning students from other classrooms: These are the students that have been at my school for a little while, but with another teacher. They’re familiar with the way the school is run and with the system of Montessori. They may be unfamiliar with the way I run my classroom (there are always little differences), but these students are familiar with the school at large. I make an effort to get know the students in the Lower Elementary classroom before they move into my room, so it’s usually not too traumatic. I usually end up spending a little bit of time explaining that I do things a little bit differently than their last teacher, but not too much.
  • New students from other Montessori schools: I wish I had more of these students. Mostly because I want to pick their brains and virtually visit their previous schools. Also, these students slip right into the classroom. Sure, there’s a learning curve, but’s it’s never very steep. Montessori students are independent by design, and that invariably makes them a pleasure to have in the classroom. 
  • New students from other schools: Whether it’s public or private, students from other schools often have the biggest adjustment to make in the Montessori classroom. Since I spend very little time giving instruction to the entire class, the first weeks of school are devoted to encouraging students to work independently. I do this with all of my students, not just the new ones, but returning ones are more in the habit. 

Again, I want to emphasize that this isn’t meant as a value system. It’s just the way that I’ve mentally broken categorized the students in my classroom. Have any of you other teachers done this in your rooms? If so, what categories do you use?



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