Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be shifting my focus a bit closer to home as I profile each of the classrooms at my wonderful home away from home, The Montessori School of Ojai. Along with photographs of each classroom, the students in action, and a peep into the daily schedule of each of class, you’ll also be treated to a brief Q&A with the head teacher.
Liz has been associated with the school since 1980, starting out in the Child Care program and then assisting in the classroom while completing her Montessori training. Since obtaining her Primary and Elementary Montessori certificates, Liz has been head teacher for children from kindergarten through the third grade. She also serves as resource teacher for science and social studies. Liz’s educational background includes undergraduate work in Zoology and Botany. She has a B.A. degree in Psychology from Antioch University. She has also been a teacher trainer for Mortensen Math. All three of Liz’s children have attended Montessori School of Ojai.
What does the school day look like in Room 6?
During the first hour of the day the children are quietly working and concentrating. The morning is spent doing basic skills activities. During this time of year the children have 7 different types of work to complete. Every morning there is also a specialist activity, so the children go in either half groups or whole group. The volume of noise picks up as the day proceeds as children finish tasks. I think the day goes most smoothly when we have half groups (art or garden) midmorning to wrap up the work.
The afternoon is spent as a whole group, with the children listening to read aloud stories and/or the introduction of new science or cultural studies activities.
Describe your classroom in six words:
busy, motivated, active, friendly, enthusiastic, loud
What’s your favorite area of your classroom
That’s hard to say. I love to set up the whole classroom and make it feel like a place that the children are comfortable exploring and taking care of their own needs. At the same time the aesthetics of having lots of naturally attractive objects on the shelves, books and the walls appeals to me. In particular I
love to have student work on the boards. While all the subjects are fun to teach, I particularly enjoy teaching about earth science, botany and zoology. I think Dr. Montessori was so inspired in the way she created a system of teaching, using nomenclature, that can be used with any age of child. I love making classroom materials.
If you were a student, which work would you choose first?
I would probably start with an inset. Creating a design, choosing colors and coloring are stimulating and soothing to my senses. I love the infinite possibilities, and while I am working at this, my mind naturally organizes my thoughts and direction.
What do you find gives your students the most internal satisfaction? When they complete a specific task? When they help others? When they do their classroom job?
I think the children really light up when they master new and different levels of reading. Many love to do multiplication and especially division. They think it’s so easy. Some really enjoy learning cursive, others love to write in their journals or paragraphs.
The children really love to help other children. It’s so important to provide lots of opportunities for that. Some weeks the children read with a partner, something they really enjoy.
The children also love to clean classroom tables. Many of them would clean all the tables if allowed.
What do you bring to your classroom? Your enthusiasm? Your love of learning? Your large heart?
I think I really bring enthusiasm for learning every day. I am pretty strong on having an established routine and expectations. I believe this helps children feel secure and successful. I also think I am joyful and loving about the work that I do, and that carries over in my relationships with the children.
What about the Montessori teaching philosophy most speaks to you as a teacher?
I love having an individualized work program. By this I mean that I get to figure out what levels of challenge are appropriate for each child in each area of the curriculum. I get to search for the things that light up each child. This allows for so much diversity in the room while at the same time supporting individual children as they grow and develop. It enables them to learn from each other, in a (mostly) noncompetitive atmosphere.
What is the most important thing for parents to understand about Montessori schools?
Children educated in this type of environment learn at an early age to think for themselves. They make
choices all day long about what work to do, how much to apply themselves, how to pace themselves. These are lifelong skills.
If money, time and energy were no object, what would you want most for your classroom and your students? The school?
In terms of the school, I would love to see the grounds and building developed as an environmentally progressive whole. I love the idea of aesthetic nature-inspired teaching spaces, indoors and out. This would include a trail that meanders around undeveloped sections of the property that would incorporate native plantings, inviting involvement and raising consciousness in our children and ourselves about our roles as stewards of the earth. For the outdoors I would love to have beautiful established wooden benches from which to enjoy the beautiful grounds we are so fortunate inhabit. I also would like to see several aesthetically designed gazebos in our play yards. I think this type of structure would not only provide shade during the hot months but also encourage creative social play amongst the children.
For the inside of my classroom I would dearly love some individual stackable writing desks for use in the carpet areas of the classroom.
What are your goals as a educator? (These can be long-term or short-term)
My goal is to remain stimulated and motivated to learn new things for as long as I teach. This keeps me an
enthusiastic teacher. The real-world subject matter of our curriculum, the everyday challenge of making relationships with the students and bringing them into knowledge while fostering their love of learning are all deeply important to me. To maintain my interest and motivationI intend to continue to attend Montessori conferences, to learn from and share with other Montessorians on a national level. Other conferences, like Bioneers and the Student Climate and Conservation Congress, that encourage educating ourselves and our youth for a healthy planet are also attractive to me.
In the future, when I retire from teaching, I hope to continue to be involved in nurturing an ethic of care of the earth through art.
Thank you, Liz!