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 class, you’ll also be treated to a brief Q&A with the head teacher.
Welcome to my classroom!
What does the school day look like in Room 8?
Tough question! Each day in Room 8 runs a little differently, but a few things always remain the same. There’s an established routine of me writing the day’s schedule on the board so the students have an idea of how the day will go and know which works to have at the ready (i.e., bring to their desks). Sometimes, especially after a break, or when I introduce a new work, I’ll go over the list verbally as well, in case there are any questions. I encourage my students to get the things they’ll need (pencils, notebooks, etc.) out of their cubbies and on their desks so they can move easily from one work to the next.
Throughout the week, work periods are interspersed with Specialists, which include: Art, P.E., Music, Garden, Social Thinking, Spanish, and Science. Some Specialists are whole class and some are half group, which I love, as it gives me time to focus my attention on a smaller set of students. This time is invaluable.
Describe your classroom in six words:
creative, inventive, inspired, tightly-knit, witty, passionate
What’s your favorite area of your classroom?
When I first started teaching (as a head teacher), Liz told me that my classroom would be like my second home. I took that so much to heart that, while there are things that I’d do to change it given an unlimited budget, it would be hard for me to choose just one favorite area. I love my skylights and the Gerber Daisy fabric on my bulletin boards. I adore the two enormous (almost) floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and the lush house plant that’s currently taking over the window counter. It gives me the warm fuzzies to see a student (or two!) reading in the big green chair.
However, in terms of classroom work areas, I’ve always been a fan of Practical Life. I’ve really made an effort with it this year, since I feel that it’s so important. I love coming up with ideas and setting the work out. It’s challenging coming up with a shelf of Advanced Practical Life for Upper Elementary, since most of the work for this age group doesn’t really work that way. Practical Life for older students involves more steps and doesn’t, honestly, belong on a shelf. However, I’m determined to insert Practical Life in the classroom in small ways.
But wait! I really like my Language and Math shelves, too! And the Office Supply shelf. I like all my shelves, really. It gives me a great deal of satisfaction to put them together.
If you were a student, which work would you choose first?
Writing, no question. I remember that I loved to write as a child–and that hasn’t changed now that I’m an adult.
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?
Project-based work has always been extremely satisfying for the students in my classroom, especially when they work together. They like it when they have a list of tasks they can check off, like a rubric. It gives them a sense of accomplishment like nothing else.
And, of course, there’s nothing like teaching or helping a peer to build internal satisfaction. It’s enough to reduce a teacher to tears.
What do you bring to your classroom? Your enthusiasm? Your love of learning? Your large heart?
I bring a dedication and enthusiasm for Montessori education and for nurturing children. I bring my own love of learning and desire to share that love with my students, especially in the areas of reading and writing. I’m also dedicated to improving myself as a educator and as a person (I think they’re inextricably connected). I can only hope that those things are enough–or at least somewhere to start!
What about the Montessori teaching philosophy most speaks to you as a teacher?
Lots of things! But recently I’ve actually been thinking a lot about one particular aspect of Montessori; something called the Sensitive Periods. This is the idea that the time can be ripe for a child to learn certain skills–whether they be sounds, writing, language or movement. Observation tells the Montessori teacher when the child is ready for which lessons. Though a lot has been written giving specific months and years, I think observation is the more accurate tool. Children develop at different rates, often disregarding established norms. That’s why, if Bobby’s sensitive period for learning his sounds is at three, great! Let’s get to work! But if it doesn’t come until he’s four or five, that’s okay too.
What this means to me is that, in Montessori, there’s no pushing, but there’s no waiting, either. We’re like cooks browning butter. If we pull it off the flame too soon, the butter will be melted but lack that delicious brown butter taste. Wait too long and it’ll be burnt. Strike at just the right time and you’ll get the most delicious cookie in the universe. But, you know, in child form.
What is the most important thing for parents to understand about Montessori schools?
I like this video so much that I’ve not only watched it several times, I’ve made other people watch it, too. I often think about the light in my own students’ eyes when I’m teaching or lesson-planning. I also appreciate having the flexibility to seize my students’ interest while it’s hot–and I know they do, too!
If money, time and energy were no object, what would you want most for your classroom and your students? The school?
For my classroom, my ongoing goal is to update my library. It’s been my goal for a couple of years, but it’s harder than you’d think, and more expensive. Ideally, I’d like to have a wide variety of books to appeal to as large an audience as possible–boys, girls, reluctant readers and avid ones, nonfiction fans and fiction-devotees, graphic novels, newer versions of classics, books for research, mentor texts for lessons, and teaching about cultural or current events.
I’d also like a sink that is set up for washing food dishes from snack and tea, since that’s a very important part of our in-class Practical Life curriculum.
For the school, I’d like a child-accessible kitchen. By this, I mean a kitchen the kids can work in, with work spaces at kid level, where they could mix ingredients and knead dough. We can’t work in the School Kitchen during the day because Hot Lunch is being prepared. Also, the counters are too high. Working in the classrooms is okay, but we don’t have access to a stove, oven or a sink that can handle food dishes.
It would also be nice to have an unlimited budget for professional development. I’d like to be able to go to the Montessori Conference every year, no matter how far away! I’m going this year and I couldn’t be more excited!
What are your goals as a educator? (These can be long-term or short-term)
I mentioned in an earlier post that my goal for this year was professional development. Ultimately, I’d like to do some more Montessori training, possibly get my Masters in Montessori Education. I’d also welcome the opportunity to visit other Montessori schools across the nation, particularly those with Lower and Upper Elementary programs.