Becoming a Teacher

I have never considered myself to be a teacher. Despite leading five college courses, I never felt much connection to the identity. Considering the rest of my former day job in Student Affairs and the countless workshops that I prepared and facilitated, I often claimed the moniker of educator, but never teacher. Even as an assistant last year, when I started responding to “what do you do?” with “teacher”, I didn’t feel the ownership.

education-is-spontaneous

And then it happened: I started calling myself a teacher and meaning it. Simultaneously, I realized the great privilege and responsibility of the title “teacher” as I delved deeper into my Montessori certification requirements, observing other classes and considering how I would apply various strategies and ideas to my own (future) classroom. It has hit me like a ton of bricks – the responsibility of preparing the environment in a way that allows the children to learn is enormous. The sheer number of factors that have to be considered and decided upon is overwhelming.

I may be able to remember which order the shelves should go, and consult my dutifully prepared albums to decide where work should be placed upon them, but I will also have to decide every other micro and macro thing that makes our classroom function. Should we put day numbers on the calendar as they go by, or take them off? Should we have class jobs and what should those jobs be? Which of the thousands of possibilities for work should go on the shelf at any given time? What topics should we focus on to supplement the Montessori curriculum? The number of details that comprise a functioning classroom is stunning and the thing I am most confident about is that I haven’t even scratched the surface of conceptualizing all that I will need to figure out.

But it also feels right. Daunting, but conceivably manageable, and hugely exciting. These days, as I tell people I am a teacher, it feels like it is solidifying as a part of who I am. The back of my brain is working to try to piece together how my classroom might work, searching for ideas and analyzing every option for possibilities. Each day, the children that I work with fill my heart with joy, making it easier and easier to feel up to the challenge that preparing their environment creates. Perhaps by meeting this challenge and owning this responsibility of being their teacher, I will get to fill their hearts with a bit of joy as well.

 

**Views expressed in this post are my own and not necessarily shared by Millhopper Montessori School.

Making Bread

Name: Making Bread Area: Sensorial / Gustatory
Materials: Large bowl, 1/3 cup measure, flour, honey, tray, teaspoon measure (2), yeast, hot water, measuring cup, dish towels, paper, pencil, baking sheet, parchment paper, spatulas, food service trays, paper towels, salt, ¼ tsp., small bowl, bowls for mixing, plates, knives, cutting board, oven mitts, cooling rack, butter, jelly, oven, timer, quantity signs, recipe
Direct Aims: Concentration, Coordination, Independence, Order Indirect Aims: Use hands to make a simple bread recipe
Preparation: Practical life activities Age: Second year student
 making-bread

PRESENTATION BY THE TEACHER:

The Montessori Lesson:

  1. Wash hands.img_8228
  2. Get one tray with a towel, spatula, and paper towel per group.
  3. Get one bowl and place it on the tray.
  4. Measure one scoop (1/3 cup) of flour into the bowl.
  5. Measure one scoop (1 tsp.) of yeast into the bowl.
  6. Measure two scoops (2 tsps.) of honey into the bowl.
  7. Pour a generous 1/3 cup (3 oz.) of hot water into a measuring cup.
  8. Pour the water into the bowl.img_8227
  9. Carry the tray with the bowl to the workspace.
  10. Use the spatula to stir all the ingredients in the bowl together until combined.
  11. Cover bowl with a kitchen towel.
  12. Mark whose bread and what time it is, and leave the bowl to rest covered for 30 minutes.
  13. After 30 minutes have passed, wash hands and return to the bread.
  14. Uncover the bowl and set aside the kitchen towel.
  15. Add two scoops (2/3 cup) of flour into the bowl.
  16. Add one scoop (1/4 tsp.) of salt into the bowl.
  17. Return with the tray and bowl to the workspace and stir the ingredients together until combined.
  18. Place the bowl on the workspace.
  19. Take the tray back to the large flour bowl and get a pinch of flour, sprinkling it on the tray.
  20. Return to the workspace.
  21. Pour the contents of the bowl onto the tray.
  22. Knead the dough together for 3-5 minutes, collecting the loose clumps and adding flour or water (tiny amounts) as needed for the dough to come together and be manageable.
  23. Using hands, flatten the dough as much as possible onto the tray.
  24. Roll the dough up like a rug and press the seam together.
  25. Press the ends of the dough in to help create the loaf shape.
  26. Place the loaf onto a large, parchment papered baking sheet, and note where the loaf is on the pan on a separate paper.
  27. Cover the loaf(ves) with a towel and let rise at least 30 minutes.
  28. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
  29. Bake the bread for 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown. Finished bread will sound hollow when you tap it.
  30. Remove the bread from the oven and allow it to cool for at least 5 minutes.
  31. Slice the bread and serve with butter and jelly.

Points of Emphasis:

  1. Following the steps of the recipe.
  2. Measuring accurately.
  3. Mixing completely.
  4. Kneading for 3-5 minutes.
  5. Letting the bread rise.
  6. Noticing the work of the yeast.

Control of Error:

  1. Size of measuring cups and ingredient containers.
  2. Adults present.
  3. Food service tray as a contained workspace.

WORK OF THE CHILD:

Points of Interest:

  1. Making edible food.
  2. The ingredients.
  3. Seeing the yeast work and the bread rise.
  4. Feeling the dough with their hands.
  5. The smell of the bread.
  6. The taste of the bread.

Points of Consciousness:

  1. “I can eat this bread that I made.”
  2. “The yeast makes the dough get bigger.”
  3. “The dough feels good in my hands.”
  4. “We roll the dough just like a rug.”
  5. “I can measure ingredients.”

Self-Correcting Indicators:

  1. Too much of one ingredient: the dough is too crumbly or sticky.
  2. The bread doesn’t rise.
  3. The containers – dough spilling out of the bowl or off the tray.

Language: names of ingredients, sizes of measures, knead, dough, bread

Variations & Extensions:

  1. Add herbs to dough.
  2. Use a rolling pin to flatten the dough.

Notes:

  • Works well as a whole class activity using groups of three.
  • Needs two adults for support (i.e. assistant and parent volunteer)

Check out the photos from our bread making adventure!

 

**Views expressed in this post are my own and not necessarily shared by Millhopper Montessori School.

The Power of Positive Thinking (Work Edition)

Montessorians approach children in a unique way. We believe in positive discipline, encouragement instead of praise, and utilizing power collaboratively instead of imposing our will upon the children we work with. Though it may sound normal, it is actually one of the most counter-intuitive pieces of learning Montessori – for most people, it requires unlearning a lifetime of socialization about how we should deal with children.

The basics of the approach look something like this:

  • Provide limits, structure, and routines
  • Give love unconditionally and avoid rewards and punishments
  • Model appropriate behavior (especially social etiquette)
  • Limit intermediate devices (like cell phones) when interacting with children*
  • Minimize time spent with poorly regulated influences (i.e. television)*
  • Offer encouragement instead of praise
  • Find ways to share power with a child instead of wielding power over the child
    (*Not applicable within the Montessori classroom)

Observing these guidelines goes a long way in creating a peaceful classroom and building student-teacher relationships and this approach is one of the things that draws me to Montessori. In short, we aim to treat children like people instead of children, a distinction that aims to respect their humanity and development and is often missed elsewhere.

In practice, this makes our classrooms incredibly positive places. There are any number of guidelines that children must follow, but any failure to do so is met with kind words and a gentle reminder. For example, if a child fails to push in their chair after leaving it, we simply say, “Oh, I think you forgot to push in your chair.” in a calm, kind voice. The most typical response is some sort of gasp and smile as the realization that they did indeed forget washes over them followed by quick replacement of the chair under the table. While we try to avoid praise (things like: good job, I am so proud of you, you are the best ________), encouragement abounds. We acknowledge hard work, focus, concentration, teamwork, and other positive behaviors with observation (i.e. our classroom looks neater now that you helped put things away).

These tactics teach children that it’s okay to make mistakes and to fail. Plus, they go a long way in showing them positive ways to deal with other people. Instead of assuming the worst of a friend who has done something wrong, the children have hours of examples of adults assuming the best to pull from. Perhaps most importantly, this approach helps children to develop internal motivation and a sense of responsibility to the community at large. By observing the impact of their action (positive or negative) instead of framing their work in relation to ourselves (i.e. “I like…”) they learn to work for their own fulfillment rather than merely to please someone else.

I have known this approach to be wonderful for children for a couple of decades, but I never considered what a difference it would make in my  day. Instead of coming home feeling drained and negative about all the little things that had gone wrong (even on generally good days), last week, I had a hard time coming up with anything negative to say at all. For the first time in a long time, I left work feeling good about myself, my work, and the students in my care multiple days in a row. I know the novelty of this work will likely wear off, but it seems almost impossible to leave feeling miserable when you’ve spent the entire day looking for the good in and assuming the best of others.

**Views expressed in this post are my own and not necessarily shared by Millhopper Montessori School.

Welcome to Our Classroom!

I started my new position as a Teaching Assistant at Millhopper Montessori School this week. We spent the days preparing our room for the 25 preschoolers and kindergartners that will join us on Monday. It’s an inviting space full of work that 4 and 5 year old hands can’t wait to use and learn from.

Montessori classrooms are usually unique, put together based on the materials chosen by the teacher from their own stock and what they think will both interest and advance their student’s development. But, most Montessori classrooms are characterized by materials dedicated to certain subjects that comprise much of the Montessori curriculum.

Sensorial
The Sensorial curriculum has materials designed mostly by Maria Montessori that encourage children to develop their various senses. Like most Montessori work, it’s designed for students to be able to manipulate, but it also aims to isolate one of a child’s senses, whether visual, tactile, or gustatory (among others). Children get an introduction to geometry through these materials and develop their ability and vocabulary to discriminate between sizes, textures, smells, tastes, colors, etc.  These skills serve as a strong foundation to later math work, as well as encouraging students to problem solve and become researchers – finding a variety of answers to big questions, like how many rhombi can be made from putting together a variety of triangles.

Language
In a typical pre-primary Montessori classroom, children ages 3-6 share the space and the language materials, meaning, some children are just learning their letters, and others are reading at 1st or 2nd grade levels. As such, the language materials are varied and extensive, comprised often of naming, spelling, or matching object names with movable letters. Montessori also places a heavy emphasis on auditory and verbal language development; we not only spend a large amount of time reading stories and sharing songs and rhymes, but place an emphasis on using the real names for even the most complex things and giving students an opportunity to develop their vocabularies  through interaction with the environment.

Math
Montessori math extends from the Sensorial materials and spans a spectrum of learning to recognize and write numerals to dynamic multiplication and division with numbers in the thousands. All of these learning goals are achieved with the use of manipulatives, from wooden numerals, to golden beads representing units, tens, hundreds, and thousands. Before heading to 1st grade, most students will begin to move toward abstraction, making calculations mentally without manipulatives to aid them. Math materials can be expanded into weights and measures, money, and other areas as students’ skills demand.

Practical Life
The Practical Life area is foundational to the Montessori 3-6 classroom, serving as a connection to home and a place where all students can work to build their manual skills that will support them throughout their time at Montessori and their independence at home. These activities serve to develop basic skills for the youngest children in the class, like grasping, twisting, and caring for the environment, and as a point of rejuvenation for older children who need to reenergize after doing complex work in other areas of the classroom. The area encompasses art, food preparation, and care of person and environment. Students learn how to independently clean up after themselves doing everything from blowing their nose and hand washing, to sweeping the classroom and doing dishes.

Other Areas
These are the main areas of the classroom, but most include science and culture work as well. Every teacher makes their Montessori classroom unique, and each group of students demands materials that meet their own needs, so a classroom might look different not only from year to year but from month to month. 

*Views expressed in this post are my own and not necessarily shared by Millhopper Montessori School.

Bittersweet

Skipping in, or hiding behind mom,
it’s true that day one was relatively calm,
but soon they’d manage to test my aplomb.

They challenged me to be fair and just,
(especially with those who cussed),
while I helped them to unclench their fists;
but no matter how long we discussed,
many problems left me nonplussed.

I watched each child learn and grow,
though progress was incrementally slow,
I loved seeing each of them find their flow.

The end grew near
and I wanted a beer,
as it had been quite a year.

The last day came
and I had to proclaim,
I don’t think I’ll ever be the same.

I hope each child saw the piece of me
that loved their idiosyncrasies.
It’s easy to foresee
all that they could be.

Cleaning cubbies with no faces to greet,
it isn’t a year I would want to repeat,
but I can truly say the end is bittersweet.

We’re Going to Hogwarts!

Months ago, our class began reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone together. Harry Potter is something my teacher and I share a passion for, and we both thought it would be a good way to help our not always kind children think more deeply about what it means to be a good person.

I can’t say that we changed any behaviors, but we did manage to inspire almost the entire class to become HP fans. Despite initial skepticism (like moans of “I hate Harry Potter”) some were enthralled by the time the snake’s glass disappeared. Others took longer, but almost all of them have become invested in the story. Several have already made it through Chamber of Secrets! They also managed, over the course of the year, to earn a full jar of marbles, given for a variety of reasons, but mostly for good behavior. We learned on the first day of school that as a reward for earning all of these marbles, they would get a “marble party” as determined by the teacher.

So what did we decide to do? Throw them a Harry Potter party, of course!

The party would be in the last full week of school and img_6656provided us an opportunity to go all out. We made them img_6659Hogwarts letters, complete with individualized desk locations, and presented them as though owls had dropped them off. We spent an hour block of writing time having them write back to Professor McGonagall with their responses. Most were thrilled, some merely smiled, but some (unexpectedly) shared fear. We had several kids who didn’t want to leave their families to attend, regardless of their magical abilities. It hadn’t occurred to us that any of our children would consider this as anything but imaginative play, but we swallowed any doubt and kept selling it.

We had a local actress (the teacher’s mother) dress up and visit the class playing ZuZu Trewlaney (Professor Trewlaney’s equally sighted sister), who identifies which muggle born children will have magical capabilities for Dumbledore. She did a phenomenal job, explaining to the children that they would be attending an orientation (Hogwarts has never had so many muggle borns from one place invited to attend, after all!) the next afternoon.

After countless questions about “when are we going to Hogwarts?” and “is this our marble party?” leading my teacher and I to seriously question whether we were messing with their minds a little too much, the party arrived.

Students entered the classroom via a fabricated Platform 9 3/4, rushing through a faux brick wall. They were sorted via cupcake (I colored frosting img_6683inside to indicate which house they would be in), though we got a witches hat from our music teacher to fully simulate the experience. Our kiddos got to try Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans, don Harry Potter glasses, andimg_6666 wave plastic (or pretzel) wands. Before we could watch “a documentary about castle life” (the first Harry Potter movie), each child got a personalized Chocolate Frog.

This was my favorite project that we took on, though it ended up taking an excessive amount of time. Each child had their own picture on a img_6649chocolate frog card and the box was personalized to explain what had made img_6650them worthy of
such a wizard honor. We created fictional lives for each of them, from being a famous quidditch Chaser, or volunteering at a Unicorn Sanctuary, to becoming the Minister of Magic via groundbreaking work with Muggle Relations. We tried to personalize each story based on the students interests and what we thought they would most enjoy and it was a really fun reflection tool at the end of the year. 

Our students had a wonderful time feeling like witches and wizards and it was fulfilling to be able to bring them that joy. They were invested in the story and their imaginations, and we invested in their interests. While we could have made this adventure much more academic, the effort we gave and the immersion that came out of it is a good model for how kids could be learning at school every day, not just for an end of the year party.

Professionals

Read the following definition and consider whether you think that teachers are included in the category described.

Professionally exempt work – “Work which is predominantly intellectual, requires specialized education, and involves the exercise of discretion and judgment. Professionally exempt workers must have education beyond high school, and usually beyond college, in fields that are distinguished from (more “academic” than) the mechanical arts or skilled trades. Advanced degrees are the most common measure of this, but are not absolutely necessary if an employee has attained a similar level of advanced education through other means (and perform essentially the same kind of work as similar employees who do have advanced degrees).” (From http://www.flsa.com/coverage.html; as written in this Education Week article)

If you said yes, you would be right. It’s fairly easy to see how the role of a teacher fits within these parameters. Teachers exercise discretion and judgment constantly, they are expected to hold advanced degrees, and the work is mostly intellectual in nature.

However, there is certainly a case for arguing that, in the current state of the profession, teachers do not satisfy all three of these requirements. As standardized testing has taken root, and curriculum has become more and more dictated by external forces, the amount of thinking a teacher is expected to do has diminished. Even at my school, where we test once a year solely for the purposes of helping teachers assess where students are, teachers infrequently utilize their own creativity in a robust way. What they teach and how they teach it is often dictated to them; if not by the school, by their perceived limitations.

Instead of designing their own activities, I frequently watch teachers turn to Google to find a way to approach a lesson that hasn’t been written for them. Yes, it is good to avoid recreating the wheel and it is important to know how to use your resources, but rarely do the teachers seem to think, “hmm, let me come up with a way to teach this from the power of my brain.” Further conceded, teachers do an enormous amount of exactly that in an impromptu fashion, as they explain each concept repeatedly in new ways in an effort to get students to understand. But where did we lose the notion that teachers are truly professionals who have the preparation and skills to be able to figure out how to teach a concept from the beginning for themselves?

What concerns me most is that the political policies draining professionalization from teaching don’t match up with the political rhetoric professing that teachers are among the most professionalized in society. The excerpt above is taken from an Education Week article explaining why teachers will be exempt from President Obama’s update to the overtime law, just like doctors, engineers, and accountants, among others. For this policy, teachers are deemed capable professionals (likely because no one can imagine a feasible plan to pay teachers the overtime that would be required by the update to the rule).

I want this to be true; I believe that teachers have and should have the knowledge and freedom to perform their work to their best ability, just as professionally exempt employees in other fields do. But I just don’t think the current system actually supports that. Aside from the proof given by the enormous amount of regulation and standardization that teachers endure, teachers are paid significantly less than the other professional exempt employees. If society truly deemed teachers as on par with others in this classification, I have to believe their work lives and salaries would be comparable. Without reconciling the rhetoric and the policies, I believe we will continue to struggle to find great teachers, keep them, and give future generations the best possible education.