Montessori Elementary Homeschool Blog - with documentation of our infant Montessori, toddler Montessori, and primary Montessori experiences; as well as preparation for the upcoming adolescent Montessori homeschool years.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Students Not Engaging: My Student Teaching Experience

UPDATE: If you are looking for more details, please visit this page for more of the nitty-gritty.

This blog is intended to detail our entire Montessori journey and part of that journey included my own training. I had AMI training at both primary and elementary. Primary was done "academic year format", with weeks in the fall for observation of at least 10 Montessori schools (1 full week in one; 1 full week in another; then additional mornings spent in a variety of other schools for a total of at least 90 hours of observation and one very sore bottom ;) ). Student teaching was done in the spring, with two full weeks at each of 2 schools.
At the first school.
Checking the records. 

Some of you will recognize that doesn't sound like much, especially compared to AMS' 1 full year of student teaching. I had one Montessori school principal I know say that AMS teachers come out of training strong on the "teaching" aspect, and AMI teachers come out of training with intuitive depth of the materials and how to apply it to various situations.

This past fall, I heard a woman speak to this question of "what is the difference? and isn't the 1 year better?" and her response was: I can't speak for AMS. I can only speak for AMI. I came out of training with 10 different classrooms of observation, 2 very intensely; and 2 more classrooms of putting it all into practice. When I started teaching I had 12 different ways I could approach a situation with a child. 12 different role models to guide my responses. And I felt like I breathed those materials. I didn't need to bring in anything else, because I knew Maria Montessori had already provided a solution in the materials we had on hand.

Hm. Interesting. So, in that regard, AMI teachers DO come out knowing how to teach - they've just not had *as much* practical experience just yet.

My experience was a wee bit different than most of the other ladies in my training.

I loved my primary training; and I loved my student teaching experiences - as different as they each were.

Summary of the first session:
The kids weren't working. They'd not been truly connecting with the materials consistently for a few months (only when I filled in for the teacher). They were cutting each other's hair and creating golden bead birthday cakes instead. Can we say 'madhouse'? The assistant was about to quit. The lead teacher was sick and had to take a leave of absence. The sub came in and was PHENOMENAL - but she could only be there part of the day. She and I made things happen - and part of that serious, intent work with the sensorial materials, with the language materials, with the math materials. We worked intensely with the children and they THRIVED.

My second set of student teaching days were at a Catholic Montessori school, with a well-run, peaceful environment that truly felt spiritual. When something happened (outside of school and I don't recall now what it was) that a child suggested they pray a rosary for the intention, the children went about their work, while praying the rosary, some with beads, some without. It was so beautiful to experience!

Oh, and there was one little boy with these large eyes, who just watched my every movement. When I invited him for presentations, he just watched my face with these large eyes - I had to remind him to look at the sandpaper letter. The teacher and the aide thought he had a crush on me! He just melted my heart with those eyes, his soft eyes, and his "Yes, Ms. Jessica." to everything I said. :)

It was such a blessed relief and a balm to my soul to be in that school. And those are the days when the joy returned - the joy of working with children - the joy of being in their presence and exploring the world WITH them - not as an automaton as they wanted in the child development program I was in (at two different colleges, no less!). Sigh. I loved that school!

My first student teaching wasn't so heavenly. In fact, it started out QUITE the opposite.

I had this van that was having issues - serious issues. And unbeknownst to me, I'd just given it a HUGE one (I'd put too much oil in at one point - it leaked oil pretty bad - I was waiting for it to leak out enough to deal with putting more in - I should have just gone in for an oil change - turns out it was measuring accurately and it ran OUT of oil. Completely. While driving. On the interstate. Yeah.)

Such peaceful displays as this
 uncluttered but
nicely decorated shelf.
The children kept the order
and decorated the room.
(Catholic Montessori)
But before I knew about that part.....

I had requested to student teach at the school where I'd been working the mornings most of the school year. That was no-no #1. They want you to expand your horizons. That's great and all, but let's just say I was already the back-up replacement for that position as it was ('morning hallway aide' to ensure state licensing; the original lady was in training with me and couldn't handle working and training - they hired me with trepidation because I would be working, training AND I was a single mom to one of the students...) - then once I was in, the before-school caregiver asked if I could take over her position as well - so I had two positions! (that's another blog post- by the time of student teaching, I'd already subbed for the lead teacher several times as well, at least for the mornings; in the afternoons on those days, the k-ers just went to non-Montessori "afternoon care")

and they didn't have anyone to replace my position(s) for such a long period of time - they could fanagle ONE block of student teaching if I could agree to work the after-school care from 3:30-5:30 (that parent volunteer would come in the mornings to cover my before-school position, and a rotation of parent volunteers would cover my normal morning position). During my time of student teaching with them, the usual aide would take my usual position during the morning, but I would still do the before-school portion of my position(s).

No-no #2: it was my son's school - they only had the one classroom. They don't want you student teaching in your own child's class.

No-no #3: The children were not in a state of normalization. Everyone knew it.

One way or another, my wonderful trainer finally said YES.

I go in the first day - all went well. I mostly observed the afternoon routine and gave a couple of presentations in the morning and a couple more in the afternoon. Went home "early" (end of the actual school day, rather than not picking up my son until 5:40). I had also been told I could rearrange the classroom if I saw fit. This seemed odd to me, but then, I had worked with this teacher all year and she did want me to have the best student teaching possible. Little did I know!

Day 2: Legoboy is acting funny. Not funny like "my mom is in the classroom messing me up" funny - just funny. "Something is off" sort of funny.
He went down for nap IMMEDIATELY after lunch. Didn't eat much - maybe 2 bites. Then sat there. He looked wiped out.
About an hour after literally conking out, he sat up, crying (he doesn't cry). The main aide came to get me and when I walked in, he had green slimy lines running down his face out of his eyes. I called his doctor and we got right in. By this time, he was asleep and didn't really wake up for anybody or anything.
Diagnosis: influenza, double eye infection, single ear infection. Go get meds, go home and rest.

Well, the meds were going to take some time so I took him home and a friend of mine picked up the meds and brought them over for me (went totally out of his way to do so!).

Day 3: 19 hours after his last bite to eat, I sit down on the couch next to my son who has not woken up, not eaten, fights me when I wake him enough to use an eyedropper for meds into his mouth, and barely lets me put the eyedrops in... I pick up Alice's Adventures in Wonderland to read for a bit. Author bio at the beginning: Lewis Carroll died of influenza.


I call the doctor: "At what point do I start pureeing food and injecting that into his mouth like I do the meds? He hasn't woken up since we were there yesterday. He's not eaten in 19 hours."
'Bring him in in 40 minutes and we'll take a look at him.' (that's how long it would take them to clear their waiting room of current patients so he doesn't spread anything)
15 minutes later, I am gathering his snowsuit, getting ready to lug him down three FULL flights of stairs (I'd just carried him UP the afternoon before), when he sits up - looks right at me - "I'm hungry. I'm thirsty."

OH! The words of the LIVING!!!!

The kid ate half a box of graham crackers and a TALL glass of water before coming up for air.

I called the doctor and canceled the appointment.

DAY 4: We came in later in the morning and he stayed away from the other children, but he wasn't contagious by this time according to the doctor and he was calmer, but otherwise normal. I was able to do some work with the children, and still go home at an "early" time - I liked this!

DAY 5: Finally a normal student teaching day. I don't remember much from that day. But I have it on my calendar as having happened. That may have been the day the teacher unloaded on me all of her personal problems (no children were present). It is the day I realized why she'd given me so much control.

DAY 6 (Monday of week 2): I come in, do the usual before school stuff, transition the children into the children's house environment because the lead teacher isn't there yet and I just got started; the teacher finally comes in a bit late. "Jessica, you have the prime opportunity! You are now the lead teacher for the next 2 weeks. I need a break, I cannot work." While not entirely out of the blue, I had a feeling Molly (my trainer) wouldn't like this!

  • No-no #3: Being in charge of the classroom more than an hour or so at a time. 
  • No-no #4: Being in charge of the classroom as the lead teacher - there *must* be a lead teacher there to monitor the student teaching experience. 

She called Molly. And Molly called me. They  made arrangements for me to teach in a different school. I could NOT do my student teaching alone. I was NOT to be the lead teacher. (remember all the subbing problems just to replace me??? now to replace HER too????)

I did finish out the rest of the day because it was impossible to set up anything fast enough for that day.

DAY 7: Drive van through lots of inner-city traffic to this other school. Due to not being able to drop off Legoboy until 7:30 and dealing with traffic, I arrived 45 minutes late. Minnesota weather; it's still winter. Enough said. I sat and observed, got to know the children and the classroom. I LIKED it, but the teacher insisted I must be there on time the following day.

Drove back to get Legoboy and called Molly - I can't do this. I will be late EVERY day, I'm already a week behind if you're not counting this past week's experience. My van can't take this! Then the aide realized I'm in the office crying on the phone with Molly; he silently hands me two chunks of hair in two different colors. He mouthed the names of the girls to whom the hair belonged. He made a cutting motion and mouthed the culprit's name. My big eyes must have invited him to then proceed to indicate "golden bead birthday cake - (with a large scattering motion) - you NEED to be here."

I shared this with Molly. She was livid about the situation; she felt I was trapping her despite my assurances I was so stressed out at the time I wouldn't even know how to trap someone! ....but - but - but - within 20 minutes, we finally had a sub - they'd found a sub for the school that was, get this: AMI trained - and WONDERFUL! (we didn't know THAT part at the time) While it was NOT in Molly's list of preferred circumstances, she very reluctantly let me do it: Go back to my son's school. Finish student teaching there. "You MUST make the most of your second student teaching and I will observe you THERE." (turns out she observed me at the first school because she realized she had schedule conflicts - the Catholic Montessori was a ways out). An hour of tears, no food since lunch, scared of what I would find, not sure WHAT I was getting myself into, I looked across the after-care room at the aide. Just stared at him. He told me later, he thought I was saying, "This better be worth it!" He said I looked dead.

I thought I was over-reacting. Turns out, I wasn't reacting enough.

I went to see the damage in the classroom. Oh my. It was bad. Really bad. I can't even describe it. But let me try:

  • more hair. 
  • golden beads. Everywhere. Did I mention, "Everywhere." We had a fish tank. With fish. They like birthday cake too. Or so it would seem. 
  • nothing - and I mean nothing was on shelves where it belonged. 
  • can I just admit I've blocked out some of the memories??
  • Oh those poor fish. 

Who subbed that day? I don't even know! But by this point in the year, these children should have been able to handle ONE morning in that environment without a Montessori trained adult present. How do I know this? Because I've seen that too! And Montessori herself describes it! 

Took care of the incident reports and the discussion with the president of the parent board (his daughter needed some hair repair that evening and he was LIVID - anyone noticing a theme of anger here? This is NOT Montessori!). All these livid people. And I just want to student teach! (insert WAHHH!!!!) I assured him I would take care of it, but I was not yet ready to divulge those details. (besides the kids will share it anyway, right?).
(by the way, I DID take care of the situation)

DAY 8: Usual before-school stuff - greeted the before-school care children warmly - perhaps overly so. The birthday cake girls came in. Upon finishing their breakfast, I set them up in the children's house immediately. You have used this material inappropriately. I will show how it works later this morning. Right now, you will gather every single bead and organize it thus. (I placed a sample of each item where it belongs) Come get me when it is properly in place. Do not touch the fish tank. No emotion. Very matter of fact. Get it organized. It's not anyone else's responsibility. You are all 5 and 6 years old and know better.
Yes the hair-cutter was in this group. She had some additional sweeping to do when the bead work was pulled back together.
The joy in his eyes while
doing this work. WONDERFUL!
She was later given the initial presentation on how to cut with scissors, keeping the tip of one blade always touching the table or mat. She was not allowed to do anything else with the scissors until she showed some responsibility. Harsh, perhaps - but she could have nipped an EAR or an EYE! Thus she clearly  need to go back to the 2 year old presentation on the scissors.

Meet the new teacher, explain the situation. She would be running late each day since she dropped off her brother at an adult care center. Ok. I'm there, I can get things started.

OH. Was SHE FANTASTIC! Because she so emphasized the sensorial materials, delving into their depths with children of all ages, I was able to take the math and the reading with the 5 year olds and focus in on them. We both mixed things up (I needed to do everything for student teaching and she needed to cover everything since I'd be gone for 2 weeks), but we had our primary areas of focus. Mixing it up allowed her to get to know all the children before I left for my "other" student teaching, and I could learn from her too.

Did I mention the word MARVELOUS yet!? The regular aide stepped out to become the hallway aide, but he kept poking in and asking, "are you sure these are the same children?"

Reading with the K-ers
Kids who couldn't read to save their lives, were reading 2nd grade reading level 2 weeks later. I worked with them all for 2 weeks  (we had 5 weeks off of training to do our student teaching, with Friday afternoons required to come in to the training center - two weeks at each school, with one week for spring break - well the way the schools had different spring breaks and the way things were going.... I didn't take a spring break).

At the end of DAY 8, the usual aide and I rearranged the classroom (not so much in areas, but more the items on the shelves) to perfectly align with my albums. It was like a visual album for me. And the children felt that flow of the work when they came in the next day. The environment was just so much more soothing for them and truly met their need for order.

DAYS 9-15: 

  • Children not reading were reading. 
  • Children who could have cared less and had low self-worth were smiling proudly and holding their heads high. 
  • Parents were commenting that their children were different kids at home - not whiny or complaining or overly tired, but peaceful and joyful. 
  • The aide decided he didn't like me after all when I had the thousand chain stretching into the lunch room and nap/after-care room from one afternoon into the following morning. It really messed up his work. Yeah well, we're there for the kids, right? This kid held his head up HIGH - and his mother couldn't believe he could count to 1000. He had to show her! This was a child with low self-worth previously, mumbled all the time, was routinely crabby and you could tell would be the child in regular school who "just doesn't care" because he doesn't learn the same as everyone else. Yet, he could count to ONE THOUSAND! THIS was meaningful work! 
  • I played the bells with them every single day. This really set the tone. Those bells are SO valuable!!!!
  • Some of the bells exercises were re-designed to be group in nature to get the older kids up to work that was valuable to them, deep enough for them. The younger ones were then presented with the basic presentations individually or in pairs, to get the work going. 
  • The children saw the work coming next and anticipated it. They better prepared themselves for what they saw was coming. Because it was already out. 
  • Once the work got going, it SAILED. 

The difference? They were engaging with the materials. We each (the sub and I) observed the children's needs and found a material that fit their current spiritual needs. Sometimes, that meant we skipped some of the basic presentations because the older children needed what for them was "real" work. For most of the children that meant telling them their choices of A or B, and then they could choose something else. It meant more presentations than usual for that time of the year. But it was necessary.

They were doing REAL WORK. And THRIVING.

Then I had 2 weeks of student teaching at the Catholic Montessori school. Wonderful. The joy finally returned and I can't speak of the teacher and her environment highly enough! Everything I experienced affirmed everything I had just done at the first school; and I was still going back to the first school in the after-school-care hours, many times still working with the children on reading practice or math presentations, just to keep them going.
(on my way home that first day is when the van's engine blew out, due to having no oil; during my 1st student teaching time, we'd mostly walked to the school (a block away) and I only drove the 1 1/2 mile to the training center on Fridays; no time for the engine to heat up and use more oil... I made it to the school and almost made it back. It was bad. For the next several days I actually borrowed the car of the original teacher's husband who was out of town - then a good friend of mine had parents who were looking to get rid of their van; so it was given to me and Legoboy. There were and continue to be many blessings such as these that keep me humble! Thank you to EVERYONE who took care of us during that time!)

When it all ended, I was tired. But I had definitely grown in my faith in the method, my faith in remaining TRUE to the teachings of Maria Montessori. There is just no going back for me. And there is no compromise. We can use other resources, for sure! But the underlying methodology will always be Montessori for me. It just meets the children's spiritual needs.

Now, don't get me wrong. I loved Legoboy's guide. There were personal problems. She did come back after 6 weeks of absence and finished out the year. Enough foundation remained that the rest of the year was good, but the parents commented that they felt the difference and some of the unsettled nature had returned.

She went back to her home-country for most of the summer, as she did every year. When she returned, she intended to come back to work, but she passed away before the school year started. She had already been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and had sought treatment. I pray for her soul every day. She was wonderful in so many ways and I know she wanted what was best for those children and her own two young sons.

Her experience shows me there is one downfall to Montessori: if Montessori is not coupled with a spiritual expression, it CAN leave people hanging. Even Maria Montessori herself said something loosely to this affect. We are meeting the inner needs of the child, which will touch their souls, their identities as they construct themselves from all that we provide.

I had one little girl in the children's house there with whom I was working on the bead material. She sailed through everything I had in my album with the chains and all. She loved it and just ate it up and worked with it for hours (and still worked on reading skills, the language games, the sensorial materials work for 5 year olds and had time for practical life - she was really busy and loved it!). When we got to the last work I had for her, she asked me what is next? I said, This is all I have for now. "When will you have more?" I didn't know what to say. And she looked downcast. As if she were standing over a precipice and there is nothing there. I had taken her to such heights and (not having the elementary material to move into), I had left her hanging there. I felt terrible.

But then it was like a whisper in my heart. I knew her family was Catholic, so I asked her mom if they prayed the rosary. "No, I'm not sure she could sit through it - it's so long - we do the introductory prayers as a family." I suggested they do it. Just see where it goes.

This girl came in the next day, headed straight for the bead chains and started counting them up, making various matches to the rosary beads - "5 Our Fathers, 10 Hail Marys, but it was really 50 Hail Marys; 3 Hail Marys at the beginning. 1 for the creed." She laid out all the corresponding chains. Then she got out the bead bars and created the rosary on her mat with the bead bars. Then she changed up the colors. Finally, after about an hour or so of this (with minor interruptions to tell friends what she was doing), she came over to me to say, "I found something more! I can pray while doing math! Jesus is with us always and if He created the world, He created math too!"


That precipice had a golden bridge!

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed reading your experience! Awesome story about the girls and the chains!