I begin the morning by preparing for student teaching, which is a departure from my normal routine of substituting at a Montessori school in central Phoenix. When substituting, I work with children from toddler to upper elementary. Although I love getting to see the progression of work across the planes of development, I’m enjoying the chance to focus solely on material learned in the primary training course.
I am doing my first student teaching session at Augustus H. Shaw Jr. Montessori School. Shaw is a public Montessori school, and conveniently, the site of the Southwest Institute of Montessori Studies training center. When I was choosing where to do my training, learning about this diverse and accessible Montessori community in Phoenix was a big draw. It lives up to expectations! I’m grateful for the opportunity to observe at Shaw last semester and to practice teach this semester.
Once I get to Shaw, I drop some bags off at our SIMS lecture room where I run into a few classmates who are also practice teaching this week. From there, I check in with the guide who’s been gracious enough to host me. I share a couple of successes (and learning experiences) from the last couple of days, and she provides some advice. We head to the cafeteria, which is a hive of activity in the morning. There are parents and children chatting over school breakfast while the assistant teachers oversee the class groups until the guides arrive at 8:30.
The class enters the prepared environment and I go to the observation chair, which is the spot I return to when recording observations on the efficacy of my presentations. Throughout the day, I watch for available children to whom I can present lessons. I have a list of options for each child that the guide and I decided upon my first day. This gives me the freedom to operate fairly independently – I’m able to give lessons to children without needing input from the busy guide.
In the training course, we focus on one area at a time, including practical life, sensorial, language, and mathematics. Student teaching provides a realistic example of the constant interactions with each of these areas in the Children’s House. A guide may give lessons on Flower Arranging, Cards and Counters, How to Push in a Chair, the Pink Tower, and Puzzle Words – all before lunch! It’s equally intimidating and inspiring to see in action how multifaceted the job of the Montessori guide is.
I finish up at 3:30, and return to the lecture room. People are arriving for class, and it’s generally a quiet part of the day as we migrate in from days of teaching, parenting, and more. At 4, class begins. We’ve just begun a new area – mathematics. Generally, the structure of the afternoon is a theory lecture or presentation, given by the SIMS’ trainer, Ann Velasco, or occasionally one of the trainers in training: Meg Trezise or Tiffany Liddell. Today we are seeing two math presentations. First we simply watch the presentation in the same way the 3-6 year old child is introduced to materials. Then, we open our laptops and type out what we remember. We have a chance to ask any questions and discuss any confusion before moving on to the next presentation. We’ll turn in these write-ups after we’ve gotten a chance to practice, and will receive feedback on any necessary changes or clarifications.
After finishing these presentations, we have a break for 45 minutes. This is a chance to eat dinner, chat, or head over to the practice room early. About a third of our training class is here from China. In addition to their unique perspectives and insights, they bring delicious home-cooked dinners. Usually at break there are conversations happening in three separate languages, which keeps things lively.
Around 7, we head next door to supervised practice in the model classroom. There, we practice presenting the lessons we’ve just seen in the lecture room to one another. No matter how simple the presentation seemed as an observer, once I have my hands on the materials all kinds of questions pop up. We’re beginning mathematics, as I mentioned, and are working in a new area in the practice room. This is our last section – it’s nice to be able to use the shelves as a gauge on how far we’ve come. (Although, of course, so much of what we’re learning is not visible on the shelves!) Just like in the Children’s House, every day is different in the model classroom. Some days are energetic, and others calm.
At 8:30, we put away our materials and head home for the day. Although I’m tired and ready for bed, I often catch myself standing in the parking lot talking to my classmates about the day. That’s when I know I’m in the right program with the right people – I’m looking forward to doing it all over again tomorrow!
Augusta Durham is from West Texas, and came to Arizona to attend the SIMS training course. A Montessori child herself, Augusta started working part-time at a Montessori school in her neighborhood after graduating from the University of Texas at Austin. From there, she was hooked and went on to assist in a primary classroom and to lead the after school program. She enjoys hiking, quilting and yoga-ing in her spare time.