Maria Montessori was revolutionary as one of the only women to overcome the gendered limitations of her time and develop her own pedagogy. It is my belief that the education methodology that Montessori developed helps each child to reach her or his potential. By providing a safe, nurturing, and developmentally appropriate environment, early childhood education has the potential to guide young people to be socially conscious, empowered members of society, inspire revolutionary thinking and develop future leaders. It is during those formative years that it is most important to develop a sense of self-worth and compassion so that those individuals may feel comfortable and confident within themselves for the rest of their lives. It is the teacher’s role to patiently provide individualized attention and care to each student, recognizing that children come to the classroom already full of experiences, knowledge, and beliefs. I believe that Montessori education is exceptional at working within this framework to care for the whole individual and guide the student’s own autonomous learning.
My mother was my personal Maria Montessori and hero as she exemplified the same passion for providing holistic education to me and other children when she opened a Montessori school in our small rural town in Canada. My mother understood the importance of treating every child as an individual by allowing them to grow in their natural strengths and offering patience in their areas of difficulty. She and her partner opened Muskoka Montessori Elementary School just in time for me to enter the elementary program. From grades one through three, my mother was my own teacher. I remember her holding me to particularly high standards as a student while also building a supportive environment in which all students were encouraged to take initiative for their own learning. She guided us through this process rather than lectured or instructed. I can recall my fascination with the five Great Lessons and all of the vivid illustrations and didactic materials that went along with each lesson. I loved going to school. When I reached the Erdkinder program from grades seven through eight, I particularly enjoyed Fridays when we had the opportunity to explore and learn about our natural environment for the entire day in our outdoor education program. Most of all, however, I felt proud of my achievements I made in Montessori and felt that I was able to direct my learning and achieve my full potential.
Despite enjoying my elementary schooling so thoroughly, I did not fully comprehend the value of Montessori education until I entered high school and was, for the first time, in the public-school system. It did not take long to start noticing the small advantages that I gained from Montessori. One memory that stands out is of the first day of geography class in grade nine. We were handed an image of the world map and asked to label as many countries as we could from memory. I looked to my right and saw that the girl sitting next to me had the map upside-down. Needless to say, I was shocked and filled with gratitude for my own education. Learning world geography at a young age helps a child develop a sense of global citizenship and acceptance for people of all cultural backgrounds. It has been my observation, that exposure to these subjects directly counters ignorance and xenophobia. I also noticed my ease and comfort in talking with teachers. When it came to group projects and presentations, I took on the initiative of leadership roles and speaking in front of groups. Despite having a graduating class of only four students in grade eight at Montessori, I felt socially and intellectually prepared for high school.
I also joined clubs related to addressing social issues and caring for the environment while I was in high school. I was fortunate enough to be part of Me to We / Free the Children trips to India and Kenya to participate in the building of elementary schools. These trips were life changing for me as it opened my eyes to the difference education can make in a person’s life. For the first time, I saw children who truly understood this concept and would walk multiple miles in the blistering heat without shoes or drinking water just to go to school. They did this every day because they understood that receiving a formal education was one of the only ways to break the cycle of poverty and make a difference for their family and community. This experience taught me never to take my education for granted. It also taught me the importance of having teachers who are equally invested in the student’s learning. One of the most disheartening struggles that those students regularly dealt with was arriving to a classroom with no teacher. Hence, I believe it is paramount to have teachers who are equally dedicated to the student’s learning process and who embody patience and compassion.
After my four years in the public system, I was eager to get back into an alternative education method for post-secondary school, which is why I chose to go to Soka University of America. I was exposed to so many new areas of study and all of a sudden I had a plethora of potential career paths that I excitedly entertained. Upon observing and comparing these options, I found that the only consistent sentiment was a desire to be of service to others.
Finding entrance level jobs can be a discouraging process but I decided to follow my heart and apply for a social work job at a domestic violence shelter. To my delight, I was accepted and quickly started working as a client advocate at a shelter for male, female, and child victims of domestic violence. The work gave me a sense of fulfillment and definitely met my goal of being of service to others. However, the environment was extremely volatile and often stressful so when a position opened up to work as a coordinator and facilitator for the same organization’s treatment program for the offenders of domestic violence, I jumped at the opportunity. After a year of work at the shelter, it was a very comfortable transition to begin working with “the other side” of the issue. Instead of interacting with people who were entering shelter in states of crisis, I began working with clients in sanctioned two-hour periods in a classroom setting. This is where I found my passion for working as an educator. I enjoy introducing new topics and facilitating discussion of our thoughts and feelings on that subject. I found that even as a facilitator I was learning so much, not only about domestic violence from the offender’s side, but also about how to engage a group of learners and inspire creative thought. Most of all, I listened to the feedback of my clients and realized that the information we were teaching should have been taught early in their educations. I heard countless times how if these clients had only been told what was considered a healthy communication style, or an appropriate response to anger or conflict as a child, they would have never ended up in our class.
I reflected back to my roots at Montessori school and knew in my heart that this pedagogy was capable of preparing individuals for all that is to come in life. I want to be part of the process of educating individuals in all facets of life, from learning language and communication skills, to respect and understanding of our natural world, cultural awareness, healthy human interactions, down to how to tie a shoe. Being successful in life requires more than having intellectual “book smarts.” It requires a balance of many social, practical, and intellectual skills. Montessori is one of the few pedagogies that not only recognizes but completely respects that every person is on their own timeline and will grow more comfortably if they are allowed to follow that timeline. It is my opinion that Montessori follows best practice by treating individuals as such and working with their unique learning style. It is that kind of culture of care that I want to be a part of.