Education for Life
It’s that time of year again – sunlight shining where it hasn’t in months, snow falling when you really don’t think it will, giddy rehearsals for the Earth Day play, teachers planning to close out this school year with the all the pomp and circumstance that is due. As teachers happily discuss summer plans, I most often hear them exclaim, “What, we only have how many more weeks of school?!”. I think of the school year like a ski slope. In the fall we edge up to the steep slope, looking down at the moguls and trees below and wonder for a moment, “Can I really do this?” Then, without thinking twice, we push off and there comes all the exhilaration of doing something you love – at breakneck speed. There are some relaxing runs when you can enjoy the view, some trips through the trees, then come some long catwalks and patient trips through the lift lines. We come back from spring break and look down at the final slope – once we push off that last time it will seem like a matter of seconds before the lifts close and the snow is melted for another year. Before then there is much to accomplish.
Although Montessori schools have a reputation for teaching academic skills at precocious ages, what we teachers want most for our students is to complete each level of learning with a sense of mastery and intrinsic motivation. We want them to spend the third year as the oldest in each program so they will gain confidence and leadership skills while polishing their academics. We want them to complete the full curriculum so that the foundations carefully laid in toddler and early childhood classes may come to fruition in lower and upper elementary. We want them to practice their social skills, experience ongoing decision-making and developmental opportunities and to confirm their classroom learning with frequent field trips into the real world. We want them to graduate as confident, enthusiastic learners who know how to make appropriate choices and solve a problem. We want them to emerge as people who are at ease with themselves and ready to make a difference in the world.
I recently wondered if that third year is really so important. I considered the hundreds of children I’ve known over the years, including my own children, who completed that third year. Did they gain the confidence we expected? Are they as accomplished at social and academic skills as we think they should be? A few minutes after ruminating on this I happened to see my son’s new Facebook profile photo. He chose to post a photo for the world to see of him wearing his military-issue glasses, familiarly known as BCGs – “birth control glasses” – because they are so ugly. Then I thought of him bringing his little boy-made car to the Pinewood Derby, looking around at the cars the other kids’ dads had made for them, stepping confidently up to the race track, and watching his funny little purple bumpy car beat those shiny red ones. Another image flashes by of him stepping onto the starting block at high school swim meets in his Speedo – and winning the state championship. That made me think about my daughter playing Junior Jazz basketball as the only girl on the team. She was terrible and she knew it, but she stuck with it. And she tried out for cheerleading even though I tried hard to discourage her. She cheered happily for three years of high school and I had to admit it was a good choice on her part. I look at the graduates I’ve known over the years who have travelled the world, taken up causes, started their own businesses, seen people who need help and stepped up. One recently organized a fund-raising event for a group in Africa and invited her whole town including the mayor. She’s only 15! I have a photo of her standing in front of the crowd with the microphone in her hand. There is fire in her eyes. These kids have confidence. And they know what they need to do.
Once again our SATs are showing phenomenal scores. Our third grade level students are testing far above average. But more importantly, these children are people who are happy, confident and peaceful. They know what they want and how to work toward a goal. They are interested in everything and can solve problems independently. They are already the self-possessed, intelligent and caring people they will be as adults. If they never attended another day of school they would have everything they need to live contented and productive lives. But, of course, they have parents who also have high goals so they will all likely go to college and have rich life experiences before starting on their career paths. And if these confident children are anything like our graduates who have gone before them over the past 25 years they will keep their enthusiasm for learning for the rest of their lives.
Duna Strachan, AMS
Soaring Wings International Montessori School
Park City, Utah USA