From Merlot to Montessori
My teaching career started the day I spilled red wine on the woman in the white suit.
I spent four years in college only to move from NYC back to Cleveland not knowing (quite yet) what I wanted to do with my life. And so I became a waitress. I’m not sure how I landed a job in the most prestigious restaurant in Cleveland, since my only serving experience entailed one sticky summer in a restaurant at Sea World.
My boyfriend at the time lamented I was “wasting my talents.” I had studied writing, and well, I should be writing. He needn’t have worried. As the top-heavy goblet of Merlot slid down my tray towards the white suited woman below, my fate was sealed
Not only did the woman make a shrieking scene in the hushed, velvet curtained restaurant that night, but was unrelenting in her demands that the restaurant pay for her suit.
Shortly after the Merlot Monstrosity a new waitress appeared on the scene. On what was to be my last day of work (unbeknownst to me) we somehow got on the subject of teaching. I shared how I loved children but never ever wanted to be a traditional teacher. She excitedly told me about an educational methodology called Montessori. Having attended a Montessori school as a child, she reminisced fondly how much she loved the experience. All I knew about Montessori was that my mother had great intentions of sending me there as a child, but missed the admission deadline. (I instead attended a Catholic school, which did not help my guilt complex).
It was strange to see someone so animated about their early years in school, but I didn't think much of the conversation at the time. Yet, as I have found in life, what seems to be random, rarely is.
And at the end of the day, I was told to turn in my apron.
I remember weeping on my porch steps as I counted my jar of saved change. This wasn’t going to get me far. Now what?
I knew I had a natural magnetism with children, and often heard from my mother and others that I would be a wonderful teacher. For some reason, I was determined not to be.
Yet, often what we think we want, isn’t what we are called to do. I thought more and more about Montessori, and the next thing I knew, I was hired as an assistant in a Montessori classroom.
Although I didn’t know it at the time, this is what the Universe had in mind all along. This next stage would bring me into the exuberant lives of preschoolers; an essential preparation in the development of the Birthday Triplets.
A classroom full of 3-5 year olds moving about freely can be daunting. If you are not familiar with Montessori, the children are given lessons by the Directress in various areas of the room: Practical Life, Sensorial, Math, and Language. Once they have had lesson on a certain material, they are free to work with it at any time (and equally important, put the material away when finished. ) If you have ever seen a Montessori classroom in action, it's quite a sight. During an ideal morning, 25-30 children are working busily together or independently with minimal adult intervention.
Now it takes a while to reach this ideal state. This can be a comical process in itself at times. In the beginning there are always the Stalkers who incessantly stare at the child working with a material until they break down and hand it over. The Swayers are skilled at convincing their classmates that they would be better off eating snack, and usurp the material that has now been abandoned for the pretzel bowl.
Lastly, you'll find the Seekers who spend their days roaming the classroom attempting to look busy doing nothing. Even though they've been given every lesson under the sun, they walk around seeking who knows what. On the plus side, they are always the go-to children when an alternation happens in the classroom, and are especially adept at unearthing missing pieces and parts (usually found in their classmate's pocket or sock). Nothing escapes them.
As you can see, this was a lot to take in as a newbie assistant. At the beginning, the head teacher, Marlene, was forever correcting me to stop “doing things” for the children. I didn't understand. It was much faster for me to zip up their coats than watch them struggle with their tiny hands. And why couldn’t I carry that bucket for water for them? Filled so high, the spill was inevitable (and who wants to deal with that mess?) Marlene was as patient with me as the children. Over time, I learned the children had to learn for themselves (and clean up after themselves). It was all about independence. With that independence came empowerment and the immense satisfaction of being able to do something without any help. With children having so little control over most of their lives, what an incredible gift.
While I didn’t always resonate with the all the Montessori materials, I found them brilliant in their own nature. What moved me the most was the respect given to children and their innate and powerful capabilities. I loved the emphasis on grace and courtesy, appreciation of beauty, the building of community, the nurturing and compassion for living things, and most importantly, the joy of discovery. There is a reason why Montessori is called Education for Life. This was nothing I ever experienced in my early years of school. And suddenly, without warning, something strange came over me....
I wanted to be a teacher (mothers love it when they are right!)
I knew of the Montessori teacher training program in Cleveland. The only problem: I lacked funds for the tuition. It’s hard and extremely humbling to have to ask for financial assistance. I was afraid of being rejected. I often think of how my life would have been different had I gave into that fear.
I explained my dilemma to the Montessori trainer who would be running the course. I will never forget her advice and have often shared it with others: She said when that when you ask someone for something, you are giving them an opportunity to do a kindness. It’s like a chance to gain some good karma.
I never thought of it like that and mustered up the courage to ask for a loan from family. I will be forever grateful for their answers. Their acts of generosity and kindness not only affected me, but the lives of all the students who would be crossing my path over the next twelve years.