Last week, Jack and I had the pleasure of traveling out west to visit MNW in Portland and SIMS in Phoenix. The first leg of the trip provided the perfect opportunity to check in on some of our alumni! In a small café in Portland, we met up with Emily de Vine to chat about life after school. Emily’s experience is a bit unique. She trained in Primary at Montessori Northwest, but since graduating has worked at Franciscan Montessori Earth School as a Lower Elementary Assistant.
What inspired you to Montessori?
It’s a common story: I’ve always been interested in teaching. I really love the alternative styles of teaching, and I didn’t care for public school systems. I didn’t want to be a public school teacher, so I was looking for other choices. Above the other alternatives that are out there, I really felt pulled to the Montessori system—the scientific background of it, the idea that it’s for each child, and that it’s so hands on. It drew me in.
How do you like being in the classroom at Franciscan?
Well, I trained in Primary, and I work in Lower Elementary. They’re a completely different child, and the rooms are set up very differently. I’m familiar with a few of the items in the room; but usually when a child gets a lesson, I’m getting the lesson too, which is really neat. I love the arrangement, though—the tables of different heights, some of which are for one child, some for many. I love the availability of choices.
Do you wish you had done Elementary training?
Do you wish you were working in a Primary classroom?
Yes—but not yet. I’m excited to experience the three-year cycle in my current classroom. However, I do want to go to a Primary classroom eventually.
It’s going to be an amazing experience for you, because unlike a lot of Primary teachers, they don’t know where the child goes. Many Primary teachers are intimidated by Elementary; when they visit and observe a classroom, they feel like it’s out of their lane. So when you do finally go back to Primary, your knowledge will give you a step up.
Yeah. I’m very excited for that. Right now I see where the children are when they come in, and it gives me ideas for what I could have helped them learn and focus on before the [Elementary] classroom.
What are some of the specific challenges you feel?
I’ve done very little studying of the second plane child, so I look at him or her and have to remind myself, ‘You are not four years old. You are safe; you can do these things.’ I’ve found that I’ve really honed my observation skills because of it! I tend to shy back and wait instead of just jumping in at something that I would have done for a four or five-year-old. It’s a challenge, but also a good growth experience. But another challenge is when a child asks me about a material, and I have to tell them, ‘I have no idea. I have no idea what it’s called, I don’t know how to do it; we’ll have to wait.’
I don’t feel as challenged or intimidated by the materials as I used to. The children and I have built a rapport now. It’s gotten to the point where I can say, ‘I don’t know, we’ll have to wait until Sister [our guide] is out of her lesson to talk about it.’
You attended Summer Session in 2015. Did you enjoy those weeks? Did you find anything extra challenging or rewarding? Do you have a favorite part? Least favorite part?
I’m glad that it was intensive and all at once rather than a weekend here, a weekend there, or one week at a time here and there. It was a lot, but I did it immediately following my training year, so I was really still into the intense kind of study mode. It was nice getting to meet other people from the training center that had gone through before me, some of whom I hang out with now, which is really great. So yes, it was so much, so quickly—but we did it!
Talk a little bit about your final project – you wrote about sensory gardens?
Yes. I have a background in Psychology. I’m really interested in the human brain, how people function, how we get along, and what can make us better as Montessori guides. The sensory garden idea was originally for children who have autism or other developmental or sensorial or processing issues. It helps integrate both sides of their brain by touching and feeling things. It’s a friendly environment—so if they eat something, it’s not going to be toxic. It’s meant to be pleasant, not over-stimulating. You can use dirt, wood, stumps, rocks, or water…the goal is essentially to use anything natural.
My paper was really about how important having any sort of gardening is. So even if you live in an apartment high-rise, just having some plants or even herbs in your kitchen window is better than not having anything, because even then you can still get the smell from the herbs, rub the leaves…it gives you something.
Do you have a lot of plants in your classroom?
The Franciscan Montessori Earth School is known for its gardens. We have a gardener and gardening lessons every other week. Each classroom has access to an outdoor corridor where they keep track and care of the plants and flowers out there.
We have a few plants in our classroom. Our kids tend to overwater everything, so we have a lot of flooded plants right now!
Did you have a favorite part on [Baltimore] campus, or was it just getting through it, getting to the end?
I enjoy school, so I liked just being on campus again! When I went away to college the first time I lived on campus and I really enjoy that environment. I like the whole class system idea; you go to one class, maybe two a day, and then you have a break to work on it. I function better that way.
When we were at Montessori Northwest today, a lot of students asked about the final project. Did you find it to be tough—were you working on it during your time on campus?
No, I waited until I got back home. Part of it was that I knew it wasn’t due immediately, so I didn’t need to finish it while I was in Baltimore. I was focusing more on the papers that needed to get done, and then I was focused on getting the articles—the research—in hand before I came home. Other than that, I pushed it to the side for the most part. However, having my topic finalized before leaving campus was imperative. I don’t know what I would have done if we hadn’t hammered that out before.
After attending, do you have any advice others coming in this Summer?
Do your homework! (laughs) Really it’s about making a timetable, a schedule, and sticking to it. It’s only a few short weeks—you have to just dig in.
Our favorite insight: “Right now I see where the children are when they come in, and it gives me ideas for what I could have helped them learn and focus on before the [Elementary] classroom.”
Loyola University Maryland ~ “Strong Truths Well Lived”