Happy Fall, Readers! In the midst of the new academic year buzz here at Loyola, we’re saying our bittersweet farewells to the 2018 graduates setting sail. This month we’d like to highlight Vanessa Brink ’18, who shares her reflection on both traditional and Montessori approaches to education, as well as her experience in the Loyola graduate program.
My Journey as a Teacher:
Education, particularly education for the young developing child, has always been very important to me. Even as a child, I recognized there were teachers who cared to understand the children they taught, and those who simply taught ideas and didn’t take into account the individuals in front of them.
During my almost 15 years of teaching in private Catholic schools, where I had a fair amount of freedom within the curriculum I taught, I was constantly reflecting both on my childhood and on the experiences in the classroom. I knew that each child was very different and unique, each child learned in their own way and each child had their own particular interests that developed through their own personality, character, talents, interests, and strengths. I had never met two children who were alike in every way.
Traditional school, however, allows for adults to make comparisons and ratings of children according to an interestingly ambiguous and abstracted ideal of what a child should be and what a child should know. I was beginning to tire of an educational system that worked within a framework of comparison between children to the esoteric ideal. Was there education that valued the individual over the standards? Was there an educational pedagogy that recognized children were not made for standards, but that standards were made for children, and the standards are simply guidelines, not always requirements?
Finding AMI Montessori has been a coming home of sorts, because the method both recognizes the common reality of human nature: self-creation through the five senses, the human tendencies, the sensitive periods, the planes of development, the physical and spiritual nature of the child, the concrete to abstract knowledge, the simple to the complex ideas, the art and the science of methodology. Yet within the framework of commonality, the glorious acceptance of differences is kept intact, in some sense sacred. The Montessori method allows each child to breathe, to develop or self-create, with recognized differences such as personality, character, interests, stages of development, desire, temperament, abilities.
AMI in particular offers such a rigorous training in the Montessori method that I have felt very well equipped as I work with my primary children. The theory classes gave valuable insights on Maria Montessori’s understanding of human development and the adult’s role within that context, as an observer and guide rather than as an author and ruler. The presentations were thorough and our many hours of practice and album work reinforced the correct use of the materials well.
My Loyola Experience:
Quite candidly, I was initially attracted to the Loyola M.Ed. program because of the status symbol that comes with a Master’s degree. Not the personal status symbol, but status of Montessori education as a viable and competitive option within the current milieu of early childhood, primary, lower and upper elementary and high school education. For Montessori to be available to all children, Montessori guides need degrees that are respected by institutions and by parents who choose the Montessori pedagogy for their child’s development.
After deciding to pursue the Master’s program, it became clear that the classes offered in the Master’s program were a perfect addition to the AMI training. The class on Action Research gave many valuable insights and tips for data collecting and record keeping. It also made clear that if Montessori education and the universally prolific difference it makes on children’s early development is to be understood through research, Montessori guides will be key instruments offering supportive data.
The Special Education class gave amazing insights into detecting and discerning signs of children with disabilities at all levels of development. I found this class hugely helpful because there are nuanced signs that can indicate numerous disabilities. Our professor made it clear what signs indicate what kinds of disabilities we may see, and how to observe and record those signs. This class was profoundly insightful and gave hope to the possibility of Montessori guides being aids for children with disabilities. There were several recommendations, both by the professor and colleagues who have taught children with disabilities, of what possible actions could be used within the Montessori environment for children with disabilities.
The capstone project was helpful in aiding me to think of my five-year goals. I found my advisor gracious, humorous, pointed, directive, and open-minded. This helped me think through future possibilities according to what is important to me in terms of Montessori education.
Beyond the academic material, I really enjoyed meeting fellow Montessorians from all over the world. There were several colleagues who brought humor and songs, sorrows and challenges, and ultimately joy and inspiration. For me, I came into the program thinking I would bury my head in books (which I did), and hole up in my room for hours studying (which I did), and hide in a nook in the library (which I did); but what was most helpful was getting to know others in my cohort who brought joy and life to the course with their perspectives and histories and talents which inspired the love of community, learning, and working.
My Advice to Current Students:
The program is intense and the theory is important, but this is only possible because there are people interested in being in the same place at the same time. For those of you joining the Summer 2019 Cohort, remember to take advantage of the opportunity to meet each other. You will be invaluable to each other’s lives. In the short month, you will meet some amazing friends and develop an international support system. Be sure to allow yourself time to rest and relax with good company. And above all, remind yourself that you are there for the children you will get to serve in the future. You are truly fortunate to get to guide these developing children, and they are fortunate to be served by you.
“Every contribution able to bring out the latent power of love, and to throw light upon love itself, should be welcomed with avidity and considered of paramount importance. I have already said that prophets and poets speak often of love as if it were an ideal; but it is not just an ideal, it is, has always been, and will ever be, a reality …. It holds the universe together because it is a real force, not just an idea.” Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind, pg. 290, 295.
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