Today I was thrown in the fire.
I mean, I got to be the teacher’s assistant in one of the early childhood classrooms at Amy’s Montessori school, as a sort of test or practice or something as I apply for the job for next school year. The original plan was that I would be working with the regular teacher while the regular assistant subbed for Amy’s teacher who’s absent this week. But the regular teacher was absent, so the regular assistant played teacher while I played assistant.
I was nervous anticipating this day. And then I got there and sat on line with kids while other kids were arriving. One kid who barely knows me (I was at her friend’s birthday party quite a while ago) attached herself to me in a possessively cuddling side-sit, and helped me learn all the other kids’ names. And I felt welcome and potentially competent — names was one of the things I had been worried about.
And then, one by one, the kids were released to go begin work. In a Montessori early childhood classroom, kids work independently. They select some self-contained activity from a shelf in the language, art, culture, practical life, or (isn’t there a fifth area? science?) area, take it to a low table or the floor (using a small rug to define a working space), do the activity, put it away, and choose another one. Theoretically, it works. In reality, it works — I’ve observed enough to see it working beautifully.
Today? It did not work very well. There were two pairs of boys, and a pair of girls, and several individuals, who spent most of their time wandering the room, being loud, doing things that are not supposed to be done in the classroom, such as cartwheels, ninja fighting, even hide and seek, or just standing around talking. I would try, as directed, to go to them and endeavor to move them toward work — “what work are you going to do?” was my standard strategy — and most of the time the standard response was a glazed, set look and / or moving away from me. And I just didn’t quite know how to manage that.
Classroom management has NEVER been my strong point. Even when I had a class of six students, at the homeschool co-op I taught at in Virginia, the class felt like a group to me and not like six individuals. Similarly, here, I never felt I could give anyone my undivided attention — I felt I needed to have eyes elsewhere, or even interrupt my peaceful and productive exchange with one child (like possessive cuddle girl, who spent the day sitting with a map work that she would not do unless a teacher was with her, even though she was clearly capable of working it out herself) in order to deal with something less peaceful elsewhere.
In a way, I would have liked to have chosen one student and followed through with him until he was seated and actively pursuing his work. Maybe it would involve just sitting with him a while and getting to know him and to show him that I was someone who found him interesting for his own self and not just as a student to manage. In a way, I felt out of sorts, like I was trapped in opposition instead of invitation, support, encouragement, etc. I suspect there really is a way to guide a child to a work without it feeling like opposition to either child or teacher — that’s something I’d really like to learn more about. Because today I felt like I was trying to pry kids away from what they wanted to do, and make them do something else against their will, and that doesn’t feel good to anyone. (If I was starting to feel like certain kids were my enemies, I bet they were starting to feel like I was their enemy, too!) Again, I’m not saying kids should be able to do cartwheels in a small classroom where they could easily run into furniture or run over a friend. But that there ought to be a way to approach such a kid, and talk to her, in a way that would help her tune into her own inner motivation to choose something appropriate for the time and place. And there ought to be a way to approach such a kid in such a way, without “letting” chaos rule in the rest of the classroom in the meantime.
I suppose, too, that some days it’s just like this. The weather changes, someone comes in crying loudly, there’s a missing person and a new person… one or two kids behave differently, and it’s contagious. You breathe, and do the best you can.