Absorb-worthy

“Dr. Montessori stresses that children absorb completely whatever they experience in the first plane of development and these experiences become a part of their soul. This places an incredible responsibility on us as the adults in their lives… How will or should this influence the way you are with children? What qualities, fears, attitudes do you have that you would and would not want children to absorb? What kinds of impressions do you want the child to gain from their experience with you and in the environment you prepare?”

This is the kind of thing that spiked me into PPD/A after Amy was born. I was so committed to doing things right, but so very aware that not only do we all make mistakes, but we make mistakes that really hurt people. What a paralyzing thought. It seems flippant to just figure that people ought to know that about one another and learn forgiveness. And yet that does seem to be what we’re called to in regards to our debtors, those who sin or trespass against us. We are to have compassion and mercy on them as our Father has on us. Perhaps it is possible, then, to find a proper balance or harmony or integration between taking sin seriously on the one hand, and on the other hand, trusting in grace — not just from God (who has to be gracious) but also from others (who don’t).

So I could talk about aiming to be kind, warm, open-hearted, compassionate, and respectful toward the children in my class. I could talk about working to minimize my impatience, my anxiety, my distress in chaos and disorder, my tendency to take things personally and negatively. But perhaps what I should focus on instead is how I could model grace and compassion when I mess up, not only in the way I apologize and seek to make amends, but also in how I treat myself the wrongdoer — acknowledging the wrong, taking responsibility, but not overly berating myself, not labeling myself as bad. Or how I could model self-control, self-awareness, self-care, peace, and consideration, in times when I’m experiencing strong emotions.

I would want the children to get the impression that everyone and everything belongs, that there is always room for compassion and respect even within a firm moral and ethical framework, for ourselves and for others.

“Perfection is not within the grasp of ordinary human beings. Efforts to attain it typically interfere with that lenient response to the imperfections of others, including those of one’s child, which alone make good human relations possible.” — Bettelheim

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Calling

My coursework has already begun for the Montessori teacher education program I’m doing through CGMS, the Center for Guided Montessori Studies. It’s a hybrid of a distance learning program plus a 2 1/2 week residency and a whole school year of student teaching / practicum / internship.

One of the assignments for the orientation is journaling. This week’s prompt is to reflect on our sense of calling to work with children, what draws us to this work, what we feel called to do in this work, what we hope will come from it.

My thoughts turn toward two youth ministers. Brian talked and listened to us, even when we were middle schoolers, as if we were really people, whose ideas, feelings, dreams, and thoughts were legitimate, worth taking seriously. I’m sure he knew when we were being irrational and overly dramatic, but he didn’t treat us dismissively or ridicule us at such times.

When I was an adult volunteer with another church youth ministry, the youth pastor Tim modeled respect and compassion in another way. When kids were whispering to or poking each other, or when someone was just wiggly, he invited them to step out of the room to work it out. Anyone could say those words, and for most adult leaders it would be spoken as a threat and a criticism — as if the kid is being bad or needs to be punished or singled out and shamed. But Tim spoke it as a real invitation. He acknowledged just how normal it is to be distracted, to have the wiggles or the giggles, and encouraged kids to see taking a quick break as a positive strategy rather than a mark of shame or a punishment.

These two guys — and I’m sure I could think of many other people — modeled what have become my core values, compassion and respect. In all my interactions with people I hope to be governed and marked by these values. They have guided me as a volunteer in youth ministry, as a camp counselor, as a high school teacher, as a parent, and in situations that have nothing to do with kids.

There are other things that have drawn me to work in early childhood education. I find it fascinating how little children observe and explore their world, how language develops, how learning works, how social graces coalesce. I like how open, energetic, and curious kids can be, and how surprising their thoughts and feelings can be. I’m enthusiastic about how Montessori created an educational program (among others) that makes so much sense in real life. I want to be part of it all, and I think that these core values of compassion and respect will serve me well as I grow into teaching, will serve the children well as recipients and practitioners of these values, and will fit harmoniously with Montessori’s emphasis on peace, grace, and courtesy.