When I was considering making the shift from teaching public school to teaching at a Montessori school, I did a little research, looking online and talking to other teachers about the differences between traditional education and the Montessori approach. I read and heard a variety of opinions but, after working in an accredited Montessori environment for about five months now, I've come to see that much of what I heard about the Montessori philosophy, at least at the elementary-middle level, was inaccurate. Here's my take on some of the misconceptions after teaching in the environment for half a school year (already?!).
#1 In Montessori schools, the kids create their own curriculum based exclusively on what they want to learn about.
While a high level of choice, allowing students to explore their curiosity, & taking advantage of teachable moments is all highly encouraged, the elementary-middle school curriculum is led by the standards just as public school's is. There is more flexibility in the HOW and WHEN it's delivered and is most certainly student-led in format, but Montessori kids will graduate any given grade having mastered the same standards as a public school student. (Infant, toddler, and pre-primary Montessori classrooms do follow a separate set of standards from the American Montessori Society) There's lots of choice involved, but within the boundaries of the standard or learning goal being worked on (as with many public school classrooms).
#2 Montessori students don't know how to function in the "real world" setting of a public school after transitioning.
I had a colleague at one of my previous public schools tell me that the new student she got had just transitioned from Montessori and "didn't know how to even sit at a desk". I've gotten the impression that some people have an image of the Montessori child as a sort of twirling wild child roaming willy-nilly around the room.
"What is this chair and desk contraption you speak of?" Not the case.
We sit in chairs.
We use desks.
We walk around the room.
We work on the floor.
We work outside.
If anything I'd guess that they're more adaptable to learning in a variety of environments.
#3 Montessori students are privileged or entitled.
This one particularly bothers me, and I'm sure private school teachers hear the same thing all the time. Just as in public school, I've met some of the most respectful, kind, and grateful children in this environment.
Yes, students who attend any private school pay tuition in order to cover the enormous costs involved in running a school--paying teachers, facility costs, supplies, technology, the list goes on. But our students run the gamut in terms of lifestyle, learning ability, and ethnicity just like any other school. Some students have really struggled in the traditional setting, yet do well with the Montessori environment, and their families have made great sacrifices to do whatever it takes to keep them where they are thriving. Others may be very well-off--honestly, it's none of my business. Kids can't help the environment they're born in. We love and teach them all equally...period.
#4 The Montessori motto "follow the child" puts the teacher secondary to the student in terms of respect.
The basic principles of the Montessori method center on "following the child" meaning that, if we let students' natural curiosity lead the way, they will be more interested and engaged in what they are learning. Maria Montessori believed that there are sensitive periods for learning different skills & concepts and that children have a natural, burning curiosity to learn, which should influence what materials the student is presented with and when. This is what is meant by "following the child"--not that the child is "in charge" in the classroom management sense.
#5 The Montessori curriculum/environment is unstructured.
How structured a Montessori program is would vary among schools, so I can only speak to my experience. We hold our students accountable for their projects and activities--some classrooms do this through utilization of a grade book, some through use of charts that students use to record activities they've completed--either way, there is accountability. Another source of this stereotype may be from the wider span of choice within the curriculum that also includes life skills--subjects like Practical Life and Independent Study. This kind of holistic approach to education--that we address the whole child, not just the academic--is one that I have always believed in so, for me, it happens to be a good fit. Yes, the goal is to teach core subjects like Math, Science, and Reading. But what good are mastering those things if we're not also productive, kind, well-rounded human beings?
Having taught now in both public and private school environments, I can see strengths in both. When considering a Montessori environment for a student, I think you have to look at the child as an individual to determine which is the right fit. Just as the Montessori environment may not be right for every child, it may not be right for every teacher. For me, I do feel a sense of relief that what I'm doing each day feels more closely aligned to the types of teaching and learning I believe in--I've always favored a more constructivist, student-led approach that focuses on the needs of the whole child (which is right up the Montessori alley). If you've taught in both environments, I'd love to hear your feedback in the comments below or on social media!
Thanks for reading,