Monday, April 2, 2012

Patience is a Virtue

In this fast paced present day world there is no time for patience. Or so it seems, especially in a traditional classroom. However, I think many people are beginning to recognize we cannot afford as a society microcosmically or macrocosmically to not exercise patience and other virtues for that matter. In my mind, this is what separates the so called “Montessori community” from the mainstream community. It is my contention that pretty much every parent and educator realizes this, at least in the back of their minds.

Presently, it is those Montessori parents that have the courage to allow guides to exercise patience and other virtues in themselves, and give their child or children the gift of a good Montessori centered education. More parents have come from public schools this year than any other year to observe my classroom. Upon listening to the radio, experiencing the many visits from public school parents, and speaking with public school teachers, I can’t help but believe the tides are changing.

How amazing it would be to experience the end of “Industrial Revolution Education” in the United States. What an incredible experience it would be to witness the integration of true Montessori education and the like. It does not have to be just the ideas of Montessori, as there were many great thinkers that also contributed to her works and thought similarly to her. But, how marvelous to be a part of a time where education could possibly be about the child throughout our mainstream education system.  I recognize many things need to occur for all of this to happen. I would like to introduce something that I have known, yet had not more fully experienced until this past month. It has to do with patience as a foundation in the guide’s ability to educate.

“Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.” ~ Plato

I believe that patience is something that can never be completely attained, but is rather something that needs to be practiced and exercised daily, as you would a muscle. This especially holds true for parents and teachers. So, at best, by being harsh and forceful with a child you are temporarily controlling. One must discover with patience how to amuse the child and, as Montessori says “seduce the child”. As Montessori parents, this is what you are giving us (Montessori guides) permission to do. You are giving us the time to observe, to persuade, and step back to let your child’s genius express itself. I humbly thank you for that trust and opportunity. I know of no other place that allows this to unfold.

“The aim of education should be to teach us rather how to think, than what to think—rather to improve our minds, so as to enable us to think for ourselves, than to load the memory with the thoughts of other men.”
 ~ John Dewey

Many say we want this for ourselves and our children, but we are afraid to go on the path that it takes to get there. It may be difficult to let go of our personal experiences of education. A part of us knows, we had things that were missing when we were growing up. One of those things was a pure enjoyment of going to school. How many parents can say math, language or science was their favorite subject in school? How many of you enjoyed lunch, gym, or snow days more? Meanwhile, I am constantly amazed at how much so many of the children in my class love school and learning. They are overtly happy to be here. It is even hard to get many of them to leave at the end of the day. This does not happen just in my class, either. I have had the same experience in several Montessori classrooms in several different states. In addition, many of the teachers I trained with told me the same thing of their students and the students of the classrooms they observed.

This brings me back to the practice of patience, not only with our children but with our selves. Maria Montessori says, “We teachers can only help the work going on, as servants wait upon a master.” Over the past month I have really been able to digest this quote more than before. It had a bit of a negative connotation for me until now. Admittedly, I have my own stigmas and expectations. Taking it a step further, I have assumed expectations in my mind that you have for each of your children. But, something magical happens when I can briefly forget all of that, and place myself as the servant to your children. It is my duty to put my personal feelings, and about what I think your possible feelings are, aside. This way I can observe and persuade based on their interests as objectively as possible.

"As soon as children find something that interests them they lose their instability and learn to concentrate." - The Secret of Childhood:: Fides Publishers, 1966 :: p. 145

After all that is our goal, for your children to concentrate. No one truly concentrates on anything other than what interests them. At some point throughout the six years of elementary your child is to experience all of that which is in the prepared environment and more. Believe it or not, I have to remind myself of this for you, when those warranted and engrained fears creep in. Is my child reading fluently and comprehending by the end of second grade? Does my child know all of his or her times tables by the end of third grade? Can my child name all of the states, capitals, and spell them correctly by fifth grade? Is my child writing paragraphs and paraphrasing correctly for report writing by the end of fourth grade?

"Our task is to show the way to discipline. Discipline is born when the child concentrates his attention on some objects that attracts him and provides him not only with a useful exercise but with a control of error." - The Absorbent Mind :: Clio Press Limited, 1994 :: p. 240

Here, Montessori is expressing what the Prepared Environment does for the child. It also leads to an interest of exploring the world. For example, some children expressed an interest in art and went to the art museum in Philadelphia after researching different works of art in the classroom. Several children have done research on Leonardo Di Vinci and are now planning on going to his exhibit at the Franklin Institute. It is awe-inspiring to be a part of the experience of so many different children, and to see what happens to them, as they become inspired and concentrate.

There are three things that tend to cause a child to act out or not do as we would like them to do; they are overstimulation, tiredness, or boredom. The hard part, what most don’t have patience for, is deciphering which one it is, and then figuring out what to put in front of the child for him or her to discover. We give them the environment and what is in the environment and they make the discovery. When it comes from them, or when they believe it comes from them, they own it.

As I stated earlier patience is a virtue. Without it, we cannot achieve what we want for our children to achieve. I believe you’re giving the gift(s) of patience and other virtues to your children by sending them to an A.M.I. Montessori classroom. You are giving me the gift of experiencing it and being a part of it. Let’s take this opportunity to remind ourselves of all of this, relax (but not too much), and smile.

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