Updated: Jul 10, 2018
About three decades ago, in Ireland, I worked as a Montessori educator for children 5-12 years. The government did not provide any support, financial or otherwise, but Montessori schools for that age group were so rare that they did not interfere too much either. We had to follow the state curriculum, but they trusted us and did not get involved in the details.
Never for a moment did I think that there was a problem following the state curriculum, because I knew Montessori curriculum covered a great deal more. I knew the children I worked with were going to be equipped to go to secondary school. We used regular text books, but not in a standard way. We used regular tests but not in the standard way. By using them I knew we were somewhat on par or ahead of what was on the state curriculum. I kept records but most of the records were in my head. It was a small, two-teacher school. We chatted, over a cup of tea, about what each child should be introduced to next.
Over the following two or three decades I travelled a great deal in my job as a Montessori trainer. I observed a change in the politics of education. International comparison scores became popular and governments started to provide more detailed, common, compulsory educational goals, leaving teachers with less discretion in how they worked. Even though the state curricula had, in most cases, already been of a high standard, it now became more important to introduce accountability and measurability. This applied to all age groups from early kindergarten to school leaving age.
These policies, overall, upgraded the standard of education. However, the role of the teacher changed. They had to explain themselves. It can be a positive thing in a society, to have accountable teachers, but it also has the effect of restricting teachers in their creativity, and especially, restricting teachers in using a non-standard method such as Montessori.
In my role as a Montessori trainer, I spend much time observing in classrooms, listening to new Montessori educators and hearing about their challenges. They are under far more pressure than I was thirty years ago. They are concerned about their obligations regarding state curriculum. Trying to match Montessori and state curricula uses time and energy. As I listen to them I realise that the biggest problem is not what modern Montessori educators must do, but how they must prove what they have done! It has now become an essential tool of being a Montessori educator, for any age group, to learn to explain the Montessori curriculum in the language of the more common state curriculum goals. This is the challenge for the Montessori educators of today!
More to come next week - watch this space!
Clare Healy Walls lives in Ireland but travels extensively in her work to promote Montessori education worldwide. Clare opened one of the first Montessori primary schools in Ireland during the 1980s in Carrigaline, Co. Cork. Then in 1999, she established Waterpark Montessori International teacher training college and has been the leader of WMI ever since. Clare is a founding member of Montessori Europe. She holds an MA in Education Management and Montessori St. Nicholas teaching diplomas for pre-school and elementary school and has been involved in the development of Montessori program for both Infant/ Toddler and Adolescent in Scandinavia. Clare has a special interest in the application of Montessori principles for all age groups, including adults. She is the author of Montessori in a Nutshell, the At the Heart of Montessori Series, The Conscious Parent and The Conscious Parent in Action (visit www.waterparkbooks.com). Clare has five children, nine grandchildren and one great-grandchild.