The realities of the classroom

For those of you that are new teachers like we all once were, this article is aimed at helping you navigate through the first day in the classroom. Although this article is geared towards Montessori teachers, there are many tips here that easily apply to all new teachers.

The year in training is a wonderful, magical, spirit lifting time. I was introduced to a whole new way of learning and teaching, and it was life changing. I understood fractions in a way I had never been able to as a young math student, I was able to explore so many subjects, all in one classroom.

My year at A.M.I was filled with daily, repetitive training in the mock classroom, and new lectures and presentations were introduced daily. The materials in a Montessori classroom are aesthetically pleasing, each piece of work draws you in and an immediate need to explore it is born. That’s true learning, and its the reason I became so familiar with the materials and presentations that they will stay with me for life. Everyday held the key to a new area, a new piece of work, a new piece of art. Each material carefully presented, the lesson precisely worded, and the presentation gracefully executed. I got to practice it in the classroom, and I got to practice it with a mock student while being observed by a trainer. I got to perfect my technique and my delivery.

So you know all your presentations, you know the theory behind each material, you know what age to present which lessons. You know all about Dr.Maria Montessori and her life and what she gave to the world. That isn’t what you are doing day one.

Day one is about meeting the parents, your co-workers, your students, and its about getting a feel for your classroom, and letting the children feel comfortable in their new environment. It wont be working like a well oiled machine like you heard and talked about in your training. The children will drop things, they will do things they are not ‘supposed’ to do, they may not get the purpose of an activity you present. Just know that this is all okay, we learn by doing, by making mistakes and by correcting ourselves, and that is the same way the children will learn in the classroom.

Prepare your classroom. Arrive at school, early enough to look at your classroom setup since your set-up day. (Some schools will have their Montessori teachers come in and setup prior to the beginning of school)

Dress Code – if you don’t know the dress code, ask, don’t assume. Dress comfortable but professional, your appearance shows your level of self care, something you will be teaching the children, so the best way is to lead by example. This just means keep your appearance, neat, and put together, you don’t have to dress like a model or have your hair professionally done!

Attendance – always know how many children are in your care. Always.

3 hour uninterrupted work cycle – The amazing 3 hour work cycle we read about and discuss in our training is not always attainable. Different schools have different operating hours, snack times,lunch times, French times, etc. In addition, schools have to adhere to state and federal laws regarding outdoor play time, so that has to be factored in as well. Try your best to give them a long uninterrupted work cycle, but don’t stress if it doesn’t happen the first day, week or even month!

Meeting and greeting the parents and children. I personally like the handshake greeting for both parents and the children, although as time goes on many children greet may also greet with a hug. The handshake, a common gesture of greeting and meeting others shows courtesy.

Allergies, medications, and emergency medications – Know the children on these lists. Know their allergies, and know the procedures for administering medications and epi-pens.

Assistants: If you have an assistant, set the tone for your relationship early. Be professional, courteous and appreciate the help they offer you. It’s tempting to just want to be friends right away but that may take away from you being able to set out your expectations of them in the classroom. Your overall goal is to prepare the best learning environment for the children.

Observe! Observation is key, and must be consistent and continual. We should  be quantitative and measured in our observations, keeping them free from judgement.

It may be daunting and you may feel nervous meeting all these new parents who seem to be scrutinizing your every move. Let them! You are a trained professional and you are going to amaze them soon enough.

As these children are arriving, let parents know where the bags, jackets, and cubbies are. Some of the older children will already know what to do, its the new ones that need a bit more direction. Often the older children will tell you what to do and expect. Take advantage of the knowledge that the older children have, they can often help you more than you think!

I like to have books, or puzzles(real animals, real landscapes, no cartoons or toys) at a few tables and some music playing so that they children have something to do as they arrive, I do tell them to wait until we’ve had time to talk before taking work off the shelves.

So your students have all arrived, they’re all sitting or standing, some are walking around the classroom, some are playing with the puzzles, some are looking at books, a few might have ignored your request for them not to touch the shelves yet.

Gather your troops!

Some teachers ring a bell, some play special music, some turn off the lights. Find your thing, make it your own, just be consistent! I prefer to put on music, its less disruptive to the work cycle and allows the children a few minutes to finish up with their work.

Introduce yourself, tell the kids a little about yourself, and invite them to take turns telling the class about themselves. I like going clockwise to create an order right away to circle time. Again, stay consistent!

You might not have learned any circle activities, games or songs in your Montessori training but you probably can do a decent rendition of twinkle twinkle or old McDonald! I would keep my circle under 30 minutes, sometimes even less if you notice the children are losing attention.

Invite the older children to go choose an activity they know.

Take your group of younger children(first years) and present activities such as, rolling and unrolling a mat, boxes and bottles, and other practical life activities designed to build fine and gross motor skills.

You might have a set snack time, or you might put snack out at 9 am and allow the children to come a few at a time to have a snack throughout the morning work period. I prefer to set out snack between 9-10:30 a.m and allowing the children to go two at a time when they feel hungry rather than having a set time where everyone gathers and eats together. This allows for an uninterrupted morning work cycle, and gives them the choice to have snack when they feel hungry, it also shows them how to wait patiently, as the snack table only hosts two at a time.

Breathe. You’re getting through your first day. Observe the children. Make some mental notes on where the older children are at and how the young ones are doing.Get to know the children and let them get to know you. Have fun with them, be the person you are teaching them to become. Be confident,courteous, polite, use an enriched vocabulary, speak softly, and enunciate your words. These are qualities you want from your students, so be the example.