National Teachers’ Day: Celebrating Montessori Educators

May 7, 2019

Today is National Teachers Day, a wonderful reason to celebrate the incredible educators that shape our world. We spoke with the Monti Kids Learning Team about Montessori, favorite teachers, and their path to education.

Bérénice Saint-Saëns, Schools Success Manager 

Montessori

What inspired you to become a teacher?

I come from a family of educators! My grandfather and both of my parents were college professors, so that probably has had an influence. I wanted to work with children in underserved communities, so I worked at a summer camp for orphans & underserved children of the Perm region in Russia during university and joined the Peace Corps as a youth development volunteer for two years in Morocco. These were all opportunities to work with youth in different capacities. Teaching doesn’t necessarily have to be within the walls of a classroom. What makes me even more excited about being a teacher working with Monti Kids is being part of something that serves children and their families all over the world in many different environments.

How did you discover Montessori, and what drew you to it?

After my time in Morocco, I was an assistant in a 3-4 year old class at a French school in New Orleans. When I moved to California, I knew I wanted to continue working in early childhood education. I took a job interview at a Montessori school in Southern California and that’s when it hit me! I remember entering one of the Infant rooms and being blown away by what the tiniest of children were doing, the peaceful nature of the environment, and I knew I had to learn more. I received my 0-3 international Montessori training & Masters in education and haven’t looked back. When Dr. Montessori writes about education for peace, this really speaks to me too! We are all citizens of the world, and this begins from birth.

Did you have a favorite teacher growing up or in college? Why were they so great? What did they teach you?

Yes! Professor Ramer was my Russian history professor in college, and I took every class he offered (I think there was only one semester I couldn’t take one of his classes-it was my least favorite semester!). His reading list was extremely dense and difficult, his exams were really hard, but the way he spoke about the history was so fascinating that there was no way to not be engrossed in the material! As a student, you could really feel his love for the material. He influenced me to study Russian and work there. He also pushed me to ask more questions and delve deeper into things I wondered about. We still keep in touch!

What is the best part about being a teacher for you?

It is really special to see the growth and change in the students you are working with, especially since so much growth happens in the first three years of life. Parent education has always been something I’ve enjoyed too, especially in parent and child classes. I love facilitating conversation between families so that we all grow and learn from each other. I also love speaking with toddlers. When they are beginning to use spoken language, it is so much fun listening to everything they have to say!

Are there any Montessori lessons that you have applied to your own life after learning or using them in the classroom?

The prepared environment! The idea that our external world needs to be orderly to create internal order couldn’t be more true for me, especially since I work from home. If the house or my desk is messy, I really struggle to find my balance and productivity.

What is the one piece of advice you would give to parents who want to incorporate Montessori into their homes?

One step at a time. It can be really daunting and intimidating with an abundance of extremely beautiful images on social media and the internet. Sometimes small and subtle changes make the biggest difference, like a low shelf or table. It’s also important to remember that every family & every child is different. You can take aspects of Montessori and make it work for your unique family and child. For example, if a low bed doesn’t work in your families home, no problem! Just because you don’t have a low bed, doesn’t mean you’ve failed to properly incorporate Montessori into your home :)

What is your favorite age group to work with and why?

Tough question! I’ve been lucky to work in infant and toddler environments. Infancy is fun because you see so much growth happen so quickly. Toddlerhood is really fun too. As I mentioned, I love when children begin expressing themselves. There is so much independence that begins to show itself, such as dressing & undressing oneself. Toilet learning can even be fun too!

What is your favorite Montessori activity?

Flower arranging! I also love the lessons for teaching dressing and undressing. They just make so much sense!

Bérénice has a Masters in Education, an AMI certification, and is trained as a Doula.

Stacy Keane, Montessori Teacher and Advisor

Montessori

What inspired you to become a teacher?

Since as long as I can remember I’ve loved being with children. I am the oldest of five children and was 16 years older than my youngest sibling so I got to have lots of practice teaching even before I was formally trained. Once I was old enough to start thinking about a career I knew right away that teaching was the route I wanted to take. Before graduating from college I learned of Montessori and took my training as soon as possible after receiving my degree!

How did you discover Montessori, and what drew you to it?

While in the School of Education I was feeling frustrated with the requirements needed in order to fulfill certain credits (they seemed so arbitrary and not important to our work with children). Around the same time I coincidentally (and luckily) had a breakfast date with my now husband’s mother, a Montessori teacher and administrator herself.  While discussing my qualms she gently suggested looking into Montessori training as an option. One read through of the website and the rest was history. The values and intention behind the method fell so in line with my own that I couldn’t wait to change my major to another passion of mine, photography!, and pursue this new path after graduation!

Did you have a favorite teacher growing up or in college? Why were they so great? What did they teach you?

My first Montessori trainer, Molly O’Shaughnessey, is a calm, loving and intensely intelligent woman.  Her experience in the classroom and with trainees was inspiring. She was able to model freedom and limits even with us as adults with grace and calm.  

What is the best part about being a teacher for you?

No two days are the same! It is inspiring to see the growth, sometimes literally overnight, in these little people and their self-construction!

Children can be so wise. Have you learned anything profound from your time with children in the classroom?

Their capacity for forgiveness is astonishing everyday. In a not so profound way in my first 3-6 class I learned the simplest most time-saving way to tie a knot for sewing from a 5 year old. I still use this method to this day personally and in the classroom!

Are there any Montessori lessons that you have applied to your own life after learning or using them in the classroom?

Offering opportunities for choice has come in handy as a parent and as a partner in a marriage…”Would you like to empty the dishwasher or bathe the baby?” But truly offering these opportunities for control in my children’s lives alleviates so many battles in the long run!

What is the one piece of advice you would give to parents who want to incorporate Montessori into their homes?

Observation is your greatest tool. Taking an extra moment or two to observe what needs or frustrations/obstacles your baby is encountering will empower you to create an environment that is supportive of their quickly changing development that day and in that moment.

What is your favorite age group to work with and why?

This is tricky…I loved working with 3-6 children and really enjoyed our conversations together – these were what I missed most when making the transition to our toddler community. After 10 years with toddlers I have grown to love their joy and fresh outlook on life.  Every day is new to them with learning happening in each moment! So short answer…0-6!

What is your favorite Montessori activity?

Bead Stringing!

Stacy is a certified AMI Montessori teacher with almost 15 years of experience teaching 0 – 6 year olds, and has a Masters in Education. She is a mom of three: Avery, 9, Mason, 8, and Penny, 4. 

Zahra Kassam, CEO and Founder of Monti Kids:

Montessori

What inspired you to become a teacher?

I had an amazing French teacher named Madame Till in 6th grade when I began attending a French bilingual school. I didn’t know any French when I started and she helped me a lot. She took us out in nature, and I got really good at French with her help. She also paired me up with a reading buddy, Emily, who was a first grader learning how to read. Emily reached out to me recently when she read about Monti Kids, and I told her how influential she was on my path to becoming a teacher.

How did you discover Montessori, and what drew you to it?

The first time I visited a Montessori classroom, I was blown away. When I graduated from college, a lot of my friends went into investment banking and consulting. We had experienced the pinnacle of a good education, but very few of us felt passion and purpose, and I thought that was weird. Isn’t that the point of education? I ended up visiting a Montessori school where my cousin worked and saw four year olds engaged by their work, concentrating, and pursuing their interests. I could tell that they were discovering their gifts and purpose more than many of my college classmates were able to.

Did you have a favorite teacher growing up or in college? Why were they so great? What did they teach you?

I’d love to focus on Madame Till again. When I started her class, everybody else at my school had been doing French for years and I knew very little. But she didn’t see that as an issue. Her approach was: we’re going to learn together, and not just catch you up but help you excel. She introduced me to this growth mindset from a young age: if you work hard on something that you’re interested in, you’ll succeed. She took us camping and on field trips to parks to sketch what we saw in nature. She provided a nice holistic education, and taught me to love the forest and the beach. Even now when I go hiking, I often remember her.

What is the best part about being a teacher for you?

I have the same experience I did teaching reading in 6th grade every time I teach. I love the feeling that I am helping a child make progress. The experience of watching 3 and 4 year olds reading their very first words and seeing the look on their faces is an incredible moment that makes it all worth it. It is the most heartwarming moment when babies get a look of accomplishment on their faces and you can see them thinking: “I did that!”  

Children can be so wise. Have you learned anything profound from your time with children in the classroom?

I’ve learned that if we just wait a bit longer, they will figure things out for themselves, and the value of figuring things out for themselves is so much more powerful than if we do it for them.

Are there any Montessori lessons that you have applied to your own life after learning or using them in the classroom?

I’ve learned to appreciate the value of holistic learning: bringing together the body, mind, and will to achieve a purpose. As a studious adult, I spend a lot of time in my head thinking, but don’t focus on using my hands and creating things physically as much as I used to. Working with kids involves a lot of hands-on learning and teaching, and I’ve learned from that. If you draw pictures you remember things better, and it’s best to use all your senses in work and in play.

What is the one piece of advice you would give to parents who want to incorporate Montessori into their homes?

Spend time observing your children. The whole Montessori method was created by observing children and how to meet their needs. Pay attention to what they are most interested in.

What is your favorite age group to work with and why?

Babies. It’s pretty incredible to work with a student who hasn’t yet developed language skills because you need to observe their movements, facial expressions, and how they’re feeling without words! It can be more challenging but is so rewarding. There is so much that we can do with babies because they have incredible little minds and bodies.

What is your favorite Montessori activity?

The mobiles for newborns. It is absolutely incredible when a baby focuses on a mobile for an extended period of time. It nurtures their concentration right from birth and helps them build their capacity to focus. It’s like a baby meditation!

Anything to add?

Thank you to all of the amazing teachers out there. You are so valuable. You are touching the lives of children who will touch the lives of so many other people as they grow up and find their work. Thank you for making a huge impact on our world.

Zahra holds degrees in Psychology and Education from Harvard, has 10+ years of teaching/school administration experience, and has an international certification as an AMI Montessori teacher for ages 0-6. She is a mom of two boys: Musa, 7, and Zayd, 1.

By |2019-05-09T16:40:29-07:00May 6th, 2019|Blog, Inside Monti Kids|0 Comments

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