Saturday, November 28, 2009

Silence is Golden

“Words like violence

Break the silence

Come crashing in

Into my little world

Painful to me

Pierce right through me

Can’t you understand

Oh my little girl”

Gore, Martin, L. Song “Enjoy the Silence” Depeche Mode

There are rare instances of conversations at a Montessori School, which I thought I’d share from one of my recent sub days.

In the morning, as I surveyed the “work” around the room, a girl stopped me at one of the tables.

The girl pouted. “She called me a bad name,” she said, pointing to the accused.

I squatted down to her size. “What bad word did she say?”

“She called me a bad girl.”

Apparently five-year-olds don’t really know what bad words are. Instead of pointing that out, I asked, “Why did she call you a bad girl?”

No answer was given from the accuser, but the accused piped up, “She put pencils on my paper. Pencils go in the middle of the table.” Montessori. Kids. Follow. Rules.

I turned to the accuser, refraining from rolling my eyes. “Did you put pencils on her paper?” She nodded. “Why?”

“Because they were going on my paper,” she replied.

“Could you have put them in the middle of the table instead of on her paper?” I offered.

“Yes,” she acknowledged, head down in shame.

I turned to the accused. “Could you have asked her to keep the pencils off your paper, instead of calling her a bad girl?”

“Yes,” she admitted, averting my eyes.

They apologized to one another for their almost unforgivable transgressions, and I moved on.

Later, as I walked around the room, one three-year-old girl showed me her tracings of alphabet letters in a Montessori classroom. I complimented her “work”.

“Do you know all your letters?” The three-year-old wanted to know.

“Yes,” I replied, without adding with indignation, “How do you think I got to where I am today – a daily substitute?”

All the letters in the alphabet?” she demanded, furrowing her brow with suspicion.

“All the letters,” I confirmed, wondering what was with this girl.

“Then you should come to my house tomorrow after school. I colored a picture of all the letters that I can give you.”

“Hmmm. Thanks, but I think your teacher will be back tomorrow, so I won’t be here.”

Sweet offer from a child who just accused me of being illiterate.

Three times during the day, children rushed over to tattle on their classmates, “S/he isn’t supposed to be doing this work because s/he hasn’t had a lesson on it.” I should explain that even if the “lesson” is to show how to use a water dropper to transport blue water from one jar to another, if the students haven’t been taught then they aren’t allowed to do that “work”.

I’m then forced to ask the student, “Have you had a lesson on this work?”

How these children keep track of who has learned what, I don’t know, but the answer from the shamefaced student is always, “No.”

Then I must redirect them: “You need to find other work to do.”

What I really want to do is reprimand the snitch for forcing me to force the kid who was quietly working to stop quietly working.

Near the end of the day, a student asked me to read a picture book. I don’t remember the name of the book I read aloud or much of the content, but one page referred to a little sister. (In my defense, it's my second book in a row in which she keeps interjecting, it's the end of the day, and I'm burned out).

“I have a little sister,” the four-year-old piped up.

“That’s nice,” I murmured, planning to continue.

“Do you know her name?” she asked.

I wanted to say, “Yes, honey. I’ve been stalking you, so I know your name, address, all the members of your family, and your schedules,” but instead I replied, “No. What is it?”

She tells me, and so I began to read again.

“My little sister loves when I tickle her. It makes her laugh.” Then she mimicked baby laughter while she reenacted her tickle moves.

“That’s cute.” I forced a smile and began reading again.

“You know what else she likes?” the girl interrupted again.

At that moment, I saw the teacher looking at me, as I noted the time on the clock, and realized that school was supposed to end soon (Hooray!). Then I realized that the teacher didn’t want to interrupt me while I was giving a lesson. Is reading considered a lesson? Anyway, I told the interrupter, “We need to finish the book now. No more talking, please.”

The rest of the book was read without a hitch.

After recalling these brief conversations between the students and me, I’m noticing a pattern of hostility in my thoughts. Even though the conversations helped accelerate time, I wonder if I’m better off in a silent room. Or perhaps, in a room with high school students.


  1. Huh... Is that normal behavior for six year olds? The whole Montessori thing that I've discovered through your posts always sounds surreal to me.

    And surely the child wasn't actually wasn't so much questioning your ability to read as much as asking about it, right?

  2. Alesa, it's surreal to teach Montessori. And I'll be doing it again this coming Friday and Monday.

    I do know that. I was trying to be funny, but I may have missed the mark.

  3. It's probably me... It just felt so earnest. : j

  4. Little kids are funny because they want to see if you know what they know. They don't have that sense that of course you know a bunch of stuff because you're way older. They like the idea that you both know your alphabet.