Teacher Talk: Settling In
You've made it through those first few weeks, the crying children, the crying parents, the crying teachers at the end of exhausting days. You've introduced new materials with grace and welcoming. The new songs are being sung with more voices now. Lunch seems a little more like a meal and less like a food fight than it did at first. Moving right along...
For many of us, these are sweet days. The children are starting to feel more at home, and the routines for which you've so carefully planned feel like they're setting in. You might be imagining the normalized classroom right around the corner and commending yourself for your insightful observations into what the children need.
For many other of us, these are still wickedly unpredictable days. The children you thought were going to transition with ease seem not to be able to the find their way in the classroom. The idyllic relationship you expected to have with your new coteacher has turned out to require a little more translation than you'd hoped. You're more tired than you remember being at the end of last year. You're more impatient.
Whether these first weeks of school have unfolded with ease or anxiety for you, take heart. You're not alone. The most predictable element of the start of school is its unpredictability. Even when your class is filled with returning children you've cared for and observed for years, it's still filled with children, humans with their own interior lives and family structures and personalities and strengths and weak spots. Even when you've done everything a master teacher would do to prepare the perfect Montessori environment, it still needs to be turned over to those actual humans, with their own agendas and perspectives and blood sugar levels. The progress of the first few weeks of the year happens within the most unpredictable times, when we know the children less than we will later and when we are, more often than not, making our own teaching choices based on what we know in general and not what we understand deeply about the specific children in front of us.
Take heart. If it's going well, you'll be able to continue your observations and use that peaceful momentum to get to know the children even better. You'll be able to engage them in more personalized work and propel their sense of agency and ownership of the classroom. You're not done knowing them (indeed, you're never done knowing them,) but you can use the grace of an unexpectedly smooth start-of-school to begin more individualized observations sooner. If it's still bumpy, remind yourself that this is a system that depends on your depth of knowledge of the children you serve. That the children are still mysterious to you is an opportunity, not a failing. Remember: you chose this work because it demands us to look at children as complex individuals. A class that's still wobbly a few weeks in does not mean you're necessarily doing something wrong as a teacher: it may just mean this combination of complex individuals is a little more complex than you'd expected.
In either scenario, placid or perplexing, the next steps are the same. Montessori children come to learn (and to test) their environments through the predictability of those spaces. Your work right now is to affirm and reaffirm the routines of the classroom, trusting that the predictability of those routines will help children to feel safe and will propel their growth. Avoid the temptation to make major changes until you're sure, through systematic observation, that a change is warranted. Instead, let the children come to know the environment well enough that your deep knowledge of who they are individually can inform what you prepare for them next. Don't rush... their processing takes longer than ours does as adults, and our impatience to get to our own definition of a "normalized" classroom shouldn't override their work in making it their own. There's plenty of time.
Keep your eyes on the horizon, far though it may seem, and move toward it with a steady, level pace in the meantime. And remember: this time of year is supposed to feel wobbly. It does for the children, too. That's why we ask teachers to commit to another year of teaching in May instead of September.