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Special Teachers: The True Essence of Montessori Schooling

June, 2010
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Over the 30 years I have been in Montessori education, I believe it is because of the Montessori teachers and the team of support people attracted to Montessori education that it is a truly special type of schooling.
Recently, I did an “experiment” with my staff at the Montessori School of Shanghai. I had done the same experiment at my former schools in the United States. I was curious to see if the results would be the same.mss-3s
Like any experiment, I was seeking answers. Did it matter that this school was in Shanghai? Was there something unique about who comes to work for a Montessori school, and stays there? Were there some general characteristics of the group as a whole, or with the teachers themselves?
I gave the staff a specific personality inventory, called the Riso-Hudson Enneagram. Inventories collect information and group similar things together. A personality inventory collects information, too, about what the person likes, how the person reacts, and what choices the person makes in various situations. It describes people as having 9 personality “types” and states that everyone is all 9 types, including The Reformer, The Helper, The Achiever, The Individualist, The Investigator, The Loyalist, The Enthusiast, the Challenger and The Peacemaker. One of those “types” is stronger than the other 8, and it is the one that people identify you by. Once you know who you are, you will understand yourself better, and may understand why the people around you react to you the way they do. I was interested in everyone who the school employs. I had my entire staff participate: classroom teachers, teaching assistants, life teachers, Ayis, security guards, cooks, and doctors.
mss-1sMost importantly, though, I was primarily curious about teachers as they set the tone for an entire school. I kept coming back to my initial questions, adding one more: “Were Montessori teachers all alike, both the ones who are Chinese as well as those who come to China to work here?” After all, there were different cultural forces at work here, and unlike most Montessori schools in America, the Montessori teachers in our two schools come from all over the world!
As in America, the teachers and staff are almost exclusively two types of people! They are either the “Peace Makers/ Mediators”, or the “Helpers/ Givers”. Teachers with ‘The Helper’ personality are “caring, warm-hearted, friendly, and generous and want to be close to others.” The ‘Peace Maker’ type of teacher is mostly “easy-going, accepting, optimistic, trusting and supportive.” They are able to bring people together and heal conflicts.
When I saw who my team members were as a collection of beliefs about themselves, it became clear to me why this Montessori school is so peaceful, respectful and loving. Those are the words that parents often use to describe an authentic Montessori school! mss-2sThe characteristics of peace, respect, and love draw a certain type of person who then chooses to become a Montessori teacher. Other schools may certainly have teachers who believe in those ideals, but a Montessori school is committed to those ideals, based on Dr. Montessori’s philosophy and pedagogy, and the large number of teachers who are of these two personality types attest to that! The teachers are the kinds of people you would want your child to spend the day with.
What was such a surprise to me was to see how many of the other staff members were also one of these two personality types! I believe that this may be true in other schools and certainly for other Montessori schools.
Children who begin their education surrounded by teachers and staff who love and respect them and each other, and who work towards peace, are off to a great start in life.
Consider Montessori for your child, and for you.
By Judy Townsend,
Head of School, Montessori School of Shanghai


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