Before I took my Montessori training, I graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education. I had always wanted to be a teacher. I loved kids and they liked me. I was always consistent with them. I said what I meant and always followed through so they listened to me. I knew how to handle children—or so I thought.
In my senior year I did my student teaching in a second grade class consisting of thirty-five children. Thirty-five. It was a lot different from dealing with one or two. When I spoke, they didn’t listen. When I told them to do something, they didn’t do it. When I gave them directions, they didn’t follow them. The classroom was chaos. The children didn’t respect me. It wasn’t fun. I was floundering.
There were no classes in college that taught classroom management. It was assumed that if you were a good teacher, you would already know how to handle children. But dealing with the behavior of children, just like any other activity, has to be learned. I thought I knew how to do it, but I had a lot to learn about managing a whole class of children. Fortunately, I had a great supervising teacher who knew I needed help and taught me some fundamental principles and methods that I have used my entire career with great success. As the years went by, I used the techniques that she had taught me and added many more that I learned from experience.
Over the years, parents commented on how well the children listened and responded to me.
Some wanted to know why, so I started giving talks on behavior management to the parents at the school where I taught. A few years before I retired, I became aware that my approach was not exactly mainstream. One night, when my talk was finished, one of the parents sighed a big sigh as she choked back emotion and said, “I don’t know what to do. Everything that you told us not to do we are doing with our son. We are doing it because all the professionals who work with him have told us this is what we are supposed to do. Where do I even begin to change this?”
Her son was autistic. In order to help him learn, the family had been attending therapy twice a week and had been working with the school district for years. Prior to coming to our school, he was enrolled in classes with other autistic children, and he had problems, but he was doing fine in my classroom. His behavior was excellent and he was motivated to learn. She told me that night that the psychologists wanted to put him on drugs.
When I asked her for examples of techniques they were using that I was against, she read down my entire list of points: they gave him lectures, they used stars and rewards, they never removed anything from him for bad behavior, they used tons of praise, they lied to him, they negotiated, they gave in, they bailed him out, and so on. The parents had been taught to avoid letting their son experience anything negative.
She knew that what she had been taught was wrong, but felt intimidated because all these directions came from the “experts.” I really felt for her. I came away from the meeting thinking: Wow, it is really bad out there, much worse than I realized.
What really dismayed me, however, is that it is also worse than I realized in the Montessori world. Montessori trainers and teachers are also listening to what the so-called experts are recommending. And what they are recommending is in direct conflict with Montessori’s approach. I have talked to teachers who work in Montessori schools where Montessori’s words are ignored and ineffectual methods are being instituted. Incompetent approaches don’t work and teachers are frustrated and unhappy. This saddens me immensely. The Montessori method is an integrated educational system with solid, proven principles that work. If those principles are compromised, the Montessori method will not work and the child will not thrive. Eventually the Montessori method will lose its uniqueness and dwindle away.
So I decided to write this book in order to explain why Montessori’s approach to behavior management is the right one and to explain my approach, which is based on Montessori’s. My focus is on the child of normal development, not the child with exceptions, even though I have worked with special needs children. And I am talking about the child two to six years of age. (The basic principles still apply to older children, but the behavior issues are different.)
While this book is for both teachers and parents, many discipline examples and situations are more heavily focused on the classroom. However, the appendices have discipline suggestions for both home and school.
(If you are not already knowledgeable about the Montessori method, I refer you to Montessori: A Modern Approach by Paula Polk Lillard, Maria Montessori: Her Life and Works by E. M. Standing and/or my first book, Montessori: Why It Matters for Your Child’s Success and Happiness. )