Sarah Gilleeny is in her 3rd year at HMS as the Upper Elementary Assistant. Last year, she began a two-year AMI training course that brought her three times a week to Hartford, CT. She is the parent of three children, two of whom attend HMS and one of whom was born last year. Oliver joined his mom in both classrooms, at Hollis Montessori and the Montessori Training Center. We asked her how she managed it all and what she learned along the way.
How did you become interested in Montessori?
While in college, I would run with my cross country team by a one-room Montessori school and began researching it thinking it might be of interest to me. Life unfolded, and I ended up becoming a professional photographer. When my children started Montessori school, the general philosophy fit our lifestyle nicely. I found I was ready to be done with photography, the assistant job opportunity became available, and the Montessori training unfolded.
Why did you choose Elementary?
At first I didn’t feel like I knew enough to teach elementary children. When I began assisting in the elementary classroom, Shannon showed me her albums, and after observing, I felt it was a better fit for my personality than early childhood.
What are the differences between being a parent and a guide?
I understand the work my own children are doing in the environment and can communicate with them better about it. When they are excited about their work, I can be excited along with them!
How do each of your hats (parent/guide) influence the other?
When talking to children, I think it helps to be a mother. We understand each other. Being in the training, I now see how things work in the classroom as I have been taught, which gives me a fresh perspective each day. The Montessori training also helps how I communicate with my own children.
What are the surprises along the way?
When I am at my training course, I get to receive lessons as a child would. I feel really jealous that I didn’t have this type of education but am glad that my children get to experience it. I have a new understanding of how things work in the classroom. For example, I have been dusting the volume shapes material for three years, now I know what they are for! I have a new appreciation for storytelling and how stories correspond to a lesson. As a child I was told the formula of area without knowing why I should know that. With stories I understand!
What have been the challenges of assisting and training while also parenting young children?
My pregnancy was easy, but mentally I needed to prepare for all that was to come. Will my baby let me do it? It was a gift to be able to bring him into the UE classroom, but it was really hard to juggle a job, an infant, and training. I have had a tremendous support system through the school, friends, and my parents. I was able to go where I needed to, and everyone picked up the pieces behind me!
What was your biggest struggle?
Always feeling like I was not giving 100% to all the areas of my life. I have had to learn to be ok doing the best I could and trusting that everything would be ok. And it was!
What does the AMI Montessori Elementary training entail?
For those of us not Primary trained we begin with a five-week foundations course for 3-6 year olds. Lectures are given on Montessori theory. We are given every lesson in the elementary repertoire as if we are the children. We are then required to represent them back in written form in the way we would give the lessons as teachers. We put these together in albums by subject for us to use when teaching. We also make materials. There is a minimum requirement of 90 hours of observation off-site, 120 hours of practice-teaching off-site, and a 90% attendance for practice hours with the materials in class. To graduate, we take a written exam on the theory and oral exams on the materials. This entails choosing out of a basket a material from each subject area to present to the examiner and explain. We have to be prepared for whatever lesson we pull, there are a lot of lessons to choose from!
What perspectives have you gained from your off-site observations and student teaching?
Children are the same everywhere. I see the teachers and children having the same joys and challenges that we have at HMS. I have gained ideas to bring back to our classroom. I have returned from my experiences feeling that we have a strong school community with talented teachers that are staying true to Montessori principles.