PILGRIMS AND GUIDES: A PHENOMENOLOGICAL STUDY OF MONTESSORI TEACHERS GUIDING AND BEING GUIDED BY CHILDREN IN PUBLIC MONTESSORI SCHOOLS
Massey, Linda Marguerite Gatewood
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This study explores the experiences of public school Montessori teachers. Max van Manen's methodology for hermeneutic phenomenological research provides a framework for the study, and the philosophical writings of Gadamer, Abram, and Levinas guide the textual interpretations. Voices of curriculum theorists, in conversation with Maria Montessori's words, reveal possibilities for understanding the experiences of Montessori public school teachers in the context of contemporary curriculum discourse. Six public school Montessori teachers engage with the researcher in a series of open-ended conversations. These elementary school teachers work with majority minority student populations in three different urban school districts. They range in age from mid-30s to early 60s, and have between 5 and 33 years of teaching experience in public Montessori schools. Their conversations illuminate the experience of teaching in public Montessori schools in three main themes. The teachers tell of being transformed and drawn-in to a way of life as they take Montessori training. They speak of the goodness of work that calls children to concentrate their energies and grow into active, caring and responsible people. Finally, they reflect on boundaries of difference encountered in the hallways and meeting places of public schools, and the shadows cast by state tests. The study suggests a need for Montessori teachers in public schools to participate in open-hearted conversations with parents, non-Montessori educators and administrators about what they are trying to do in their classrooms. It also reveals that decisions made by school administrators have a powerful effect on the ability of Montessorians to create engaging, child-centered learning environments. Finally, the study suggests a need for teachers, administrators, teacher-educators, and policy makers to embrace the questions and possibilities for creative growth inherent in tensions between the conflicting paradigms of adult-driven technical/scientific educational schema and the Montessori developmentally-based teaching style.