It would be easy to assume that enrolling my son at MJDS was a no-brainer for me. After all, my mother is the principal, and it is the only Jewish Montessori school in Toronto. I was a Montessori child and am a very outspoken proponent of Montessori education. I wanted a Jewish life for my child, even though I myself am not observant. None of this, however, was enough for me. I am, after all, the woman who had a list of questions 7 pages long when I went to see daycares for my one year old. Yep. I tend to go a little bit overboard, and am way beyond perfectionism when it comes to choosing how my son will spend the majority of his waking hours. I’ve relaxed a bit since then, but I’m still very mama-bear.
I was finishing my Montessori certification, when my mother, Regina, was asked to take over as principal at MJDS, and my son “graduated” from a Montessori Toddler Community in Mississauga. I had a first choice of school for him, and for me. It wasn’t MJDS. It was a truly top-notch, well-established Montessori school. But I was drawn to MJDS for two reasons: one, my mother taking over meant some restructuring and rededication to authentic Montessori principles; two, it is a Jewish school. I dreaded afternoon and Sunday Hebrew School, spending the hours driving back and forth, and the homework and the evil memories of drill-sergeant teachers and mean kids that I try very hard not to think about. I just needed to be convinced, that MJDS could deliver as strong a Montessori program as my first choice, and at the same time give my child Judaic Studies in a way that he could actually enjoy them.
So I went in for an observation, and I fell in love with Sarah and Sarit’s class. It was magical. I had spent the previous year immersed in Montessori philosophy and practice, and had observed at a great variety of Montessori schools, good and bad, all as part of my training. I knew what there was out there, and I was not (am still not) easily impressed. My own early years were spent in really amazing Casa and Lower Elementary environments, and there is this feeling I get when I walk into an authentic Montessori classroom of being home. There is also a very uncomfortable, fidgety feeling when I walk into a Monte-something. I did not know which would happen when I walked into the MJDS classrooms – but honestly, I expected to be very fidgety. So when I stepped into that classroom, sat down on the little chair, and felt so at peace, I knew this was where I wanted my son to be. That was 8 years ago now, so my memories are not so clear, but I will always remember a 4 year old girl (who is now in our Middle School!) bringing Sarah her sewing. There were so many things going on in the classroom, and yet it was peaceful and quiet. What really got me was that Sarit, at the time a Judaic Studies teacher and not yet a certified Montessori teacher, crouched down to talk to another child in a very serious and respectful way – and I knew we were home.
One year later, I was fortunate to be able to join the staff at MJDS. Our MJDS experience has not been perfect – nothing ever really is – and I have never regretted my decision to enroll my child, or join the school myself, and this is why: there are few schools out there that offer their teachers the kind of experience that MJDS does. There is a reason our teachers stay – because we can observe, question, think, solve and most importantly, be ourselves – hallmarks of authentic Montessori practice. We are encouraged to truly follow the child, in the way Dr. Montessori intended. There is true collegial sharing between classrooms and across age levels, and we are urged to discuss, learn, and reflect on our practices constantly. We work with children instead of teaching curriculum, and we get to know each child in our care at very deep levels, which leads to a genuine affection, and to a drive to help each child succeed. The children truly benefit from all of this. How could I not want this for my child?
The past few years have been difficult at home with my having to take a medical leave, but knowing my son is in a rock-solid place, that he has stability, and people who love and respect him looking out for him, and having my colleagues still reach out to me, and include me whenever they can… that’s what makes it really feel like home. That’s why I’m doing this, writing here, sharing my experiences – to stay connected to the community in the few ways I can. And my son, well, all he wants is for me to get better so I can be his Middle School teacher. I don’t know – I think by the time he gets old enough, he might just prefer Simon.