GW Teacher Profile: Ms. Julie (Julie Cash)

Ms. Julie

Ms. Julie

 

We had the opportunity to visit the classroom of Julie Cash, an accomplished musician who performs with her group “Vocal Visionaries“and teacher of Elementary I (1/2/3) grade students at the GW Elementary School, a public Montessori program in Kingston, NY.  Our teachers put so much energy into the education and well-being of our children. It’s always an honor to spend time  in their classroom.

We asked Julie a few questions to share with our community.  Consider this the first of many teacher, student and parent interviews.

Enjoy!

 

Now as a certified Montessori teacher, what has changed in the way that you approach teaching?

I am a graduate of Bank Street College of Education, the philosophy of which is based on the principles of progressive education (child-centered,developmentally appropriate, experiential) and the Montessori philosophy fits harmoniously with my background, beliefs and interests as a teacher. Along with this, my training in the Responsive Classroom approach fits beautifully with Montessori, and the idea that social and emotional learning must be integrated in academic learning, and children need explicit instruction in and experiences with social skills, being part of a culture of caring and respect, and living in community in the classroom and school. What has changed since I was in a traditional classroom is that I feel I can really be true to my beliefs about what is best for children. I feel very much at home at GW, where the values are so in sync with what endeavor to do as a classroom “guide” (Montessori term for teacher).  It is a place where my skills and interests can flourish and I love being part of a community of educators who share a common philosophy and commitment to children. It’s extremely gratifying and powerful. I am no longer swimming against the stream! We are all going in the same direction and support each other. I have never taught in a school that has such strong morale, support, and cohesion between the faculty. This is due in large part to the extraordinary leadership of Valerie Hannum.

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How do you find the Montessori materials work in your classroom?

The Montessori materials are ingeniously designed to give children concrete ways to understand mathematical, language and cultural concepts and ideas.Children’s work is individualized so they are able to use the specific materials that they need to work towards mastery in the different areas of the curriculum. Many of the materials are self-correcting as well, which allow children to know when they did something incorrectly, and not be dependent on an adult to tell them. A big emphasis in our training was the importance of continually observing the children and creating materials that match the specific needs and interests in our classrooms, so that along with the purchased materials, there are many that I (and my colleagues) created!

How do you see the Montessori program impacting the children you teach? 

I feel that the most important and dramatic aspects about our Montessori classrooms is the way children feel empowered to make choices, take responsibility for the classroom, their learning, and their relationships,as well as the excitement they have about working and learning. The children LOVE Work Time! The development of their social-emotional skills is apparent in a dramatic way each time I see two children at the Peace Table, independently using the Peace Rose to solve a problem, without my involvement, and I feel immense pride and acknowledgment that something powerful and wonderful is happening in the classroom. The fact that  I can sit down and set the countdown timer at clean up time, and watch the children take care of the classroom and work together to be able to sit in the circle before the timer rings, is a testament to the responsible behavior and independence we are engendering in our students. In Montessori education, the teacher becomes more a facilitator of learning than the one who has all the answers and tells everyone what to do. 

What are the benefits of multi-age classrooms?

Children spend three years in the same classroom in E-1.  While there are certainly challenging aspects to this, for teachers, for the children, the benefits out weigh the difficulties. The children start as first graders, where many things are new to them, and they are just learning to read and write, and they mature into third graders who become the models and helpers in the classroom. The culture of the classroom is able to be passed down by the children who have been in the class the previous years, who know the routines and how things work in the classroom. It is much more powerful to have children show each other than have it all come from the teacher. They also have the experience of building long-term relationships with their teachers and classmates, and the classroom feels much like a large family, as well as a human-relations laboratory, where everyone must learn to get along, compromise, listen to each other,and respect the uniqueness and needs of each and every person. The multi-age classroom also allows for children to work at their particular level and not be restricted by being in a particular grade. We have first graders doing third grade work and third graders who need more time to achieve mastery work with first or second years. Children are encouraged to help each other and this is a wonderful way to build self-esteem and allow children to develop leadership and the ability to nurture others. Seeing third graders tie the first graders shoes, help them with spelling, and read them a book feels so natural and is so important for the development of confidence and self-worth.

 

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