Responsibility in the 9-12 Classroom

I have only a little knowledge about the 9-12 age group (I taught them music when I was a 6-9 teacher); otherwise, my experience is limited to having actually been 9-12 at one time, but not in Montessori. I know that Maria Montessori believed that the 6-12 period was one of stability, but times have changed. I think that kids today deal with issues in the 9-12 age group that used to affect only older teenagers.

Anyway, I’ve been reflecting on this age group after reading an article entitled, “Community, Purpose and Responsiblity in the 9-12 Class” in the latest edition of Public School Montessorian. In this article, 9-12 director John Snyder outlines the way he implements the liberty/discipline balance in a Montessori 9-12 classroom.

I know that personally, the years from 9-12 were more difficult than the teenage years in many ways. I often felt at odds with teachers who disliked me and my free-thinking, unique way of approaching life and learning. Snyder mentions that he emphasizes the idea of a Montessori classroom being a community that shares several common purposes, thereby uniting the students in their efforts to make the community a great place to be.

I wish this idea – or something like it – had been in place at the school where I attended junior high. Instead, I remember the 9-12 years as being packed with rivalries, jealousies, humiliation, misunderstandings, low self-esteem, and hurt feelings. Not that I personally experienced all of these things (and not all at one time!), but they were always going on in the classroom.

Truth was, we felt no vested interest in contributing to the community – it was one whether our teachers defined it as such or not – of our classroom. The teachers’ opinions ruled, and there was no place for reasoned disagreement. Contrast this with Snyder’s habit of listening to children who disagree with rules and changing them if a child makes a convincing argument.

We speak about respect in 3-6; following and observing the child, leaving them alone when concentration begins, leading them to correction without emphasizing errors. Naturally, if this respect continues as the child grows older, they will feel freer to be contribute positively to whatever community they are in.

I think this also shows how important it is for a child to start in a Montessori environment at a young age, and consistently thereafter. This normalized child will be much better able to understand and respect the community of the 9-12 classroom than a child who’s never been in Montessori.

It seems like more and more schools in my area (Chicagoland) are expanding upwards and adding either 6-9 classes where there was only preschool, or 9-12 where there was only 6-9. This is a fantastic development, and surely must be a sign that parents are realizing the Montessori environment should continue throughout the child’s education, not just happen during preschool and then end. The full benefits of the 3-6 class are realized when Montessori children are tested – by peer pressure, society, the media, puberty – and come through with flying colors because of their strong foundation.