From the Director
Mary Ellen Maunz
Is Montessori Training For You? My Own Story
My name is Mary Ellen Maunz and I am the Founder and Program Director of Age of Montessori. I have been a Montessorian for more than forty years now, and I would love to share my story with you about how I made the decision to become a Montessori teacher and what it has meant to my life.
The leap from political science to teaching preschoolers
I started out as a political science major at the University of California at Santa Barbara right out of high school. I did fine in school and enjoyed most of my studies, but had no clear career ambitions. I had always loved to learn and been a voracious reader, but had largely been bored by school. By my second year in college I had decided to drop out. It seemed pointless to spend my parents’ hard earned money (and my own time and effort) when I did not have a goal in mind for my studies. So I moved to the great Northwest and experimented with several jobs, none of which felt like anything I would want to do for very long. Always an idealist and optimist, I did not worry too much about lack of funds and managed to get by. But I did cry myself to sleep a few times thinking I would never get to see the fantastic Renaissance art in Florence, Italy, that I had begun to study in earnest. I loved beauty and saw something wonderful in a humankind able to create such jewels. Why then, oh, why was the world in such a mess? How was I, a 21-year-old college dropout with few prospects, going to do the things I dreamed of and be of some service in the world?
Finding Montessori One day I was talking to a friend whom I highly respected and trusted. She said, “Why don’t you think about Montessori?” I looked at her blankly and asked, “What is Montessori?” She suggested I go find out, so I did. I was living on an island near Victoria, British Columbia, and I went to a bookstore one day in the fall of 1969. I found and purchased a copy of The Absorbent Mind. I remember the moment perfectly. I excitedly began to read as I walked back to the car. These magical words came to life:left0"The child is endowed with unknown powers, which can guide us to a radiant future. If what we really want is a new world, then education must take as its aim the development of these hidden possibilities…. And so we discovered that education is not something which the teacher does, but that it is a natural process which develops spontaneously in the human being. It is not acquired by listening to words, but in virtue of experiences in which the child acts on his environment."
That was it! The message I was reading in Montessori’s book resonated deep in my heart. I knew in an instant that this was what I wanted to do. I devoured the book, talked to my mom about helping me with school, and found a training course back in California. I took several months to make some money and enrolled the following fall. I began to study with great diligence and joy! I have never looked back; I loved every minute of it. I did all that was required of me and much more. It began to penetrate my entire being.
When it came time to do practice teaching I remember sitting in my car, almost too petrified to go into the building. But I got through it. I visited a number of schools as part of my observation assignment. Some were totally inspiring; some were disheartening because they did not live up to what I was reading about. But I clearly understood that there was a better way to educate children, even if it might be difficult to obtain the results I sought. There was a way to release a greater level of the child’s potential than I had ever known. I knew this was worthy of my time and my total energy. Beginning to teach
I received my AMI diploma for ages 2½-6 and began to teach. Here I am with my first little class in Colorado.
As I struggled with becoming a good teacher, I continued to study Maria Montessori’s words and after several years decided to go to Bergamo, Italy, where I could get elementary training. I was so fortunate because the only place in the world I could find elementary Montessori training that year, in 1974, was in Italy, a few hundred miles north of Florence. I did not think of it right then, but I was about to fulfill my opportunity to see great Renaissance art, along with preparing myself for another round of teaching children. I continued to teach and began to administrate the school where I worked. I continued to study Montessori’s writings and gained a deeper understanding of them every time I reread her books.
Meeting Elisabeth Caspari Years passed. I had the first two of my three children and met Dr. Elisabeth Caspari, personal friend and student of Maria Montessori, who was to change my life once again and lead me into the deeper path of preparing teachers. The moment we laid eyes on each other there was a sense of recognition and instant friendship that was to deepen over more than twenty years. Over the course of time, Montessori education has become the point of reference for everything I do and has deepened me personally even as it has provided a rich and wide career.
Elisabeth Caspari and Mary Ellen Maunz, 1981
In January 6, 1980, Dr. Caspari and I started our first training course, the first of seven we would do together. During the first course, she coached me on all the presentations as she wanted them done and I began lecturing. I worked with her steadily for more than seven years and then periodically after that for the remaining years of her life.
I met her when she was 79, almost 80. How could I have guessed that one of the most pivotal and precious friendships of my life would occupy the next twenty-two years of my life until her passing at age 102?
On our way to class, summer 1982
I was privileged to teach both the 2½-6 and 6-9 age groups, eventually teaching children aged 9-12 as well. In summers I continued to offer the teacher preparation course and oversee interns. Meanwhile I had my third beautiful child. Auntie Caspari, as we called her, was the official godmother of two of my children and unofficial grandmother to them all. We spent birthdays together (both Virgos within a few days apart) and all of our holidays together.
Family visit in Santa Rosa, CA, 1990
Celebrating her 100th birthday! September 1999
Back to school I had always wanted to finish a master’s degree but hated to waste my time on education courses that I did not think I would enjoy. So I waited until I found an online university featuring Montessori as the major source material. I was in bliss and dove into my learning once again. I continued to find new things in books I had read repeatedly. My understanding deepened and I was glad.
With fellow Montessori training friends in Chicago, 1990sSheryl Sweet, Pamela Crisman, me and Celma Perry
Travel and Russia
As part of my independent work as a lecturer and trainer, and as part of many years work with the Montessori Accreditation Council for Teacher Education (MACTE), I have had the good fortune to travel to South America, Europe and Asia. I opened my own training center in Russia in conjunction with the Montessori School of St. Petersburg Mikhailova in 2007.
2007 Information Course students We have worked with more than 200 students who have come for the Information Course. As of 2013, we will have 20 students who have graduated with diplomas and many more who are working on two- or three-year internships. After more than a dozen trips to Russia, I now feel like I am part Russian. Such wonderful students and such promise for Russia!My idealistic dream My idealistic dream to make the world a better place has materialized in its own small way. I have had the opportunity to touch the lives of thousands of children on four continents. I have had undreamed-of opportunities to meet wonderful people of all ages and be a small part of their lives. I have seen fantastic schools and struggling start-ups. Even as I talk on about Montessori and the joys of my choice to follow this path, don’t get me wrong. It is not a cure-all. It is not a profession for everyone. I have had plenty of heart-wrenching struggles, both personally and professionally. Teaching Montessori is certainly not a big money maker. The pay is adequate but not spectacular. Many years I have struggled to get by.I guess for me it was never about money. It has always been more about my own inner satisfaction. It has always been about a certain integrity coming from doing something I feel to be spiritually and morally true. I consider myself very fortunate to have had a friend who suggested I find out about Montessori. I wholeheartedly agree with Montessori’s description of the rewards of accompanying young children on their path of development when she wrote: The teacher, quite apart from the authority to whom she is responsible, feels the great value of her work and of what she has accomplished in the form of a satisfied spiritual life…. This is hard to understand for one who has not yet adopted this life. No one understands that it is not sacrifice but satisfaction that is in question; not renunciation but a new life—a new life in which the values are different— where real life values hitherto unknown have come to exist. In the words of Maria Montessori, “Long live the child!”!