By Jason Phillips
Terrence Millie joined DVMS this year as the guide for our new Upper Elementary class. He brings a strong passion for authentic Montessori, some incredible experience, and even stood up to us and wouldn’t let us give him a funny nickname — test#1 passed.
We’d love for you all to get to know Terrence better. Feel free to say hello on the playground after school and get to know him better. In the meantime, here’s an introduction:
So Terrence, tell us a bit about yourself.
When I finished high school, I went on to university in Toronto and lived for two years in downtown Toronto and worked several jobs [including] CBC TV on several different shows as an audience coordinator. I worked for the Royal Canadian Air Farce, Rita and Friends, and near the end of my time there I did some work for the Red Green Show.
I finished university and disappeared back to Guelph for a while, doing community theatre, and that’s where I met my wife, Kate, and then shortly after we were married we moved to China. She finished her AMI training at the Casa level and we moved abroad to work in schools in China.
We worked three years in China before I got my Montessori training. I became a Toddler Director in China. I ran a Toddler class in the same school where Kate was running the Casa class. I was doing that half-day and other half I was vice-principal of the school, and in my spare time I volunteered for a Montessori elementary school that was related to the school I worked at.
I went away to Italy to do my Elementary training and then I went back to China to work for two more years in elementary Montessori. I was in Lower El there, but we had four Lower Elementary classrooms and two Upper Elementary classrooms and I was the department head for all of the elementary school — Daystar Academy.
They had a very unique style because their mornings were devoted to a Montessori work cycle but their afternoons would be completely Chinese curriculum, run by Chinese teachers. The Montessori teachers would do psuedo-training, trying to get the Chinese teachers to be a little bit more Montessori in their approach. I don’t know how well it’s working now, but it was…slow.
Is Montessori different in different parts of the world?
It’s the same materials, the same curriculum, the only thing that might be different is language. We had an international community, so we had people coming from various countries in Europe, various countries in the Middle East, who had different languages. So, it became clear that the language materials we had will work, but, [in some cases] they might not.
Terrence also pointed out that there are differences in the Practical Life and Culture aspects of international Montessori environments:
We don`t eat with chopsticks, but it’s a perfectly natural activity to introduce in China — or, even, here if we want to expose our children to that. The way dishes are done is different in different cultures, so where some people might soap a sponge and wash their dish with a soapy sponge, others might run a sink full of water and then wash their dishes through their soapy water and then through a rinse. So, of course, anything Montessori can be adapted based on what your culture does.
What drew you to Montessori?
When my wife, Kate, did her training, I was her album reader and practice child when she tried out new presentations and I just became interested in it and started to read some of the theory, some of the books. It was clear after working with the toddlers that it was working really well, but I was bored. It was too simple and I wanted to know ‘What do we do as the children get older? How do we get them out of Casa and beyond with this kind of approach? That became a catalyst for my interest and I became more interested in — Montessori has her four planes of development — in the last two planes rather than the first two. Part of that was for family reasons: we thought it would be good if Kate did the first two and I did the second two.
Why did you come back to Canada?
Our daughter was born in Beijing, China, and we lived there for he rest of that school year and the following school year, and then we decided that we were making a choice for ourselves to live there, and to live with polluted air and whatever corruption was happening there, but Olive couldn’t make those choices and it was our responsibility to make those choices for her. We also had friends who moved back to Australia, who had been living in China with their children for ten years, their children were born there. They went to the doctor and did a test of their blood and they found a level of mercury in the blood of the children that given to any human in one dose would kill them, but, because they had grown up with it, their bodies just adapted. We thought, ‘We can’t do that to our child. We have a beautiful home in Canada where we can live and breath clean air and we need to be there.’
How did you end up at DVMS?
When Kate did her training she observed at DVMS and that’s when she first met Tony. The school at that time was above the greenhouse [DVMS’s first home; we went to a former church after the greenhouse, and are now housed in an old elementary school with 5 acres of greenspace in downtown Dundas, Ontario], so it was very different, very small, but I don’t think Tony’s dynamic personality changed very much because he made a very strong impression with Kate and then, shortly after, I met him as well. The second the step, when I was in Italy doing my training, I emailed Tony just to feel out what was going on — Tony, I think, was head of the CCMA [Canadian Council of Montessori Administrators] at the time. Immediately after, probably within six hours of sending the email, he called me in Bergamo and said ‘OK, this is what’s going on, this is what you should look for, this is what you should stay away from — just giving some sage advice. Then, we decided to come home for our Chinese New Year break. Usually we would go traveling somewhere, it’s a three week break, but we came home and I made appointments to observe at several schools and one of them was Dundas. DVMS didn’t have jobs at the time. One year later, a job at Dundas came available and I applied and here we are.
So the short story is you work hard all your life to come to Dundas Valley. It’s not easy but it’s fun and everybody is equally as passionate and there aren’t people who are, kind of, sleeping on the bus, which is really refreshing.
What are your other impressions so far?
It’s early, but one of the strongest impressions, so far, is after school. After we dismiss the kids and everybody is out on the playground and the kids are playing and some adults are with them and other adults are standing and talking, and you really get an impression that this community is dynamic and alive. It’s not just people driving up in their car, picking up their child, and driving away again. They really want to get out, be involved, talk to other people, find out how their day’s going, and connect. It’s a, in one word, it would be connected, a connected place.