By Jason Phillips
I have a special place in my heart for Noeleen. You know how there’s just some people that get your ridiculous sense of humour, who pick up on carry on your lame jokes, well Noeleen’s one of those people for me. She’s also a phenomenal Montessori guide. Get to know Noleen: where she’s from, how she got here, and her thoughts on the present and future of Montessori. Maybe one day we’ll publish the full interview, including all of our childish jokes and digs at each other.
Introduce yourself to the people Noeleen.
I’m a mother of two lovely little girls. I was born in Toronto, raised in Milton/Oakville, and went to York University. I met my husband there, Rob Baker [also a DVMS Lower Elementary guide]. I planned to go into graphic design but decided to become a teacher instead so I could travel.
You’ve been a Montessori guide for a number of years, where has your Montessori journey taken you?
I started off teaching in Richmond Hill [Toronto] for a couple of years at the
Lower and Upper levels; then I moved to Bermuda for 10 years, also working at the Lower and Upper levels, and I helped develop an International Baccalaureate school while there, and returned to Canada to teach at the Lower level. I did my practice teaching in Connecticut.
So your decision to become a teacher so you could travel worked out?
How did you come to Montessori?
My mother went to a Montessori school in Glasgow, Scotland, and met Maria Montessori when she was a wee’un. I kind of grew up in a Montessori environment because it’s what my mother knew about raising children. I didn’t go to a Montessori school because there was no such thing back in the day, in Milton, but I always knew what it was because it was all around the household.
My mom, in school, was strong in math and science so her teachers pushed her that way, and then she went into engineering based on that. So I knew that Montessori took the strengths of the child and further developed those. When I graduated with a history degree, and realized I couldn’t do much with that, and decided graphic design was not where I was going to go for a while, I decided to explore the world of Montessori.
I was going to go to a program in Ireland, I think it was St. Nicholas, in
Dublin, but then I heard about Toronto Montessori Institute where I could do my Casa, Lower, and Upper Elementary. I liked the idea of their program, where you could do it all consecutively, in one gamut, so I did my raining at TMI.
And how did you end up with us here at DVMS?
We decided we wanted to come back to the great white north and explored many different roots of where we wanted to come back to, what we were going to do, where we were going to work. I emailed a whole bunch of schools, just to see what was out there, and heard back from a Mr. Tony Evans, who kept in touch over a couple of years. I substituted at Hillfield [Strathallen College, in Hamilton], then I worked at a school in Oakville, and then Tony contacted me and said there was going to be an opening and to “come check my school out.”
I came in and said “This is where I want to be, and where I want my children to be.” And here I am, four years later. Wow!
I know some of the staff here at DVMS recently had this discussion, where have you seen Montessori go, change, be practiced differently, and where do you think it should go, if anywhere at all?
What I like is the way DVMS goes, because I’ve worked in schools that
are private schools with a little bit of Montessori, and this is the first
school I’ve worked in that is Montessori, that’s a little bit private.
I think people lose track of what the philosophy is — giving kids the freedom
to make decisions, and I think at times, as parents, we take that away and I’d
love to see that come back to the forefront, that we trust them.
Technology is interesting. When I started teaching we had a computer in my
classroom and I hated it because the kids didn’t even know how to turn it on,
but we had to integrate this into the classroom. It was this foreign thing that
just sat there and drove everybody nuts and took up a lot of space. I like how
technology has come into the classroom, that it’s a tool but the classroom is
not a computer lab, because I’ve worked in that setting too and it’s just… —
Kathleen [MacKinnon, DVMS Upper Elementary guide] and I were just having this conversation, that I like the way it’s balanced here, that it’s just a tool on
the shelf, a piece of material on the shelf, but it doesn’t run the classroom.
Where would I like Montessori to go? I would like it to lose the stigma of
“It’s where kids can do what they want, when they want,” the negative stigma
that’s attached to that. I want people to know what that actually, truly means,
which I guess is only going to happen through educating the public — people
outside the Montessori world. People here get it, but when you go to other
places and people ask, “Oh, what is Montessori?” How are we still having to
have that kind of conversation?