How I Left the Corporate World for Montessori – Part 1

Inspired by my friend and mentor Natalie, I wanted to share how I came to Montessori.  This turned out to be quite long, so I’ve broken it into two parts.  Stay tuned for Part 2….

It all started 26 years ago…I’ll try to keep this part short.  Don’t worry, I’m not pulling a David Copperfield on you 🙂

I have a sister who is 15 months older than I am.  As a little girl, I of course wanted to do everything she did right when she did it.  I pretty much followed her around begging her to play with me, but that’s another story.

When she was five, my sister Kathleen started kindergarten at our local public school.  I begged to go too.  I was apparently so persistent (err, annoying) that my parents gave in.  Since I was too young for public school, they put me in a nearby private school for the year, School of the Woods Montessori.

As eager parents often do, my parents would ask us daily what we did in school.  My sister would say things like “we learned the letter J,” or “we sang a frog song”.  I would say things like “Pluto is the smallest planet and furthest from the Sun”.  Hmm….

The difference between the two schools quickly became pretty obvious.  I want to note that this is in no way a knock against public or traditional schools.  This was just not a good one.  They actually switched my sister into a class that was taught almost entirely in Spanish…no bueno.

My parents switched my sister to School of the Woods.  They had planned to send me there for a year, but we both stayed all the way through middle school.  I can’t tell you how fond my memories are of that school.

I have the clearest, most joyful memories of learning to read and of my first experiences with math.  I loved the little boxes of perfect miniatures used to match to written words.  I LOVED golden beads and the “bank game” (a hands-on material used to show the decimal system all the way through division).  I loved the handwashing work, where a child completes a very precise set of steps using beautiful materials to wash his hands, scrub his nails, apply lotion, etc.

Did I love every teacher I had through the years and want to go to school every day?  No.  But I did cry when I got the chicken pox and found out I had to stay home.

When I was in middle school, my mom, who was a lawyer in a previous life and then stayed home with us when we were little, decided she wanted to become a Montessori teacher.  I remember going with her to her training sometimes that summer.  I strangely remember two nice ladies in her training, both named Debbie.  The things we remember are strange….

My mom came to teach at School of the Woods, and is still there today.

So after having such a wonderful experience, did I know in my heart that I was meant to be a Montessori teacher too?  No.  That would have been so simple.

You would think the countless days I spent play-teaching my little brother, or my ongoing childhood experiment of trying to teach my bunny rabbit English would have been clues.

But it’s so complicated for children today.  There is so much talk of money and success and so many confusing role models.

When I applied to colleges, I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do.  I tried to imagine different careers, but everything was so vague and unfamiliar.  I really think high schools should have a class devoted to explaining different careers and having people from those careers some speak.  Did anyone’s school have something like this?

I applied to a business program because it seemed highly practical, but I really had no idea what a career in “business” would look like.  I think I’ve mentioned before my strong fear of failure.  Whatever “business” was, it sounded like something I could get a job with.  Wow, what a way to choose your life’s work.

I had the best time at Georgetown University (Hoya Saxa!).  I learned a ton, both from my excellent professors and from moving to a part of the country I had never so much as visited before freshman orientation.  I enjoyed exploring DC and all that it had to offer.  Upon graduating, I got a job in strategy and management consulting (sticking with the vague theme…) and loved it.  At first.

I was working with highly intelligent and motivated people to solve interesting problems.  We were working with federal government clients and I enjoyed the travel involved in my first project.  I think because of the novelty, the wonderful people, and how much I was learning, I really enjoyed this job for some time.

The thing is, I could never see where it was going.  I couldn’t picture myself going into an office every day for the next forty to fifty years.  I was restless.  Despite all of our hard work, I couldn’t really tell you anything meaningful we were accomplishing at the end of the day.  I most certainly couldn’t tell you that strategy and management consulting was my passion.

So did I quit in a heartbeat to follow my dreams?  No.  That is so not my personality.  I am a type A planner to the core.

I applied to business school.  That was the logical next step if I wanted to make a change.  Because hey, if an undergrad business degree hadn’t gotten me a career I cared about, a graduate degree was sure to, right?  I don’t regret applying to B. school for a second though because I know that it’s what I personally needed to do in order to quit my job.

I could not simply quit such a promising career with no plans for the future.  At the same time, I could not find the space I needed to figure things out while immersed in that world.

To be continued….

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  1. I know I’ve said this before, but I swear I think we have the same life sometimes. I can relate so hard to your story….I grew up going to a Lutheran private school. I always had a passion for children and teaching, yet I went away to college for business. I really wanted to have my own business and be an event planner, but that didn’t seem practical enough for me or like it would bring me enough money. I got a job in management consulting after a few years of bouncing around from job to job and went back to grad school for my MBA because I felt like I should. My job feels meaningless. I work my ass off every day for what seems like nothing. I am miserable here and am so inspired by your story and am hoping the right opportunity comes up soon for me, too!

    1. That is crazy, we really do have a ton in common, more than I even realized! Don’t give up! It is SO worth it to keep searching until you find something you really love. I think one of the hardest things for me was to stop being afraid of what other people thought about my choices (which I tend to care way too much about…) The other hard thing was just finding time and mental energy to really reflect about what I really wanted / what really matters to me. I think it’s so hard when you’re in a job your unhappy with to go home and spend the mental energy to think about this stuff. Personally, when I’m unhappy, I just want to go home and watch netflix 🙂 You are obviously thinking a lot about it though, I bet you will find something soon!!

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