Interview: German intern teacher shares thoughts on WMS and Montessori education

January 2013
Meike Lehrmayer - German intern teacherThis winter, Wilmington Montessori School was graced with an international visitor. Meike Lehrmayer, a bilingual education major from a small town in southwest Germany, is spending the year at the University of Delaware to fulfill her German university's study abroad requirement. This January, she spent three weeks as an intern teacher in Room 16. At the end of her visit, she shared her thoughts on Montessori education, WMS and her overall experience in the U.S.
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After high school, Meike spent a year in the U.S. as an au pair on Long Island, N.Y. "I had a great time, so I wanted to spend my required study abroad in the U.S. again in order to see and experience more of the country," Meike explained. 

While Meike knew she wanted to do an internship at a U.S. elementary school, it was a chance meeting with WMS alumna (and daughter of preschool teacher Trish Bradley) Lena Bradley that brought her to Wilmington Montessori School. Lena and Meike met in Germany, where Lena was involved with a study abroad program. After Meike told Lena that she was interested in an internship in the U.S., Lena recommended WMS. Lena spoke to her mother Trish, who worked with 5-7 teachers Arlene Wason and Erin Winner to arrange the internship. The Bradley family also invited Meike to stay at their Wilmington home during her three-week internship. Meike was particularly excited about the prospect of spending time at a Montessori school.

"I had done several internships at German schools, but never at a Montessori school. Therefore, I only experienced traditional classrooms with desks and boards, and one teacher per classroom," she explained. "I learned a lot about Montessori education in lectures and seminars in Germany, and I've always wanted to get an insight into daily school life at a Montessori school."

Meike said that traditional German schools often incorporate some aspects of Montessori education in their classrooms, encouraging children to work independently at their own pace and become responsible, reliable and autonomous, but not to the extent that WMS does. 

"I really like how children can learn and work at their own pace at WMS," she said. "As a result, everyone lives up to his or her potential, no one is bored and no one is overwhelmed with the kind and amount of the school-work."

Meike also noted other differences between WMS and the German schools she visited in the past, one being the age at which child start elementary school. In Germany, children start elementary school at age 6 or 7 and finish after fourth grade. Meike was amazed that many WMS 5-year-olds were already able to read, write and do math. She also shared that German elementary school students typically leave school around lunch time and eat at home, and then complete large amounts of homework.

When asked what impressed her most about WMS, Meike had a lot to say. Among the things she discussed were the close-knit community, devoted teachers, and weekly meetings at which teachers and staff gather to support each other and focus on the education and well-being of their students.

"I like how the teachers and parents are constantly in touch. This shows how everyone wants to make the education of the children as successful as possible. It seems like a big family," Meike said. "All of the teachers I met at WMS are very engaged, put as much effort as possible into their job, and absolutely love being a teacher, which is so nice. Teachers like that are very rare, and I really enjoyed meeting all these great teachers at WMS; some of them became role models for me as a future teacher."

Above all, however, Meike said she was impressed with the children at WMS. She worked with Room 16 students on lessons including telling time, reading and using computers in the classroom, and also shared her German culture. "I especially liked presenting my home country Germany to both 5-7 classrooms; it was a lot of fun," she said. "I was glad to be able to share information about my home country. It was also great that all children were very interested and excited."

She said she was impressed by how independent WMS students are at such a young age. "I think it's amazing," she said. "They are already very responsible, caring, social, and know appropriate behavior in different situations."

Other highlights of Meike's time in the U.S. have included making friends from all over the world; travelling to Puerto Rico, New York and Montreal; attending the University of Delaware, where she appreciates the close relationships with professors and the beautiful campus; and enjoying the hospitality of American families during holidays, Hurricane Sandy and her internship.

Meike will return to Germany this summer and complete her degree in spring 2015. Afterward, she will be a student teacher for 18 months, then hopefully become a classroom teacher in a bilingual elementary school somewhere in Europe. 

"In bilingual schools, most lessons are taught in English (or another foreign language, depending on the program) from first grade on," she explained. "Nowadays, it is so important to speak a foreign language fluently and be open-minded and respectful toward other cultures. Early bilingual education is said to be one of the best ways to achieve this goal." 

Last Friday, WMS said good-bye to Meike as she returned to Newark to begin spring semester at UD. Children bid her farewell with hugs and cards, and Arlene expressed her gratitude for Meike's contributions to the classroom. "It was such a gift to have her here," she said. "She just fit in so well and her lessons were wonderful. She will truly be missed."

Meike also expressed her gratitude for the opportunity to spend time at the school. She is grateful to the Bradley family for their hospitality during her visit, and to all of WMS for welcoming her this January. 

"Thank you so much for this great experience," she said. "I had a great time and I hope I will get the chance to come back!"
The Top 5 Lessons Meike learned at WMS:

1. Every child needs to work at his or her own pace.

2. It is very important that parents and teachers work together very closely and not against each other.

3. Children need a daily routine.

4. A teacher is definitely a role model for children. The classroom atmosphere that the teacher creates influences the children's ability to learn, listen, and pay attention.

5. Being a teacher requires a lot of work, not only in the classroom, but also after class. The amount of this work should not be underestimated, and is definitely necessary if you want to be a good teacher. Often a good teacher has to fulfill tasks that are not really related to the children's learning process, for example getting and putting together a new cage for the classroom's pets or buying snacks. Tasks like that require extra time and energy!


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