Montessori World

An educational blog for children and adults

CONVERSATION WITH MONTESSORIANS: Siti Nora Abdul Manaf

Welcome to the fairly new space on this blog: CONVERSATION WITH MONTESSORIANS!

CONVERSATION WITH MONTESSORIANS is a place to connect and share thoughts, ideas and experiences, as a result of conversations with Montessori guides, directresses, principals, head teachers, students and children. This is my contribution to the Montessori citizens out there, an appreciative record and recollection of the accounts of Montessorians in Malaysia and throughout the world!

In this second post, let’s connect with a veteran Montessorian who is also an AMI graduate: Siti Nora Abdul Manaf.

It was in 2015 that I first met Siti during a tour to Bangalore, India to visit Montessori schools with a group of Montessorians from Malaysia. Siti was the co-organiser of the tour. She appeared to be strict, sullen and completely not the type whom one can spark a conversation immediately. However, a conversation with her and another senior Montessorian in the room where we were staying changed my perception of Siti and proved me absolutely wrong of her first impression. I still remember the most profound impression of her after the first long conversation is that she is strict but she can smile, joke and talk about anything by adorning immaculate words to it. Moreover, she was one of the earliest batches of AMI-trained teachers in Malaysia. One of the rarest, one of the Malaysian gems who is still breathing, working and training about Montessori education. So, I promised myself that after that educational trip, I will interview her for a post in my blog.

Siti first learned about Montessori from her brother’s friend’s wife who was also a Montessorian. After working as an accounts clerk for almost a decade and seeing not much prospect and interest in it as a career, her brother proposed and co-sponsored her to take up the AMI Montessori course.

In 1981, Siti pursued the AMI Diploma 3-6 in Hyderabad, India, where she met another fourteen equally enthusiastic and excited future Montessorians under the tutelage of Mr.R.S.Swamy, who taught the lesson on Montessori Philosophy. All the observations were done by Miss Taraporewalla,( who was trained by Dr. Maria Montessori herself),  at Taraporewalla House of Children. “Miss Taraporewalla watches over her students like a hawk, standing in front or behind us, without saying anything.” Students do their learning observation sessions in the morning until 1pm. After that, they practised with the materials about two to three hours before taking a break of two hours. At 7pm, they continued with class lecture with Mr.Swamy. Classes are conducted every day Mon-Sat, with Sunday being a day for them to rest, refresh and revise.

Want to listen to the old school system on how lessons are delivered: “There were no hand-out notes. No point of putting down the notes, and don’t understand. These lecturers, they don’t expect you to write, they expect you to listen. You understand then you write it down. Presentation also doesn’t have notes. Watch the children and do it yourself. Then, the teacher says this is how you do it. Then you go back and analyse and look at your own way of doing it.”

At that time, Siti had doubts about her decision to take up the course because she found it to be very tough, too much of practical, note-less and she could hardly understand Mr.R.Swamy’s strong Indian accent. It took Siti and her classmates about one month to adapt to the strong Indian accent and his words. Besides him and Miss Taraporewalla, there were Miss Dey, the tutor and Meenakshi, the examiner who assessed their practical sessions and checked on their notes, assignments and essays.

After a year of stringent, exciting and tough times alike of completing the course, Siti worked at a spastic centre in Petaling Jaya for two years. And as the saying goes, if you have studied a Montessori course, you can brazen yourself to work anywhere at all including at a special needs centre.

When there was an opportunity to accompany her brother and his family, to Wisconsin, USA, Siti went on the bandwagon and was fortunate to attend many human development classes in the University of Madison. Her knowledge about child psychology and behaviour modification patterns expanded. She was equally impressed by the operation of a day care centre which was managed mostly by parents in conducting programmes for babies and very young children.

Upon returning from US after her sister-in-law’s completed her studies, Siti opened her first day care centre, My Tree House Of Children, her style and her way, the Montessori way in 1986, at Datok Keramat, Ampang, Selangor. Her very young niece was her first student. The first area she set up in the centre was the Practical Life and Early Sensorial area, in which the materials were mostly prepared and made by her and a carpenter. There was no Montessori manufacturer or shops at the time and carpentry work was cheaper to hire.

There is certainly a bright flame to teach, nurture and care for young children in Siti, which all parents can see when they send their children to her centre. Siti admits that somehow she understands children and they approach her naturally even after they have grown up into young adults with their own families. The lack of a child-friendly and child-centered educational place during the mid-1980s was also a large factor for her to set up her own centre so that her nephews and nieces can have a suitable place to go to during their kinder-years.

[Siti shared something that resonates with my concept of a school appearance too, that a kindergarten or early years centre need not be bright with colourful and fluorescent colours. In fact, a plain and pastel colour is the best combination of hues for optimum teaching and learning to take place. There is a whole load of articles and research written on this premise alone. For us Montessorians, the concept is pretty straightforward and simple. The idea of the environment is to allow smooth ‘communication’ between the child and the material as no to let any other agents or factors in the environment, like the coloured wall, shelves, mats or even teachers to interfere with the internal and cognitive learning process of the child.]

After nearly three decades, Siti opened her second school in 2015, in SS17, Subang Jaya and another new one to be opened in the very near future. For a person who chooses quality over quantity, her advice to future Montessori school owners is, “…you have to persevere, expect for the worse and your pocket must be very deep, because for at least three years you will see a lot of expenditure than earnings.” Siti motivates herself to strive ahead in this business by looking at her batches of children who are now adults with their own families and offsprings. “My first batch of graduates is in their 30s and has finished their tertiary education. My niece is 31. Seeing them growing up to the person they have become today, tells me that what I am doing with the school is right.” And if you have any doubts about your journey as a Montessorian, or just feel exhausted at the end of the day, Siti strongly suggests going for a holiday and come back recharged and rejuvenated.

Another aspect of being a Montessori educator is to guide parents to understand Montessori’s philosophy of education and her method. Siti emphasises on parental talks. “We have two talks in a year for the branch in Subang, and one talk a year in the KL branch.” The talk is a-day programme for parents to understand the journey which the children experience daily in a Montessori classroom. Siti also mentions about the 3-year developmental plane when the child is attached to a single teacher for three to four years.

“We also explain to the parents that we don’t have concert in this school. We have presentation and observation day for the parents to have an idea of the learning outcomes of the children in the school.” Through their own observation and the children’s presentation, parents will realise that not only children do academic or subject learning, but they participate voluntarily in art and performance, in order to develop confidence and self-concept. Ultimately, parents also have a general understanding of why children do not develop addition operational skill within a few months until they have a good understanding of the concept of addition through repeated practices with concrete materials.

Teachers play a very important in every child’s learning process. Knowing the importance of this, Siti provides in-house training for her assistant teachers. “The head teacher is certified and trained. When it comes to interview new teacher or trainees, I always ask this question: Do you love children or do you enjoy working with children? If they say they love children, that’s not the candidate. You can’t be loving children all the time. If they say I enjoy working with children, and be with children, then that is the right candidate.” To build a close relationship with her teachers, Siti has personal talks with them, whether in the school, during dinner, or for a weekend outing.

I asked  Siti a quick rounds of topics related to Montessori:

On working around themes:  “No. We really do Montessori. We don’t talk about themes because it breaks the Montessori cycle. That’s not Montessori. If you look at Montessori, it covers everything under a theme.”

On observing: “I told the teachers in Subang, you should not be sitting with the child from the time they come in until the time they go home. Just sit at one corner and just watch. If they need help, make sure they come to you. You don’t go to them. They must come to you. Try to do that and it really works. I go to Subang and I observe. The teachers are always there and everywhere. I said no. It’s not necessary to be there and everywhere. We should look invisible in the environment, it’s about the children, it’s not about you. Sometimes it takes two years for them to understand and improve on observational skills.”

On knowledge about the materials on the shelf: “ I tell my staff the theory behind it. I‘m not going to teach you how to use a material. You need to understand the theory, if you do not want to change, you are not meant to be in this school. I only want people who is willing to change because Montessori teachers are adaptable, if you think it is too difficult, you have to leave. I’m strict with my teachers and parents.”

On the most memorable Montessori moment: “A 7-year-old boy told his mum that “I dont want to be number one.” Mum asked “Why”. “I only want number 7. Nobody wants number 7. Too many people are fighting to be number one.” I think he’s trying to say why are you fighting over something that is so difficult to get? This same boy told his mum “Can I take a break from school?” Mum asked “Why?” “You know my head can only take that much information, I can learn so much. Now it’s full, can I take a break?” He also told his teacher that he doesn’t want to join Sukaneka (sports event). Teacher called mum to asked  why. Mum asked him and he said “All they do is run around. They are not doing anything.” The teacher respected his opinion. He is the only one who told the teacher and didn’t join the sukaneka.  I told the mum to let him be as long as he is not rude. We allow our children to have their own opinion most of the time. These are the things that make me continue to teach.

“There is this one boy, one of the earliest batches, I got invited to their weddings nowadays. The wife thanked the mum-in-law for a good husband, the mum said go and thank Mat Tam (Siti’s friendly name). And the wife and husband came and see me to thank me. I always bump into my students. They call at 1130am/12pm to have lunch. My school is at the ground floor and I stay at the top floor. The one who has a baby boy wants to register for 2019. In one family I have 4 generations coming to my school. That my school has made such an impact in other people’s lives.”

On her daily schedule in school:  “At the end of the day, the morning before that, you prepare the environment.

730am: Open school. Cook lunch by myself. Children have lunch before they go home. I have my meal schedule for a week. I know what to cook and the recipes. I don’t believe in other people cooking my children’s food. Too salty,  too sweet, too oily. It’s better that I do it myself.

8-9am: Children start coming in. Like all Montessorian children, once they come in they start to work. Breakfast is their choice- bread, biscuit, cereal (Kellog brand). Jam is San Dalfour. If I don’t like that brand, I’m not going to serve it to the children.

9-12pm: Work cycle. Teacher must know when to give work of the next level to the children, such as memory and extension activities.

10am: They can play and we never stop them from playing. It’s always about 30-45 minutes. They go out for fresh air. Short break, then one small group activity, group presentation like storytelling, for them to take a breather, calm down, then continue work. In between, they will have snacks, can bring from home, anytime they want, takes about 5-10 minutes.

On her most memorable Montessori quotes: “The hand is the extension of the brain. The hand is the instrument of the intelligence.”

 

So, at the end of the interview, there’s one question left to be answered: How old do you reckon Siti will be this year? Do the maths and answer in the comment. <Big Smiley Face>

 

*Past interview with: Aisha Abdullah.

 

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May 5, 2018 - Posted by | Uncategorized | ,

2 Comments »

  1. Some rare insights into Montessori philosophy and the environment ! A well well written article.

    Comment by Manohari Ramakrishna | May 6, 2018

  2. Thank you for the kind comments.

    Comment by rani | June 12, 2018


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