We talk with Karen Reisbeck, the school principal at MOS München Fachoberschule, about how the school puts into practice Maria Montessori’s ideas with young adults and about many other educational issues.
According to Karen, the biggest difference with other state schools is that they don’t have marks, so “they don’t have any hierarchy or methods to force students to do something, so they have to do and decide really by themselves”. The teachers just offer chances and learning opportunities.
Karen explained us that “you, as a teacher, have to think about what Maria Montessori would have done in your position. Maria Montessori says that the teacher doesn’t have to be the one who tells you what to do, but he/she has to be like the fence. If you climb up the fence the teacher will tell you “Be careful it is dangerous”, but there will be nobody who will say you are not a good person for climbing over the fence.”
When you are in the normal school they give you a mark, “Ok this is zero points, and then you feel like zero points”. At MOS the students receive a mark as a percentage “10% for example, that means that the 90% is still missing, which is quite a lot to achieve but you can say ok, I can start with that 10% and then go on”.
The Montessori approach suggests also to compare your own development and not with others. “If you develop from 10% to 15% in MOS Evaluation System, in the state system than still means a 0 from a 6 points system, but in the MOS case that means an advance of 5% which is a little bit, so you don’t feel as a bad person or not estimated”. The teachers are creating materials so the students can do this evaluation by themselves, which usually takes more time, but “it’s the only way of a real learning”.
On the other hand sometimes they have at school what Karen calls in Germany “helicopter parents”, people who take the kids with their big cars to the school and usually want to know what he kids are learning, what they are doing… just want to know everything. According to Karen “you have to learn something when you are a parent here: you have to step back and let you kid go, because he/she is a young adult now. You have to trust the school and in your own child that he will do his own way.”
Karen told as that “we have parents that send kids after ten years in normal school to our school to give their kids a little bit of special thing for the last three years. They invest money and then they ask the kids, how they feel at school and the kids just say, “It’s ok”, and then the parents are very disappointed because what they are expecting is that 17 years old kids come back home and say “Wow it’s amazing” but this is not the way a young adult will talk to his parents. So we also have to educate the parents here at our school. On the other hand we have a lot of Montessori parents, and they are very relax about this.”
“We have to educate our teachers too, because when they come from normal schools, they always have to step back. The teacher has to trust students. They have to develop self-responsibility for their own topics, because here, Carl and me, we are not the ones who say, “you have to do this on this day”, you have to do your own timetable. For some it’s new and it’s hard, because sometimes it’s easier if somebody tells you.”
About teacher recruitment process, Karen explained us that what they do first is read the CV of the applicants and “if someone is coming from school, university and now going to school again we say maybe he/she is not the right one for us” because for them it’s very interesting “if you have experience in something else in your life, that you have been two years in south Africa or you did an app in industrial company or something else. I think you can talk to the young people with your own experience and this is why we also wanted to implement a program that everybody can do a sabbatical year”.
Talking about what she would changed about teacher’s education she told us that “the first thing I would change it would be to send teachers to school very early in the training”. “The first weeks should be at school and there should be a really honest feedback if this person could interact with students or not”, “If you have a personality who are very shy, you will be afraid of standing in front of students, and that’s horrible for the students and also for the teacher.”
“It’s no so hard to get all the facts and the stuff from the teacher training, you can learn this within two years, but you have to develop these emotional skills, these communication skills and I would bring this to the beginning of the teacher’s education. As a teacher you really have to love young people. If you don’t like them, go for something else but not in the school.”
For Karen, “success is when the young adults are leaving school and they feel self-confident and they feel prepared for the world without the Abitur (name of the final examination after the Fachoberschule education period in Germany to get access to University) or with it. So it’s not important to pass the test, it’s important to be aware of your personality and sometimes we have the biggest feedback from the ones who didn’t pass the test. We have some parents that write us some letters about the change in personality when the kid came here and when he left the school, and this is success for me.”
“Talking about relationships is very important to have a good relation between the students and the teachers so we developed a system called the coaching system and we have every week one hour where one teacher is meeting with twelve students, sometimes fourteen or other times only ten, they meet every week, they are from different levels, so the older ones can teach the younger ones, they discuss actual political things and sometimes about personal problems or how to pass the next test. They develop a very strong relationship, because it’s also a safe team.”
“We try to find every niche where is possible to implement our free concept. But if I was the minister of education I would change a lot and the first thing I would change it would be the strict timetable. I would say “Ok, it doesn’t matter if it takes two or three years for you to come to the Abitur, just do it in your own time”, and that would be so nice.” On the other hand “what I think what we would do also is to come more to basic things not to invent things like technology but to stay with things like physics, chemistry and biology, in the end it’s technology in everywhere, you don’t have to invent this type of subjects. This is something that teachers are complaining about. They have to prepare now for things that are maybe actual but they are not in the base. It’s easier to teach the basic and then discuss about the actual problems.”