We talk with Oliver Rüschhoff teacher at MOS Munich (Montessori Fachoberschule Munich) about different topics. For Oliver a huge problem of the school today, is that for many colleagues the reasons to become a teacher are not the right ones. Many people is looking for a secure job without any interest in young people. And this can be felt in the way the teach and care about the interests of the pupils.

You can see the full transcription of the interview next:

Relation with students the key to successful schools

I think actually that this is the key to our success: the approach to the pupils, the relationship, trust, respect and self-reliability.

Frankly, there aren’t only advantages. We have to admit that for some people, for some pupils, we are the only possible school but we are not the possible school for every student. There are students who need the pressure, who need the control. This is not the right place for them.

I should mention this maybe as well. I am in guidance counsellor and sometimes they had discussions with some pupils with exactly this problem, “Sorry I cant’ help if the teachers let me go I just vanish, I just go out, have a smoke or meet friends, hang on my mobile phone but I don’t do anything for my cause and I need someone who pushes me to go on«.

And sometimes it is “Sorry you know this, we have to trust each other and we are not here to control you all the time to look over your shoulder and control what you are actually doing».

So sometimes we had to separate from some pupils. Sometimes they come back later and said: “Hey, thanks for telling us not to stay here but do something else instead and it was a right decision in the end».

Sometimes we have pupils who stay here for four years without achieving any graduation at all but still they undergo some personal development and so they have a personal success the kind of maturity process you could say and they come back and say, “Hey thanks for the time here. Now I know my place in life and I know what I want to do and now I can go on I can move forward». To be honest, these are the pupils I like most because even if they would have never been able to achieve anything in the state system, here they found a place to stay, to give them some structure which was very important for many of them. They like to come here, and again, many of them visit us after years and years, sometimes for a short cup of coffee, sometimes they stay for days, visiting old colleagues. It’s very nice.

So, when I think about it I hardly can imagine to work in a state school again after spending so much time here at the MOS Munich.

I think, one main problem today at schools is exactly what you have mentioned before, the relation on numbers between teachers and students.

The right reason to become a teacher is not look for a secure and well paid job

Another huge problem in my humble opinion, is that for many of my state colleagues the reasons to become a teacher in the first place are huge different from those who become a teacher here.

So it’s a secure job at state system, it’s next to impossible to get fired in this position and that is felt by many children. When you look at the way they teach, you can feel that. They don’t simply care about the needs of their pupils. For some of them, school is a nice place if it wouldn’t be for the pupils.

And I think that more or less put us on the line if you are not interested in young people in their problems, if you are not willing to approach them openly if you are not willing to…I think that’s one also very fun to criticize yourself all the way how you give your lessons, then you can teach properly in the end.

I have had so many lessons which I prepared hours on hand and then went into the classroom but I started and I during the core of it somehow felt «This isn’t working», and if you are not willing to talk to your pupils, “What was the problem?”, here the kids are very open, and they say «Hey it was nice but I didn’t like this, let’s do it like this next time» and then you do this. In most cases it works. But you have to keep an open mind and if you are too fix to set in your ideas you won’t achieve anything here. Not only here but in general.

You have to talk to those young people as we say in german eye-level, so much with trust, respect and reliability. You can’t lie to them, you can’t disappoint them, you can’t let them down. So if you promise them you will give them feedback, you have to give them any kind of feedback. If you are not ready they will be disappointed, you will kind of loose them, they won’t show up anymore because “Hey you told me anything, so, do it yourself”. I think that’s one of the main problems.

Montessori approach with young adults

As you mentioned, the Montessori approach is specifically designed for younger children and regarding this problem we are kind of in an ambiguous situation. We try to involve as much material based lessons as possible but sometimes we are kind of a loss here so we have to improvise and let’s face it, we are working in progress here, so we are still developing, evolving and we are also turning away from all structures we would work in.

So it’s a constant process. I think the most important thing is when you want to work in the Montessori approach with all the people, give them time and space for creativity and to express themselves and this can be hugely different. Let’s take a look at the different departments.

We have the agricultural department, arts department, economics, social sciences and it doesn’t go for all students of course but many of them have different qualities, preferences…

For example, if you ask the economics class to work on English texts by producing let’s say, a comic book, most of them won’t do it, just scribble something together, but if you give the same task to arts class you are most likely to get some really unique pieces of art.

On the other hand, if you ask them to set up your own company, make a business plan, something which moves our students, most of the economics students will have some great ideas so it all depends on the quality in the interests of the students and as long as you are flexible enough and tolerant enough to approach them in the way they want to be treated success is nearly guaranteed I can say.

Success is connected more with your dreams than with the money

The most cases success is measured by the amount of money you make which is totally ridiculous in my opinion and luckily we have lots of parents and students who have different opinion about success.

I had a long conversation with a pupil who is not too happy here and he said, “Actually what I want to achieve is I want to live on my own, self-reliant, a secluded space which I believe in with our own hands and I want to grow my own fruit and vegetables and live of the land…This is perfectly fine and we have to give young people the feeling of “If you want to achieve that it’s perfect, you are right to do so”, and don’t get yourself forced into some position you don’t want to be, you don’t have to go to a office from 9 to 5 every day if it’s not your cup of tea…

Some want to become artlist and they have to find ways and means to express something they struggled which is the right direction, we shall a musician, shall be a painter or writer, some of them are incredibly talented, this is a very hard struggle for them to find out and again you have to show them, “Hey, at least try to achieve something. I mean you will always find the means to live by I don’t know doing some odd job, it’s no problem but if you focus in a career and a company and try to climb up the corridor you will never be able to follow your aspirations regarding arts and literature or whatever and you will be disappointed in the end, so at least give it a try and there is no harm done if you try. At least you tried it and you won’t regret it at the end of your life I am pretty sure about that.

Designing your subjects according to the interests of the students

I am a teacher for English as well as for History. Those subjects offer space and time for evolving the creativity. To be honest it’s easier in English (…). I can give them any task I like, that’s totally up to me and their interest. Many times pupils will come up with their own ideas.

Today there was a English lesson in the 13th class and we were talking about relationships there and one woman came across a highly controversial commercial making fun about the male cliches and she asked we could watch and debate about it and we did. I didn’t have to do anything at all because the young people were heavily arguing for about 90 minutes and it was fantastic to watch. I just could insert some company but that’s it.

When it comes to History is a similar thing, not more. Because in History you have to know, you have to transmit a certain periods of time, they have to know the main facts, but again how I implement those facts into my lessons is totally up to me.

So I can do the conservative way just with the book, read it, that’s it. But luckily there are so many different media, we use short flicks, we use audiobooks, we use material where they have to puzzle for example, where they have to connect descriptions of people with their faces on pictures and stuff like that.

So all the different senses are involved into the act of learning and you see in my opinion there is no perfect way for learning for all pupils.

Everyone is an individual and what works for one may not work for the other so everyone has to find his or her perfect way for querying new knowledge. My task as a teacher is to provide them as many possibilities as I can and when it comes to new technologies. I am so worried on this to be honest, it’s a constant process of learning here as well and a constant process of creating new material but it’s an odd thing because there’s a good cooperation among the colleagues in my huge department or my history department.

So we are exchanging material, we are meeting on a regular basis, we tell each other how the different work with materials and it is a very satisfying process very rewarding in the end I can tell you.

Teacher don’t forget how you were when you were young

I think what works best for me personally is never to forget what you were like when you were young. How insecure you were, what was important to you, your fears, your sorrows and I think if you show this to your pupils you have a very good approach.

My worst mistake was trying to teach my pupils emotions.

My latest lesson back at the state school was the confrontation of my pupils with the atrocities of the Nazi regime. And I was really furious because they looked also calmly and I had expected well, some kind of reaction. There was no response at all exactly and I can remember one guy saying “Sorry you can’t us order what to fear” and this boy was exactly right.

So again I can’t tell them what to think I can’t teach them what to fear, all I can do is to provide them with appropriate material. So let’s stay with this example of the Third Reich the Nazi Regime.

I know many of the young people especially young men are heavily fascinated by many aspects of this period of time but as soon as you make then realize that it also involves atrocities regarding gay people, communist people, handicapped people that were killed mercilessly by those groups and criminals then I think their “achievements“ such as german autobahns and suffer come into another perspective and most people realize this by themselves without me raising the moral finger.

A school family without timetables

I could imagine that we can become a boarding school because we have lots of students who really like to be here and to stay and sometimes they even stay overnight they meet with friends or watch movies and I would like if we had some accommodation facilities nearby which would even evolve into a kind of school family where they could have breakfast together, learn together and stuff like that.

Another part would be that we would need no timetable anymore, that anyone could learn anything he or she like at any point given point of time he or she felt like it. So we as teachers would be present to provide advice and help if we all wanted to do so, if not we stay in the background. We are just there moderating things. That would be my vision of the future I think.

I am interested in establishing an exchange program with Montessori school focusing on the secondary way of Education. I think it can be a very rewarding exercise because there is so much to learn and we are a good close contact when it comes to primary schools especially in the area of Munich because we are closely connected but when you look abroad…I for example have visited a few in Montessori Institutions of Great Britain but there is so much more to see and I am really eager to get to know more.

The policy of full disclosures: allowing colleagues entering freely your class

One important quality of our school is the fact that we have the policy of full disclosures so any teacher can pop in any time into any lesson of any colleague.

No one will be thrown out and it will get a authentic impression of what your colleague is doing right now and this is so helpful in order to improve your own lessons.

And if you are visited by another colleague is also very helpful but of course your kind of blind when it comes to your own person or your own mistakes, your own rituals but someone else says “Hey you shouldn’t do it like this», and if this is done in a respectful way it’s so good it’s so nice it’s so rewarding and this is quite unusual as far as I see when it comes to other schools because other teachers will never ever let their colleagues visit their lessons at least not without special permission

Author

I am a telecommunications engineer, teacher in innovative education and freelance filmmaker questioning not the "Why?" but the "Why not?" in every aspect of life. Since 2017 I travel the world looking for stories worth telling.

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