What can we say about Charlotte Wood. She’s in the DNA of the Baan Dek Montessori. Charlotte joined us four years ago as a primary guide. We can still remember greeting her at the airport, as she made her way down the escalator, embarking on an unknown and yet to be determined adventure - in, of all places, the wonderful city of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Charlotte took a leap of faith in joining us, one in which we’ll always remember and forever appreciate. It’s been a great ride so far, and, as we always like to say, “we’re just getting started”.
Originally from California, where she herself attended Montessori as a child, Charlotte completed her Association Montessori Internationale training in Portland, Oregon. Having spent time as a guide in Germany, as well as in a public Montessori school in Milwaukee, WI, she joined the Baan Dek team with a wealth of diverse experience: primarily, in a private school and a public school setting. Over the years, we’ve learned a lot from Charlotte, and look forward to learning more, together. Charlotte’s the type of person who is as principled as she is passionate, as collaborative and humble as she is awesome. She’d say we need to sprinkle a little glitter on that statement. We sat down with Charlotte and had a little conversation that we would love to share with you.
Q: Can you describe yourself - you know, in a nutshell?
A: I never would have expected that I would grow up to be a teacher in Sioux Falls, but I’m delighted to be at Baan Dek! I’m thankful to have had Montessori be my first educational experience. Without a doubt, my favorite part of my job is getting to experience the discoveries the children make every day.
Q: We interviewed a lot of people for this position, but we knew immediately that you were the right fit. You decided to throw caution to the wind to come work with us at a time when we weren’t by any means favored in the Montessori community - namely, with our involvement in Montessorium. Why? Can you speak about your decision to come here? We know it wasn’t for the weather!
A: First of all, I was never supposed to be teacher. I was supposed to be an opera diva, live out of a suitcase, and sing at the New York City opera. I wanted to sing all of the operas. That was going to be me.
Q: Of course! We can see that! What changed? (By the way, you’re still a Diva to everyone at Baan Dek.)
A: The unjustness of the audition process. I couldn’t have a career that was solely based on someone else’s opinion of me. I needed work in which I was rewarded based on my hard work. For awhile I worked in human resources, but found myself teaching in every position I was in. I figured I knew I wasn’t going to be a traditional education teacher, because I didn’t have a traditional education experience. The answer was Montessori, and I thought, that’s what I’m going to do, because I like children so much!
Q: Can you tell us more about this process? Or, should we say, transformation?
A: Sure. Initially, I got my AMI training so I could teach internationally.
Q: We should mention that there’s something pretty spectacular in thinking that the pedagogical standards of Baan Dek, since we are a part of the Association Montessori Internationale, are the same as you would find in London, Tokyo, Berlin, etc. Which is one of the many aspects that make trained directresses so highly sought after...
A: Exactly. There was just something about Europe, that called me at that time. I wanted to move there forever! I had been to Germany, and started looking for schools there. For a time, I was a guide at a German Montessori school. Unfortunately, it wasn’t an authentic Montessori school, so I began to look elsewhere. I had experience with the language, but I lived in an area where the dialect was very strong. It was rough! Yet, I really liked their doner kebab, and I still miss parts of that experience.
Q: Can you tell us about your switch to a public Montessori school in Milwaukee?
A: The public Montessori teachers that I worked with in Milwaukee were extremely innovative. They had to keep the Montessori principles alive and adhere to them, while at the same time creating ways to meet public standards. Needless to say, a challenge! It was a really valuable experience, and unlike anything I’d ever done before. I had 35 children in my class, and there were four other primary teachers, as well as a lower and upper elementary. The school was huge, and to be honest, it felt like boot camp!
Q: Wow, very different than Baan Dek! How did your education, as a Montessori student, coupled with your eventual Montessori training, affect your experience?
A: I think the fact that I went to a Montessori school means that I don’t really need to focus on how to use the materials, but how to meet the needs of these specific children. The act of doing the binomial cube, for example, is ingrained in me. How I show it to individual children differs.
Q: Indeed. Can we ask? Why Baan Dek? You could teach anywhere!
A: The week after my Baan Dek interview, I went to D.C. to interview at a different school. Between the interviews, I visited my mom and was so enthusiastic about Baan Dek; about the people, their vision, and the projects they had in mind. But it was in Sioux Falls. Then I went to the school in D.C, where I thought everything would be ideal. There was no sense of community, no sense of kindness and camaraderie within the team, and I figured out that Bobby and June are people I want to work for and work with. Although I visited Sioux Falls at the ugliest time of year, April, and wasn’t enthusiastic about the climate, I told myself I could do anything.
Q: Well, that’s pretty nice to hear. Thank you.
A: For me the human component is so huge! Who I work with and who I work for matters a lot.
Q: What’s your favorite memory of your time at Baan Dek?
A: I don’t know, there’s the best moment of every day! I think every time I see one of my children growing. Like today, a child said “You can do it, I know you can do it!” to another child who was trying to complete a new activity. That, for me, is my favorite moment.
Q: You have an amazing rapport with children. It can’t be one sided; how does that relationship affect you?
A: Like why do I do this? I think it’s because they don’t even know what is going to come from them. Sitting there watching them put things together, thinking they can’t do something and the delight when they can. They’re genuine, there is no affect. No learned hiding of themselves, which is something I have, and that adults have. If they’re mad, they let you know it, and if they’re sad, they let you know it. Every time I see an older student doing a difficult work, it makes me understand and visualize who they are going to become. You see them grow in big ways, but mostly in little ways every single day.
Q: Is your family still involved in the Montessori community?
A: My sister is a fancy chef and is very passionate about food. The same way I am passionate about early childhood education, she is passionate about food. She wants to change hearts and minds through food. Both of us ended up in careers we didn't expect, but are passionate about. My family was unknowingly very Montessori in our upbringing, we helped build a house, we did a lot of purposeful hands-on work.
Q: Alright, now for a lightning round! Let’s get some more nitty-gritty details. First off, what is your favorite thing about Sioux Falls, besides “the boy”?
A: I like the seasons, but just not being cold. There is something beautiful here all the time.
Q: What is your favorite color?
A: Glitter. or pink and purple. When I knit, which I do a lot, a don’t use any color specifically. I like happy colors!
Q: What is your favorite Starbucks drink?
A: Ask Bobby, my favorite Starbucks changes every time! Probably a peppermint mocha or soy dirty chai. Last week I had a Soy Oprah Chai with a shot.
Q: What was your favorite childhood book or movie?
A: The Lady and The Tramp was a favorite movie.
Q: What is your favorite Montessori material?
A: I’m a big fan of the Sensorial Materials that have one foot in the math world -- the Trinomial Cube and the Geometry Cabinet were some of my favorites as a child, and continue to be favorites to introduce to children.
Q: What treats do you always say yes to?
A: Anything with mint and chocolate is a winner in my book!
Q: What is your favorite type of restaurant to frequent?
A: I love Thai, Vietnamese, and Japanese cuisine. In Sioux Falls, my favorite Vietnamese place is probably Dynasty, or Lam’s.
Q: How do you while away a long, cold winter night?
A: I love to knit and listen to a book or watch a show or movie. - picture of knitting project?
Q: What’s your dream vacation / destination?
A: Somewhere I’ve never been, particularly if it’s close to the ocean.