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From Taiwan to Texas to Hershey

“To say it is a good school is not enough. If you have a chance, come here and observe. You will feel the difference. It is so peaceful and calm. Even the teachers and adults are calm. You will see real Montessori.” ~Derek Tsai

An Interview with a Teacher in Training

Hershey Montessori School was pleased to host Derek Tsai for five weeks of teacher training recently. We extend a special thank you to Jennifer Finan, Early Elementary Guide, for her exemplary role modeling and her passion to help others live, teach, and share Montessori.

Below is a short interview between Head of School Assistant, Saren Peetz, and Derek Tsai.

Saren: What is the correct spelling and pronunciation of your name?

Derek: Derek Tsai (Tsai sounds like “Thai”).

Saren: Where are you from?

Derek: I am from Taiwan originally, but moved to Austin, Texas about 4 years ago.

Saren: Do you have a school you would like to work at in Austin, or are you starting your own school?

Derek: When we moved from Taiwan, my wife and I started a small school. It is a bilingual school with Mandarin and English.

Saren: Does your school have an elementary program yet, or is it only Children’s House?

Derek: Only Children’s House for now, but we are going to be growing to elementary. The parents of the Children’s House students asked for more levels to be added. I also have a 6 year old daughter, so it is good timing. We want the elementary for her as well.

Saren: What interests you about Montessori education?

Derek: I started working in Montessori as a helper to my wife. My wife is the Children’s House lead teacher. She knows a lot about the Montessori theory. I discovered through that work that I really loved Montessori. When I was helping my wife, I knew the names of the materials, but I did not know the use of them. But then, in my training, I took the Foundation Course and then the Elementary Course. After I learned the theory of both the Children’s House and Elementary I thought, “Wow, that is what I want.”

Saren: What does the landscape of Montessori look like in your home country/state?

Derek: I will start with Taiwan. In Taiwan there is not much land, especially in the cities. There are no backyards, only ten story buildings. It is very challenging for preschools to operate. The preschools usually rent out the first or the second floor of these tall buildings and they will use parks for playgrounds. Austin is more similar to preschools everywhere in the United States. There is more room. Hershey is unique, though, especially its playground. The playground has a huge space to run and build with sticks. It is very natural and very Montessori.

Saren: What brought you to Hershey?

Derek: I took the training course in Zhejiang, and a few of my classmates on the course came to Hershey a few years ago to see the upper school (Middle and Upper School) for the adolescent orientation. They loved Hershey, so I thought if I can do my observation there it would be good. So I contacted the school and contacted Jennifer and set up my practice teaching at Hershey.

Saren: When do you finish your training?

Derek: There are five time blocks for my training. The last training block is in February, and that is the oral and written exams. Then I will come back to my wife’s school to open the elementary classroom in September or maybe earlier.

Saren: What is your biggest take away from Hershey?

Derek: My biggest take away was Jennifer’s attitude and her spirit. She enjoyed her work and all the children are engaged in their work. I hope I can be a guide like that. It is not easy in teaching to get all the children engaged in their work. But she did it! So maybe I can do it, too. Also, the design of the building at Hershey. It is good for children because it is easier for them to go from elementary to another class, or even back to the Children’s House. And also easy access to outside, especially for the Children’s House. They have their own yard and all the windows in their classrooms let them see outside and watch outside. I also loved all the books. There were so many! I loved the library. There are so many things I loved I can’t list them all right now.

Saren: What is one thing you would tell parents about education?

Derek: Many parents are still believing in traditional education and public school more. But when talking about Montessori, the Montessori way is to put the abstract and the physical thing together to make the whole concept very solid. I would also want to really let parents know what the difference is between Montessori and traditional education. I would say the two biggest things for elementary are independence and Cosmic Education.

Saren: What is one thing you would tell other educators about Hershey Montessori School?

Derek: To say it is a good school is not enough. If you have a chance, come here and observe. You will feel the difference. It is so peaceful and calm. Even the teachers and adults are calm. You will see real Montessori. The physical design even looks like home. It makes the whole layout look like a home. If I hear someone is looking for observations or help, I will suggest they go to Hershey Montessori School.

Best wishes to you, Derek. Thank you for sharing your experience with us. We enjoyed having you here at Hershey Montessori School, and are glad that you are taking a piece of us with you as you provide Montessori for more children in your corner of the world.