Pat Manz, longtime Montessori instructor, puts children first
Thirty-one years ago, Pat Manz was hired to help launch a preschool based on the methods of Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori.
Two years later, the school’s owner decided to move to Seattle, and asked Manz if she wanted to take over.
“I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a businessperson,” Manz recalled. “But I accepted her offer because I wanted the school to go on. And I’ll always be glad I did.”
Glad, too, are the parents of thousands of area youngsters who have attended Woodland Montessori, which started at Finch Arboretum, moved to the Spokane Unitarian Universalist Church and now has its own home at 402 S. Coleman Road in Spokane Valley.
Manz discussed her career and what the future may hold for Woodland during a recent interview.
S-R: When did you decide to become a teacher?
Manz: I was a typical little girl, wondering should I be a nurse or a teacher. I chose teaching and worked in public schools nine years. I taught special ed in a classic portable building with the kids nobody wanted. From there I went to consulting in various public school systems, worked with general-ed teachers trying to incorporate special-ed kids in their classroom. I thought teachers should be able to teach children with all kinds of abilities. That’s why I fell in love with Montessori.
S-R: What is the Montessori method?
Manz: The two classic components are having a community of children who are multiage and diverse, and having them long enough – three years – to really build a relationship with them. The way we work with children is so intimate – it’s not like what an elementary teacher does. And the kind of people who are good with preschool kids are different than teachers who are good with elementary students.
S-R: Was Woodland Montessori successful from the start?
Manz: It always paid wages, and wages have gone up. As the business owner, I’ve had a decent salary or a minimal salary, depending on how much work I wanted to put into the school. One of the nice things about running a business is you can pay yourself more or less, depending on how many hours you put into it.
S-R: How has the school evolved during the past three decades?
Manz: I have a lot more working parents, and a lot more kids who stay all day. And that’s why staying true to the Montessori philosophy is so important. I don’t think kids who are away all day should be in loud, chaotic places. Parents walk in here and go, “You really have 60 kids here? It’s so quiet, so peaceful.” They didn’t realize kids can be like that.
S-R: Is there anything you’d like to offer but don’t?
Manz: I have so many parents who wish we offered this in the summer. And for their sake I wish we could. But I’ll never do it, because summer breaks are one reason the staff has been together so long. We all go off and renew, and come back totally refreshed for a new year.
S-R: Back in the ’80s you tried offering elementary classes, but gave up. Why?
Manz: I couldn’t compete with District 81. But also I was aware of the pressure parents would exert. When their kids are 2½ to 6, parents can accept our philosophy of letting the child create their own personality. But as soon as children get into first and second grade, parents want to know how their kid compares with all the other kids.
S-R: What about running a school has surprised you?
Manz: I was so apprehensive at first, maybe the biggest surprise is what a joy it has been. I still think of myself as an educator more than a businessperson.
S-R: What do you like most about your job?
Manz: At this point in my life, I like the flexibility. I’m aging, so I don’t teach as much as I used to. Eventually I’ll retire, but I can keep the school going and just pare down how hard I work and still meet the needs of the school. I don’t have to retire cold turkey, and that’s a nice option.
S-R: What’s your least favorite part of the job?
Manz: The financial stuff. I have parents – especially in the past five years – who get behind in their bills, and I have to nag them or say, “What’s the plan here?” That’s hard, because I totally understand how difficult it is out there.
S-R: What are you most proud of?
Manz: The longevity of the school. We have so many grown-up kids running around the world now, and it’s fun to hear where they are and what they’re doing. Some have come back and are sending their kids here. My grandkids are in this school. It’s honestly fun to grow old and see the fruits of your labor, and know that we’ve helped a lot of families.
S-R: Thirty years ago, did you expect to still be doing this now?
Manz: Who knows what they’re going to be doing in 30 years? There’s nothing else I’d rather be doing. And when my husband died (six years ago), I don’t know what I would have done if I’d had some other kind of job. This really got me through some hard times, because the kids pull you out of that grief process.
S-R: Can Woodland survive your eventual retirement?
Manz: Yes. Someone else could step in and earn a decent salary. The school will never be financially lucrative, but it’s totally self-sustaining.
S-R: What sort of person makes a good Montessori preschool teacher?
Manz: Most are quiet, unobtrusive, able to build intimate relationships. If you want to be a ringleader, you’re probably not a Montessori kind of teacher. When you walk into a Montessori preschool classroom, sometimes it’s hard to spot the teacher right away, because the teacher is not the center of attention. There’s nothing wrong with other styles, but they teach in a different way.
S-R: What advice would you offer someone interested in teaching the Montessori method?
Manz: Get a broad liberal arts background, and get really good Montessori training. I’m biased toward AMI (the Association Montessori Internationale). And if you want to run a school, get a good attorney, a good accountant and connect with the North American Montessori Teachers’ Association – they’re terrific.
S-R: How do you relax?
Manz: I’m a walker. I do a lot of yoga. I read. I garden. I try to nourish my soul. That’s all part of a Montessori lifestyle.
Spokane freelance writer Michael Guilfoil can be reached via email at email@example.com.