Last Sunday morning, I met up with an old coworker who quite possibly loves dresses as much as I do. I’m not sure if I have ever seen her wear anything else. Jill and I used to work together at Dater Montessori. Currently she is in her second year teaching in a first, second and third grade classroom. We met in Washington Park and talked about everything from meeting her husband in astronomy class to her travels to Israel to her Lebanese heritage. It was so good to catch up.
Name: Jill Anspach
So you are a Montessori elementary school teacher. Why did you choose your profession?
I really wasn’t planning on being a Montessori teacher. I was going to be an English professor, and then I found out that there really weren’t any jobs in that. So then I was going to be a high school English teacher, but I did my student teaching at an all boys Catholic high school and hated it. I somehow then took a Montessori class and just stuck with it.
What drew you to Montessori specifically?
I took a random class. I had no idea what Montessori was about at all. I just heard that it was something that Xavier did that the other universities didn’t, so I just took a class on Montessori philosopy. I just really liked it and I kept taking classes.
What specifically about Montessori do you like the best?
I like that it makes children want to be more independent. It forces them to think for themselves and move around more, and not just do what an adult tells them to do.
What’s the best part of your job? What do you enjoy most?
I think interacting with the kids. It’s like we get to go on a different adventure every day together and learn new things. Just seeing them learn and learning with them is fun.
What do you find is most important to instill in your students?
I want them to be able to think for themselves, whether it’s in a social situation where they make a choice thats best for them and not just because they’re under peer pressure or in a classroom where they have to learn to work through a difficult problem. I want them to be able to think and not just do what other people tell them to do.
What does being a woman mean to you?
It’s kind of a hard question. I don’t think I necessarily diferentiate women and men in that they have to have certain roles. I think part of being a woman is acknowledging that there are things that men don’t have to go through that we do in society and life, and acknowledging that things will be tougher. You just have to work through it and acknowledge that.
How do you feel when you put on a dress?
So for school, I like dresses that have fun prints or patterns that have to do with what I’m teaching so I feel like Ms. Frizzle from the Magic School Bus. Then I have my party dresses that I just feel pretty in. So it depends on the dress. I have my power dresses where I feel like I could do anything and then I have my I’m just pretty dresses, and then I have my “look, I’m so smart” dresses.
What are you most passionate about?
I’m probably most passionate about teaching and about learning in general, whether it’s teaching kids how to learn or just learning new things myself. I like to travel and just experience new things.
Where have you traveled recently?
We just got back from Israel this summer and we were in Paris over the winter.
How was Israel?
Israel was wonderful. It’s probably my favorite place that I’ve visited.
What sparked your interest in Israel?
Neither of us had been to the Middle East. My family is originally from Lebanon, but Lebanon really is not a safe country to visit right now. So this was a nice option.
So yeah, your family is from Lebanon?! Are you fully Lebanese?
No. My dad’s dad is from Lebanon, and then I’m a mut. So I’m German, Hungarian, Cherokee, Irish and lebanese.
Are you in touch with any of your ethnicities?
When my grandpa was alive, he was very into his Lebanese roots. So there are things, like the food that I eat. I’ll try to make Middle Eastern food like he would because it brings me closer to thinking about my grandfather and my heritage. And then it was really exciting just to be in the Middle East and feel like oh, these people look like me.
Was Israel everything you thought it was? What things surprised you?
It surprised me how cosmopolitan Tel Aviv was because we went to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Jerusalem was very religious and you had to cover up a lot in Jerusalem. Because I’m married, you cover your hair and then just like wearing sweaters when it was 90 degrees outside because youre not supposed to show your arms and things like that. But then in Tel Aviv, it’s like a Mediterranean resort and beachy type place. It was completely different.
So then do you incorporate your travels into your classroom?
I do. We do postcards where I write them post cards from where I’ve been and then we talk about the places like that. And then this year I’m getting a map, like a planosphere map, and we’ll mark off all the places we’ve gotten post cards from and discuss how they’re different and similar.
What impact do you want to make on the world?
The impact that I make in the world I’d like to create through making strong, independent people through the students that I teach. I feel like my impact will be in helping mold them into who they will be when they’re older and creating a group of kids who care about the world around them and the people in it.
Yeah, you get them for three years, which is crazy. Is that something that drew you to Montessori as well, that you got each kid for three years as opposed to one?
I really like it because I know the kids. This year is my second year and coming back, I already knew my second and third graders. I knew what their strengths and weaknesses are, and how to best support them. And by the end of a three year cycle, like when they go through first, second and third and they leave me, like I know these kids. They’ve been with me for three years. I feel like its a better bond that helps them learn better because they trust me and I trust them.
What’s your ideal day like?
I try to go on a run every morning with my dogs. So I’d wake up, go on a run, come home, take a shower, have coffee, probably go to yoga and then have brunch somewhere. Probably some place in OTR with my husband. Then maybe in the afternoon do some gardening and reading. Just have a relaxing day because I feel like so many of my days are very go go go where I’m going from one place to another to another, never having time to stop.
How many hours a week would you say you spend on your teaching job, both in the classroom and out of the classroom?
I normally get to school between 7:30-8 and stay until about 5 or 5:30. Then I stop and take an hour to go to yoga. Then when I come home at about 7 or 7:30 I’m doing school work until about 10 when I go to bed, so however long that is (laughs).
Wow. That is crazy. Do you sometimes wish that you could just get it all done by 5 and then you could just come home?
That would be nice but I can’t logistically see how I could do that. Like I just see this as how my job is and I know some teachers can do it, but I haven’t figured it out yet.
Who are the most important relationships in your life?
My husband probably would be the main one. He has helped me through my first year of teaching, which is tough being a first year teacher. He also supports me by helping out with things like making dinner when I get home late or doing laundry or just being there to listen to me when I’ve had a rough day. Then probably also the people I work with at school have always been really helpful to me through listening and helping me plan for things.
How long have you been married?
Four years. It’ll be five years in May.
Congratulations! So how did you meet?
We met at UC where I went to undergrad. We met in an astronomy class.
That’s cool. Were you like paired up for a project together?
We had astronomy lab together and then we had an astronomy class right after it. We were astronomy lab partners.
How did you guys go from being lab partners to something more?
We were just friends and then we weren’t just friends anymore. We were something more than that. I can’t think of a time when we were like “wanna be my boyfriend?”
But did you just always kind of like him?
We had a poli sci class before we took astronomy together, and I didn’t like him because he was very much a know it all. But him being a know it all was kind of helpful in our astronomy class and he wasn’t such a know it all either. I guess he kind of grew on me.
What has been your biggest life lesson?
If you don’t do something right, you can always change it. Just not to give up. I thought I was going to be a professor and that didn’t work out and then a high school teacher didn’t work out, so I finally ended up in Montessori.
What has had the greatest impact on you?
Probably just my family and my husband. They were always there for me. Going through college and figuring out what I wanted to do, I was never worried because I always knew I had a support system.
What was your proudest moment?
Getting through my first year of teaching and sticking with something. Just doing it and feeling proud that I made it through.
Did you have any moments where you were just like I don’t know about this?
I think especially at the beginning of my first year, it felt very overwhelming to be a public school teacher because you have so many extra responsibilities that are put on you that they don’t really talk about when you’re doing your teaching program. But I had a bunch of people at school who were very helpful and I never felt abandoned by any of them.
What do you think is the biggest difference between public Montessori and private Montessori?
Public Montessori has a lot more data and testing involved than private Montessori and not just for the kids but for me too. It’s not necessarily bad it’s just a lot more difficult. Also public Montessori takes all kinds of kids where private Montessori takes just a certain part of the population, so I feel like that is a real strength of public Montessori. We get a very diverse group of kids.
What were your childhood dreams?
I wanted to be a famous writer or a veterinarian.
What in our world needs to change the most?
I think how people treat other people and the mindset that we kind of “other” others. When we see people that are different than us, we sometimes are afraid of them or are angry about them, or don’t see them as other people. I feel like most of the problems with violence in our country come from not excepting other people.