If you asked the people in my life if I was competitive, most would say, “absolutely!” My coworkers know this to be true as every year I try to win the games we play during our Holiday Lunch. (I honestly think I black out in my excitement to win the Chipotle gift card, so my actions are not my own.)
I’ve always been competitive. I had two younger brothers who challenged me to be faster, mostly because even though they were younger than me they had a great punch. I played sports: soccer, volleyball, cheerleading, track. When my interests shifted to the arts, I was competing for the better part in the play, the fun solo, or to somehow stand out. Even now my competitiveness takes form in my love and dedication to the greatest football team ever (Go Packers!). The idea that someone or something could be better than me has always pushed me forward.
When I started working at Charlotte Montessori School, I realized I didn’t feel competitive with the other teachers (aside from the Chipotle gift card). Instead, I am competitive with myself. Each year I want to top something, prepare more, archive more than I did the previous year. This attitude has led me to start new traditions as well as keep my standards moving higher for myself and our school as a whole.
The children in my classroom are also competitive. I’m sure to an untrained eye it could look like the children are competitive thanks to the mixed age groups. The younger children always wanting to keep up with the older children. The older children always wanting to become better than their peers.
In fact, what really happens in the Montessori classroom, is the children compete with themselves. Instead of measuring their success against their friends, they are trying to achieve a goal and then push past their own expectations.
Imagine you’re back in third grade and doing one of those multiplication fact races. This may have just been how I was taught in my Catholic school, but I am sure you have a similar memory of being placed against your friends in some high stakes competitive nature revolving around learning something. I would start to have anxiety. I’d get nervous. I’d forget all of my multiplication tables and stumble over each answer. I knew I just had to beat the child next to me.
But, I never was encouraged to beat myself. There was no fostering of learning, just a fostering of “wining.” When we compete against ourselves, no one has to fail in order for us to win. Our own personal best is what keeps us striving.
The children in a Montessori classroom learn how to practice and repeat until they feel they’ve mastered a lesson. They learn how to explore, experiment, stumble and endure. They do all of this without hoping to read faster than their friends or to complete a long chain before someone else does. Everything is at their own pace and thus, everything is learned with excitement and joy.
Competitiveness is not a sin. If it was, then I should probably go back to my Catholic school and try again. Competitiveness keeps us pushing for more. However, when we compete against ourselves and when we encourage children to do the same, the success is much more fulfilling.