Occupations are different from "work". Work is what Montessori students choose, receive individual lessons on, and do much of each school day. Work is both a noun and a verb for the students. They may repeat a work as often as they need until they master it.
Occupations are different from "jobs". Jobs are responsibilities in the classroom that the older preschoolers do for about ten minutes at 1:35 each afternoon. Jobs are feeding the fish, pushing the carpet sweeper, passing out papers, watering plants, wiping around the sink and making sure the toilets have been flushed, dusting, straightening books ... No heavy lifting required. All the members of the class depend on each student to perform his/her job.
Work requires initiative. A student must take action to choose a work from the shelves, receive instruction, and follow through with the required learning task. Work ranges from stringing wooden beads to learning about biomes and continents, or carrying in addition. Work is a personal responsibility for growth. The students who continually challenge themselves in their work choices are usually the happiest kids.
Occupations are for grown-ups. When I was a kid each school year seemed to include a unit on "Our Community Helpers"--firemen, policemen, teachers, garbage men, doctors, and dentists, plus Mr. Toothbrush. My classmates were briefly impressed that my dad (and at one time my mom) was an engineer. Then I had to explain that he didn't drive a choo-choo train. Bummer.
The best I understood it, my dad went to a smoky-smelling office where he drew on big paper to figure out how to make buildings stand up. He got to use mechanical pencils and a T-square. I knew he kept his "brains" in his shirt pocket, with all sorts of block-printed letters and numbers. When he left the office to catch the bus home he said good bye to Faye, a strange lady with odd yellow hair and a candy dish on her desk who wasn't a mommy. Sometimes Dad brought big rolls of sweet-scented blueprint paper home for us to draw giant pictures. Other times Dad took me along when he went to watch construction workers to see if they were doing a good job following his instructions. I was sure that failure to follow instructions led to building collapse.
Dad was still an engineer when my sons were born, but not when they were old enough to appreciate blueprint paper and construction sites. My sons had a tougher time understanding what their father did at the office. Based on visits to their father's place of employment, their dad got money to buy our groceries by burning popcorn in the microwave and drinking Diet Coke.
Although I was a homemaker, I got to speak at the first grade Career Day once. I was very involved designing and sewing costumes for the local children's theater. It was an avocation, something I loved doing.
During the calm afternoon "Line Time" before the classroom jobs today, we chatted about occupations. I told students the names for occupations, and they guessed about the jobs involved. We started off with -ologists, and moved on to -icians. Mathematicians, musicians, and magicians, dieticians (who do not bury dead people!), herpetologists, geologists, and paleontologists...
One student explained his parents' occupation thus:
They get a bag of broken money to fix. Then they fix it. They make it better. Then they put the money back in the bag and give it back.
It sounds like an easy work-from-home laundering job, and better than wiping up around the sink and making sure the toilets are flushed. So, basically, if you are the parent of a preschooler, it might be good to help your child understand what you do for a living before the FBI is called in!
© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder