We Are VdM: Tina Lavi Condratov

The very best part of Villa di Maria is our people. Our community of families, faculty and staff is something to be proud of. In this series, We are VdM, we’ll highlight the energies, talents, humor and wisdom of some of our amazing people. Today, we’ll meet Tina Lavi Condratov, guide in the Upper Elementary Dodecahedron classroom. We were so lucky to have Tina join our team this Fall. She is a seasoned Montessori teacher from the St. Louis area. She adds tremendous expertise, fun, and dedication to our community. We also love getting to know Tina’s husband, Andrei, and their son, Aero, who is in the YCC. 

How did you discover Montessori?

Montessori pedagogy is an extraordinary gift I serendipitously discovered. After graduating from St. Louis University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education, I was exploring the St. Louis area for a full-time teaching position. I had never heard of Montessori education before, but a colleague of mine, whom I had been working with as an assistant at a Rockwood Elementary School at the time, mentioned a local Montessori school offering sponsorships for AMI Montessori training. She had recently accepted a Primary training sponsorship and recommended that I look into the opening they had for an Elementary training sponsorship. After I toured the school, I was immediately sold! I was fascinated by the small children deeply engaged in their work, focusing with such precision as they carried out their tasks. The beautifully prepared environments were so magical, and I wished to be a part of that fairytale. After a year-long training course in Baltimore, Maryland, I received my AMI Elementary diploma as well as a Master’s Degree in Education from Loyola University. I began teaching Lower Elementary that fall. After 8 years of guiding LE children, I was fortunate to expand my class to a combined LE and UE environment for 3 years before transitioning into the role of an Upper Elementary Guide. I am so incredibly thankful for my Montessori journey, and my husband, Andrei, and I are beyond grateful that we are able to have our son, Aero, experience the joy and wonder of the magnificent Montessori Method. Aero is genuinely thriving in his own magical fairytale of a classroom here in the Young Children’s Community at VdM.

What is something you love about Montessori?

Of all the wonderful things I love about Montessori, the thing that stands out the most to me is how unbelievably happy the children are to come to school each day. During undergrad, I was asked to write a philosophy of education. An excerpt I wrote was, “I grew up with children faking being sick so they could stay home from school. My goal is to inspire children to want to fake being well so they can come to school even when they’re sick.” Not that I condone coming to school when children are ill, but that mindset is something important to consider. A child’s positive relationship with school has a direct impact on their love of learning. This passion, curiosity, and drive will set them up for a lifetime of confidence, independence, and success. Amazingly, my wish came true: my students often share how much they despise missing school, and when given the choice to take a day off (not related to illness), they often joyfully choose to come to school! 

“One test of the correctness of educational procedure is the happiness of the child.”

-Dr. Maria Montessori

What is your favorite thing to do on the weekend?

I love to spend time with my family outside, playing and exploring. Aero just recently built his first snowman and had his first sledding adventure. It is so much fun watching him experience things for the first time!

What was your favorite book as a child and why?

Where the Red Fern Grows. (SPOILER ALERT!) Even though the devastating ending is a real tearjerker, I related so much to the main character, Billy. I always wanted a dog growing up, and this boy’s story of dedication, hard work, loyalty, and LOVE for his dogs (before he even had them!) charmingly broke my heart. I spent my childhood days running around in the woods with my friends, exploring creeks and fields, and loving nature. The continuous adventure and suspense in this book spoke to me as a young child and has always been my favorite.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a teacher from a young age, but I actually began my college career studying to be a physical therapist. With a family full of doctors, I had always had an interest in the medical field, and they encouraged me to follow in their footsteps.  I later decided to follow my heart and pursue a degree in education. I also had a dream to someday write children’s books, and perhaps be the voice of a cartoon…


What is a favorite memory with one of your students?

There are too many to choose from! Lately, I really love it when my students “freak out” after I show them something spectacular. “Ms. Tina, you’re blowing our minds again!” is a recent favorite of mine. Just the other week, I was showing a group of students how to divide fractions by multiplying the divisor by the reciprocal. While checking our work, one student stood up, threw his pencil down, and walked away. “No…Stop. Just stop,” he said with a giant grin on his face. I should start writing these all down!