I’m currently in week 4 of an 8 week Montessori teacher training program. I got to write this paper for the philosophy class and thought I might share it with you:
The Preparation of the Teacher
“Justice, here, is to give every human being the help he needs to bring about his fullest spiritual stature, and service of the spirit at every age means helping those energies that are at work to bring this about.”1
In the first two weeks of this training program and in my experience working in Montessori schools over the past few years, I have come to realize that a Montessori teacher is an incredibly hardworking and devoted individual who is engaged in an ongoing process of self-evaluation. The teacher must constantly work to prepare an ideal learning environment for children, both physically and emotionally.
Montessori describes three main stages in the preparation of the teacher. The first stage focuses on creating the best possible physical learning space for the children. “The teacher becomes the keeper and custodian of the environment.”2 Though somewhat tedious, I find this stage quite enjoyable. Working with toddlers made me fully aware of the importance of a pristine and orderly environment. The smallest detail can wholly effect a child’s ability to concentrate. I take a lot of pleasure in straightening the shelves and putting together materials so as to “entice” the children. I love how Montessori says, “The teacher must believe that this child before her will show his true nature when he finds a piece of work that attracts him.”3 That idea really drives home the importance of putting careful thought and love into the arrangement of the classroom. The work must be appealing to the child so he will select it of his own free will and proceed to “reveal himself through work.”4
The second stage occurs when the children enter the environment but before they begin to concentrate. At this stage, it is helpful for the teacher to suggest some work that needs to be done in the classroom in a manner that makes the activity sound appealing. Also, some children in this stage might have a tendency to be disruptive. In that case, it is the teacher’s job to gently redirect the child or maybe suggest they engage in some activity together outside of the classroom.5 The teacher must also place the child in contact with the orderly environment she has created by explaining that it is the duty of each child to return materials to their proper place. When the child becomes aware of his role within the classroom, he feels a sense of belonging and takes pleasure in maintaining that order.6 Throughout the course of our observations at the preschool, I’ve gained a better understanding of why I sometimes find this to be the most challenging stage. It is a common belief amongst teachers that if the class is noisy and disruptive, something is “wrong.” While it’s true that wandering children and an overly rambunctious group is likely a sign that adjustments need to be made, assuming something is “wrong” implies that someone or something is at fault. Entangling our egos and self-images with the way a classroom is operating is a recipe for frustration. Our thoughts proceed in this manner: from “the classroom is noisy” to “this isn’t how it’s supposed to be” to “I’m a horrible teacher.” Since the majority of us were raised under the old mindset that assumes it is the adults job to mold the minds of children, it’s easy for us to take disobedience personally and revert back to the kindergarten teacher that Standing describes: “She is not penetrated by the realization of the vastness of the forces of the human soul, she is not subdued and consoled by a calm certainty of the rightness of natural development. She is far gayer with her children than the Montessori teacher, but she trusts them less. She feels a restless sense of responsibility for each action of the child. It is doubtless this difference in mental attitude which accounts for the physical difference of aspect between our pretty, smiling, ever-active, always beckoning, nervously conscientious kindergarten teacher, always on exhibition, and the calm unhurried tranquility of the Montessori directress, always unobtrusively in the background.”7 While the latter description is the ideal model of a teacher, we will all falter at times. Montessori says teachers “should strive to rid themselves of their basic defect composed of pride and anger, seeing it in its true light.”8 While I think she’s suggesting more of a constant effort towards the absence of anger than actually exterminating it, those words are a little daunting. Thinking that we must rid ourselves of a basic human emotion makes suppression more likely, and suppression leads to explosion. If we acknowledge when anger arises in the course of an interaction with a child, we can take a step back from it. We can discuss our feelings with the child thus modeling the appropriate way to handle emotions. If we slip and allow the anger to dictate our actions, we can apologize to the child afterwards. The child will see that we are human and imperfect which allows for a deeper connection.
To be a Montessori teacher in the second stage is to trust that when the conditions are right, the child will take care of himself. A normalized classroom cannot be forced. Herein lies the challenge: to be aware of the potential of a classroom while allowing ourselves to accept the reality of the situation without judgment. To observe the children as they are and not as we think they should be. “The teacher’s happy task is to show them the path to perfection, furnishing the means and removing the obstacles, beginning with those which she herself is likely to present (for the teacher can be the greatest obstacle of all.)”9
The third stage happens when the children take interest in the work and concentration begins. For a child who is new to the Montessori classroom, the practical life area is the gateway to the rest of the materials. The teacher’s main task during this stage is to disappear from the child’s awareness.10 The slightest interference can destroy the delicate process of concentration, so the teacher must become a guardian against any distraction.11 In this stage, “The duty of the teacher is only to present new things when she knows that a child has exhausted all the possibilities of those he was using before.”12 The teacher must have an in depth knowledge of the materials in order to be able to give lessons, placing the child in contact with the appropriate material at the correct time.13 This is a beautiful stage. Watching the joy that engulfs a child when she makes a new discovery is one of the main reasons I love working in a Montessori school.
Creating a proper learning environment requires the teacher to maintain careful observation of herself and her classroom so she can provide gentle guidance to the children without becoming an obstacle to their learning. I have become increasingly aware of the importance of staying detached from the outcome of any situation within the classroom. In order to have the most beneficial impact on the children, I will do my best to create an orderly and immaculate environment that allows the children to teach themselves while removing my presence from the equation as much as possible.
1. The Absorbent Mind, Henry Holt and Company, LLC, 1995, pg 285
2. The Absorbent Mind, Henry Holt and Company, LLC, 1995, pg 277
3. The Absorbent Mind, Henry Holt and Company, LLC, 1995, pg 276
4. The Absorbent Mind, Henry Holt and Company, LLC, 1995, pg 276
5. The Absorbent Mind, Henry Holt and Company, LLC, 1995, pg 278
6. The Discovery of the Child, Fides Publishers Inc., 1967, pg 150
7. Maria Montessori, Her Life and Work E.M. Standing First Plume Printing, 1998, pg 333
8. The Secret of Childhood, Fides Publishers, 1966, pg 151
9. The Absorbent Mind, Henry Holt and Company, LLC, 1995, pg 264
10. The Discovery of the Child, Fides Publishers Inc., 1967, 152
11. The Absorbent Mind, Henry Holt and Company, LLC, 1995, pg 280
12. The Absorbent Mind, Henry Holt and Company, LLC, 1995, pg 279
13. The Discovery of the Child, Fides Publishers Inc., 1967, pg 152