Help us, O God, to enter into the secret of childhood, so that we may know, love, and serve the child in accordance with the laws of Thy justice and following Thy holy will.
The Absorbent Mind, p. 286.
What is the role of the Montessori teacher? We use the term guide, but what does that really mean? To Maria Montessori, being a guide involved a spiritual quest, one on which the adult observes and prepares for the child who is not yet ready. We watch and wait for that one material that so captures the attention that the child’s entire focus and concentration is devoted only to it. The teacher must spend her time preparing for this moment.
The Absorbent Mind, Chapter 27: The Teacher's Preparation — Studying Montessori
The Three Stages of Teacher Preparation
The teacher as keeper and custodian of the environment“The teacher’s first duty is therefore to watch over the environment and this takes precedence over all the rest.” (p. 277) Dr. Montessori likened this stage as a mother who keeps house for the family. It should be kept clean and tidy, with everything in its place. In doing so, the classroom becomes a place of beauty, exuding comfort, care, and peace. The materials should be kept fastidiously in order, dusted, and fully functioning.
In as much as the teacher is part of the environment, her own appearance should be taken into consideration as well. In fact, Montessori said that, “The teacher’s appearance is the first step towards gaining the child’s confidence and respect.” (p. 277) Not only should the teacher look well kept, she should also refine her movements to reflect gentleness and grace. “…The teacher herself is the most vital part of his world.” (p. 277)
The teacher as lively, engaged leaderBefore concentration occurs, the teacher must entice the child to engage with his environment. She must help the child to interact and learn what it is that captures his imagination and leads him to work. Montessori challenges teachers to be lively: singing, telling stories, playing games, telling nursery rhymes, and reciting poetry.
At this second stage there is a crucial element of discipline and behavior. “Before concentration occurs, the directress may do more or less what she thinks best; she can interfere with the children’s activities as much as she deems necessary.” (p. 278)
This is a far cry from the idea that the teacher does not intervene in the classroom. For instance, the teacher must stop undesirable behavior if it interferes with the work and concentration of others. “If at this stage there is some child who persistently annoys the others, the most practical thing to do is to interrupt him.” (p. 279) This is not a child absorbed in his work but a child who is disrupting the work of others. The best thing to do is to interrupt this behavior at the start. “The interruption may take the form of any kind of exclamation or in showing a special and affectionate interest in the troublesome child.” (p. 279) You can distract by offering to show a lesson or work. If the child resists, Montessori says it is okay to remove the child from the situation, perhaps having him walk through the garden with your assistant, until he is calm and ready to be back in the community.
The teacher as valetAs concentration sets in, the teacher must be careful not to interfere in any way. “Praise, help, or even a look, may be enough to interrupt him or destroy the activity.” (p. 280) Any small interference may break the cycle of concentration, which is so fragile that “a touch can make it vanish again, like a soap bubble, and with it goes all the beauty of the moment.” (p. 279) An offer to help with a difficult task allows the child to give the responsibility back to the teacher. While the teacher may see the struggle and wish to remove it, the child is actually trying to overcome the difficulty himself. Instead of being helped, he has now been hindered.
Montessori says that the only duty a teacher has is to present new things. Recognizing the difficulty in such restraint, Montessori draws the analogy to that of a valet and his master. The valet’s only task is to look after his master: to observe and anticipate his needs but never to offer advice or to tell him what to do. Thus, we should never disturb a child who is concentrating. We should watch and wait until he seeks communication with us. It is here where that great Montessori quote comes into play: “The children are now working as if I did not exist.” (p. 283)
When we teach young children according to the laws of nature, it isn’t the children who are transformed. It is the teacher.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Friday, November 13, 2015.