The teacher, when she begins to work in our schools, must have a kind of faith that the child will reveal himself through work. ~ Dr. Maria Montessori, “The Absorbent Mind”
One of the biggest differences between Montessori and traditional teachers is the way the teacher perceives the child. You may have heard that Montessori teachers “follow the child.” But what you may not realize is the level of faith (in the child) it takes to rein yourself in and really allow the child to take the lead. It’s the adult’s natural instinct to assume a leadership role with children. We want to keep children safely in line, like little ducklings following our lead. That way, we know (or think we know) where everyone is and what they’re doing. But Montessori teachers understand that with attentive observation and a carefully prepared environment, adults can remain “in the know” without having to be in the lead.
Montessori teachers are not the focal point of the classroom. Instead, the focus is on the child having the right activities and opportunities to maximize his own learning. In a Montessori classroom, it is understood and accepted that every child can, and will settle down and concentrate when he finds the right “work.” As Montessori put it, “…The teacher must believe that this child before her will show his true nature when he finds a piece of work that attracts him. So what must she look out for? That one child or another will begin to concentrate.”
This is not to say that the Montessori teacher does not play an active part in the child’s education. On the contrary, the teacher’s role as a guide is key. I think of the Montessori teacher as a Sherpa, a guide whose vital support allows each little explorer to reach his or her own personal zenith.
“But when…work is the result of an inner, instinctive impulse…it assumes a wholly different character. Such work is fascinating, irresistible, and it raises man above deviations and inner conflicts. Such is the work of the inventor or discoverer, the heroic efforts of the explorer, or the compositions of the artist, that is to say, the work of men gifted with such an extraordinary power as to enable them to rediscover the instinct of their species in the patterns of their own individuality. ~Dr. Maria Montessori, The Secret of Childhood.
The Montessori teacher prepares the environment (i.e. the classroom) based on careful and continual observations of each child. Thus, the classroom provides developmentally-appropriate learning opportunities that interest the child. When the children are engaged in their activity-of-choice, the teacher may step back and allow them to learn at their own pace. There is no need for the teacher to provide motivation at this point. The children are driven by their own inner need for discovery.
“And so we discovered that education is not something which the teacher does, but that it is a natural process which develops spontaneously in the human being. It is not acquired by listening to words, but in virtue of experiences in which the child acts on his environment. The teacher’s task is not to talk, but to prepare and arrange a series of motives for cultural activity in a special environment made for the child.” ~ Dr. Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind
Montessori teachers give individual or small group lessons as they move around the classroom, not one lesson in front of the whole class. Lessons are hands-on, straight forward, and intended to engage the child so that she will want to continue the discovery on her own. Once the child is engaged, the Montessori teacher steps back, and refrains from correcting, complimenting, or otherwise interfering in any way.
“When the child begins to show interest in one of these, the teacher must not interrupt, because this interest corresponds with natural laws and opens up a whole cycle of new activities. But the first step is so fragile, so delicate that a touch can make it vanish again, like a soap bubble, and with it goes all the beauty of that moment. The teacher, now, must be most careful. Not to interfere means not to interfere in any way.” ~Dr. Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind.
Would you like to learn more about teaching the Montessori way? Try one of our always available, always free webinars such as Montessori Teacher Training Webinar – Freedom within Limits: