A special kind of training
Montessori said that the teachers of her method should receive a ‘special kind of training’, one that prepares her/him to have the heart of a saint, the head of a scientist and the hands of a servant. This training is in fact so special that it becomes a life-long quest and ultimately a way of life. Montessori teachers prepare lessons for the individual. They prepare to sit back and observe first, and then offer support to the child as s/he creates the person s/he will be one day.
Montessori encouraged us to ‘see the child who is not yet there’ and to ‘have faith that the child will reveal her/himself through her/his work’. The work of the child is to develop the person s/he will be one day. It takes work to develop character and this develops through purposefully interacting in our wonderful world. It develops as the child begins to see her/his role in their world and how s/he can participate and in it and contribute to it.
Instead of pushing children to specific outcomes on a checklist of things to do, we are trained to observe and wait patiently for the child to express interest in something. As the Montessori adult, we are then tasked to prepare our environments in such a way that they will engage and intrigue children. We need to find the ‘hook’ that will spark real learning opportunities.
Can you be THIS teacher?
How amazing is the teacher who meets the child at the door of the classroom on a Monday morning and greets that child who is clutching with pride a beautiful red apple with a cry of delight and admiration? A conversation may ensue which could end up with the teacher offering to show the child the life cycle of the apple and how it grew on the tree. This lesson may lead to the child expressing interest in other trees (let’s learn about tree shapes), or other fruits, or even baking with apples. The possibilities are endless. This does, however, require a teacher who is not looking for the standard recipe of ‘maths and language before you can have a snack’. The child needs a teacher who is open to bringing math and language experiences into the apple lesson. If this was a child in a primary class, a question on how many tons of apples South Africa produces annually may well end up in a multiplication lesson. Does South Africa export apples? What does export mean? Look it up in the dictionary (dictionary skills lesson). What is the opposite of export? (Antonym lesson).
Last week’s post looked at the Montessori notion of social cohesion. The role of the teacher in the development of social cohesion is to create the most favourable environment, where the children can exercise the freedom to move and the freedom of choice and develop their roles within their little community without the adult interfering. The teacher is there to guide and nurture but refrains from commanding and imposing her will. In fact, Montessori spoke about the tyranny of the adult, referring to the adult who puts her/his own needs before those of the developing child. As adults, we are older, bigger and more powerful. We have everything at our disposal to bend the child to our will if we so choose. The Montessori adult is looking to avoid this tyranny by allowing the child these freedoms, and by providing the boundaries that govern all human freedoms: respect for self, others and the environment.
Protecting the concentrating child is another aspect of the work of the Montessori adult. In Montessori’s book, The 1946 London Lectures, she writes about the duty of the teacher in the classroom being like that of a policeman. A policeman whose work it is to protect the concentrating child from disturbance. S/he does this by guiding anyone who may disturb the child concentrating on purposeful activity. Again, s/he is looking for that ‘hook’ to engage the child and interest her/him in some activity. Montessori actually suggests that in offering an activity to a child, we should be as enticing to that child as the flower that beckons the butterfly! Ideally, the engagement to work should be freely chosen by the child for her/him to be able to truly engage and immerse her/himself in it.
Becoming this teacher is a Montessori teacher’s daily work. Reminding ourselves that Montessori’s vision for peace in the world begins with the child. Reminding ourselves that our interactions, preparedness and attention to our conduct as well as the preparations of the child’s environment are essential to the child’s learning journey. Children who have had the opportunity to think for themselves, choose for themselves, solve problems for themselves and grow within the natural rhythm of their lives have a far greater chance of changing our world for the better. This was Montessori’s vision. She said, “Preventing war is the work of politicians, establishing peace is the work of educationists.”
– Heidi van Staden –
17 July 2020