“Montessori teachers are not servants of the child…to wash, dress and feed him – they know that he must do these things for himself in developing independence. We must help the child act for himself, will for himself, think for himself” (Education for a New World, 13, pg. 69). A teacher in the Montessori classroom setting plays a remarkable role. It is one which functions as a ‘dynamic link’ between herself, the children and the environment. Not only does the teacher remain a vital element between the children and herself, but she also holds a deep understanding of the specially prepared environment. “Once the environment exists the directress will become the link between it and the children…This requires a great variety of qualities – knowledge, patience, observation, discrimination, tact, sympathy – and above all, charity” (Standing, 18, pg. 305). Of paramount importance in her role as a ‘dynamic link,’ is the teacher’s own spiritual preparation. The teacher comes to the classroom filled not with pride or anger, but rather with a sense of humility in the presence of such dignified beings. All of these aspects work together in the role of the Montessori teacher and culminates in achieving the ultimate goal of which Montessori herself describes as “the revelation.” Here, one will see, “an entirely new child whose astonishing characteristics can eventually contribute to the betterment of the world.”
One of the first duties the teacher has in her role as the ‘dynamic link’ is to meticulously prepare the environment. For example, all materials and apparatus should be in pristine condition, complete, and in their proper places. The Montessori teacher constantly assures that all items in the classroom are ready for use. Montessori elaborates, “It is one of the main duties of the directress to maintain order in the environment; and be ever on the watch lest it be impaired in the smallest degree…everything must be always and absolutely in its right place” (Standing, 16, pg. 271). Likewise, the teacher herself should appear neat and orderly, for her presence in the environment impacts the core of the classroom. She must study her own actions and movement in order that a sense of calm and peace may permeate throughout the environment.
The teacher in the Montessori Early Childhood classroom entices the children to activities and lessons and awakens the child’s interests. She remains enthusiastic about the subjects introduced while always maintaining the art of observation. Observation of the child is a critical element in the role of a teacher in the Montessori setting. “The way in which we observe a child is extremely important. It is not sufficient to have a merely theoretical knowledge of the education.” (Standing, 22. pg. 149). Furthermore, the teacher must rid herself of any predisposed judgment of any child. The Montessori teacher who is gifted in the science of observation will undoubtedly be able to effectively guide the child as he progresses in the prepared environment throughout all areas of the classroom.
Another key element in the role of teacher in the classroom is her ability to “teach teaching, not correcting.” The teacher must be very careful in the way she corrects mistakes. One of the attributes of the Montessori environment is that the autodidactic materials uphold this maxim. If a child makes a mistake, he will soon discover it on his own through continued use of the materials. Therefore, the need for adult intervention is minimized, and consequently it paves the child’s way to a joy of self-discovery. “The whole art of being a Montessori directress…lies in knowing when to intervene and when not to. The general rule is that the teacher should not intervene when she finds the child engaged in some spontaneous activity which is orderly and creative” (Standing, 18, pg. 297). Montessori further proposes that as soon as a child has found work and shows deep concentration, the teacher, at this point, should refrain from any type of interruption. A simple, “Good job!” or “Nice work!” might suddenly disturb the working child and break his profound concentration. “A guiding principle which brings success…is this: as soon as concentration has begun, act as if the child does not exist” (The Absorbent Mind, 27, pg.255). Naturally, Montessori also notes a teacher should respond to a child who enthusiastically shows her work, being careful not to praise in such way which would promote the teacher’s will. The child should be encouraged through the teacher’s interest in her work, rather than seeking the teacher’s merit or approval.
The Montessori teacher’s work in preparing the classroom coupled with her interactions among the children, enables her to provide the children the most positive means by which they can absorb the environment. The greatest sign of success for a teacher is to exclaim, “The children are now working as if I do not exist” (The Absorbent Mind, 27, pg. 259). Montessori uses the term ‘normalization’ to describe this unique process a child experiences in the classroom.
Montessori described the Normalized Child is “one who has overcome himself and lives in peace and harmony with the environment preferring disciplined tasks to futile idleness.” She believed that children are born with innate capacities for self-governance which should develop freely. She also suggested that the greatest obstacles to development of these natural instincts in children are adults. Therefore, the Montessori teacher must ensure that the classroom provides activities and motives for Normalization to occur. This is due to the fact that Normalization emerges as a result of deep concentration. While a Montessori teacher spends a great deal of time on the preparation of the classroom, materials and lessons, the focus of the teacher’s duty is the normalization of each student. The materials chosen by the children will engage them and lead them to self-discovery and awareness. Montessori’s definition of Normalization demonstrates the profound scope of our responsibilities as Montessori teachers.
Ultimately, it is the teacher’s role as the ‘dynamic link’ which allows the process of Normalization to occur. One must not forget, however, that it cannot occur immediately. The teacher must also prepare herself for a period of practice which may take many years. The ‘Spiritually Prepared’ teacher will recognize this critical factor, and through her practice as an observer of children, can further observe the spiritual growth within herself.
The role of the teacher is therefore, “to watch with humble reverence, day by day, the spontaneous unfolding of the children’s lives; seeking always to remove obstacles, both internal and external from their path, whilst she guides with science and sympathy the irrepressible energies of life” (Standing, 18, pg. 318). The ‘spiritually prepared’ teacher will do so with a joyous heart. Only then can the most important factor in her role can be established, that is, to see the child for who he really is.