One of the most profound distinctions that one will notice during their first visit to a Montessori classroom, is the role of the teacher. In fact, Montessori teachers aren’t even referred to as “teachers,” but instead prefer the term “guide.” By shifting our view of the role of the adult in company of children through this lens, we are reminded of the spiritual nature of this important work. Guides are trained to have the utmost respect for children, and to be conscious of the path they must follow to construct their highest potentials. Through keen and constant observation, the Guide becomes the remover of obstacles, the self-reflector, the relationship builder, the link between the child’s interests and the materials.
How is this possible, you may wonder? How does this role pan out? Is the teacher ultimately effective? It is quite the paradigm-shift compared to the traditional model of early-childhood education that so many of us are acquainted with; it is a child-centered approach, rather than direct instruction. Dr. Maria Montessori said during her London Lectures in 1946, “Education is the help which we give to life so that it may develop in the greatness of its powers. Before we can help, we must understand. If we understand, we can help. This help must be the plan of education.”
A Typical Day:
The Guide arrives before the children, leaving her troubles and worries about the day-to-day rigors of life outside of the school walls; striving to enter the doors in a neutral state. She is physically and emotionally equipped to offer her best self to the children. The morning preparation includes analyzing the physical environment. Is everything organized in such a way to facilitate the highest potential for the child’s independence?
Next, the Guide considers the preparation of the human community. Together, the Guide and Assistant review and discuss lesson plans for one-on-one and small group presentations. Soon enough, the time will come when the pitter pattering of tiny feet will echo down the hallway. The children eagerly arrive to their classroom, or what we proudly call the Children’s House; after Dr. Maria Montessori’s first school, Casa dei Bambini in Italy. The parents say their goodbyes at the door to honor that the prepared environment is their child’s domain to grow and learn.
The Guide sits in her home-base, her observation chair, ready to greet the children with a handshake and a welcome, “Good morning Charley, I so am happy to see you today.” She looks at the child with fresh eyes and new hope each morning; releasing any lingering judgments or feelings from the previous day. This genuinely warm acknowledgement shows each child respect, welcoming the return to their special space. As the children continue to trickle in, their inner needs guide intrinsic choices and an uninterrupted period of work begins.
Because prepared environments are part of nature, such as a bee returning to its hive, the children feel at home. They feel safe to develop themselves, socialize, live in dignity, tranquility and practice functional independence. Once the drop-off period ends, the Guide will observe the flow of the group. She acts as part of the environment; not a focal point for the children. As the work period unfolds she will follow her observational goals and begin inviting children to individual or small-group lessons. The uninterrupted work periods last three hours in the morning and two in the afternoon.
The invitation to a lesson is a beautiful moment. The Guide always approaches children on their level, kneeling down with a gentle expression. She will invite them by saying something to the effect of, “Timothy, I have something very special to show you today.” Having taken the time to build a trusting relationship with this child, the Guide uses the child’s interests to present him with a material that will appropriately challenge him. The presentation is designed to engage the child’s mind; the Guide acts as nexus and transfers activity. The child will first watch, then she tenderly guides the child to work using an empowering approach such as, “Your turn”, or “Now you may do it.” Afterward, the Guide will slowly slip away, allowing the child to learn the skills necessary to succeed. In her place of contemplation, she will document her observations of the child’s response.
The educational resources and strategic demonstrations are methodically designed and didactic for children, gifting built-in assessments to the Guide. Each skill-set is consecutively built upon, abetting the child to reach aptitude across all areas. The Guide identifies opportunities to enhance the child’s work with variations and following exercises, meeting scholastic and developmental needs.
The group works across a broad spectrum, vicariously learning from each other in this mixed-age, family-style environment. The children cultivate respect and tolerance for different personalities because of the inclusive nature of the community. The Guide and Assistant help the children use social grace and courtesies. Children move freely, yet purposefully, throughout the indoor and outdoor environments continuing to choose activities in which they’ve received formal presentations. Time is allotted to take breaks for snack, a glass of water and to use the restroom at their leisure.
The Guide and Assistant remain tranquil, careful to model the type of behavior that is expected of the children. This consistency allows their responses to become predictable. Together, they watch for concentration, removing obstacles through redirection. They note the initiation of activity, purposeful manipulation, joyful engagement and completion. Using excellent manners, they make connections by speaking softly, and continuously link children to the environment. Just as the heartwood offers support as the strong, internal base of a tree, observation is pivotal in assisting the growth of the child in the Montessori environment. Every day offers excitement for the Guide because each child and need are unlike the other.
Transitions are inevitable. They are traditionally expected after the morning and afternoon work cycles, and the close of the day. The children will often gather together, if they choose to end their work. Some will prepare lunch or help with closing duties, others will join the Guide in song, stories, dance, nature walks, or similar activities catered to cultural relevance and interests of the group. During mealtimes, free-play and group times, the Guide proposes authentic experiences to the children with pure, loving intent. She is astute, humble and always aware of unique opportunities to encourage the children to express themselves.
As the children take their last steps in the environment for the day, their departure is embraced with another warm-hearted moment of contact with their Guide. She courteously shakes each child’s hand and softly speaks, “Goodbye Michael, I look forward to seeing you again tomorrow.” Imagine how the children feel, knowing they are heard and their quest for independence is valued.
Slowly, the hum ceases and the environment rests, awaiting the children once again. The Guide continues her work of preparing the environment, communicating with parents, record keeping and planning. The role of the Guide is an on-going, fulfilling work of self-transformation. It calls for self-discipline, patience, collaboration and determination of how to best serve the child. The Guide harmoniously relates to the child in wonder of the greatness of their potential, enjoying a front-row seat to the future of humanity.
About the Author:
Lauren Franchek is an AMI Trained Children’s House Lead Guide and Level Coordinator at Creo School in Gilbert, Arizona. She completed the Primary Training course at Southwest Institute of Montessori Studies (SIMS) and the Inclusive Education course at the Montessori Institute of San Diego (MISD). Lauren has been actively involved in the Montessori Community for over ten years and is Chairperson of the Arizona AMI Alumni Association.