The Montessori method is a unique teaching approach that is renowned for its principles centered on child directed learning. As such, Montessori education differs in various aspects from traditional education, and this includes its teachers. What does it mean to be a Montessori teacher? Let’s find out.
A Montessori teacher is an educator trained in the pedagogy of Maria Montessori, usually from an Association Montessori International (AMI) accredited training institution. Traditionally called a director or directress, Montessori teachers received comprehensive training in theories on education, child psychology, classroom observation and management, instruction, and Montessori material use and preparation.
Montessori teachers are knowledgeable in all aspects of running a Montessori learning environment and educating a child via the Montessori method. Teaching in a Montessori school requires a unique set of skills from its teacher. Let us learn more about Montessori teaching.
What Skills Does a Montessori Teacher Need?
The demands on a Montessori teacher are quite different from the traditional school teacher. While both adhere to curriculum guidelines as set forth by the education department, in traditional schools, the teacher imparts knowledge to the school children, while in the Montessori school, the teacher guides the child to discover and learn on their own. This requires the teacher to have:
- A strong understanding of and belief in the Montessori principles
As stated earlier, the training for Montessori teachers is different in that they are trained in the method developed by Dr Maria Montessori. Ideally, teachers learn from the AMI, an association founded by Dr Montessori herself, to continue the work that she has started. This training would give teachers a thorough understanding of the principles of respect for the child, the absorbent mind, sensitive periods, the prepared environment, and auto education, which will guide their approach to education.
- A genuine Respect for the child
Respect for the child as an individual capable of directing their learning is one of the five main principles of a Montessori education. A teacher lives this principle by allowing the child the freedom to select from prepared materials which task they would like to work on, and trusting that this choice will help the child develop their curiosity, knowledge, and work ethic.
The teacher, when she begins work in our schools, must have a kind of faith that the child will reveal himself through work.– Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind, p. 252
- Self control and Patience
These two skills go hand in hand as they are necessary to allow the child to learn on his own. It is much easier for the teacher to just let the child know what to do but the Montessori method relies on the teacher holding back from instructing and instead observing and guiding the child through their learnings. In the same vein, patience is needed to give the child time to experiment and draw conclusions from the work they engage in.
Before such attention and concentration have been attained, the teacher must learn to control herself so that the child’s spirit shall be free to expand and show its powers; the essence of her duty is not to interrupt the child in his efforts.Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind, p. 248
- Observational skills
A great part of the Montessori teacher’s role is to observe the children as they work to understand how they learn and what interests them. This gives the teacher the knowledge they would need to encourage the child to learn more and provide opportunities within the prepared environment for the child to encounter stimulating work that will promote learning.
- An Open Mind
If the teacher has had experience teaching the traditional way, or has set notions about what teaching is supposed to be, as a Montessori teacher, they should learn to un-learn these. The Montessori teacher is all about guiding the child to a yet undetermined potential. It is imperative that the teacher be open to this possibility and help the child find the evolving version of themselves.
An ordinary teacher cannot be transformed into a Montessori teacher, but must be created anew, having rid herself of pedagogical prejudices. The first step is self-preparation of the imagination, for the Montessori teacher has to visualise a child who is not yet there, materially speaking, and must have faith in the child who will reveal himself through work.Maria Montessori, Education for a New World, p. 67
Are Montessori Teachers Strict?
There may be a misconception about Montessori teachers being strict because they run the learning environment in a way that develops self-discipline and a work ethic in children. On the contrary however, the Montessori environment is not one that instills fear-based obedience, but rather a self developed discipline from doing work well.
Montessori teachers are and must be approachable as apart from circle time, they usually spend one on one time with each student, first when showing them how to use the materials, then when observing them and responding to any requests for help.
How do Montessori Teachers Teach?
Montessori teachers teach in two ways: through introducing concepts and materials, and then through observing the child from afar.
Before students can work with the materials, the Montessori teacher presents these to the children, either in circle time or in one on one sessions. During this time, the teacher explains what the material is about and how to use it. After that, the child is left on their own to explore the material by themselves. The child being left alone to do their work cannot be overemphasized. This is where the learning takes place.
Praise, help, or even a look, may be enough to interrupt him, or destroy the activity. It seems a strange thing to say, but this can happen even if the child merely becomes aware of being watched. After all, we too sometimes feel unable to go on working if someone comes to see what we are doing. The great principle which brings success to the teacher is this: as soon as concentration has begun, act as if the child does not exist. Naturally, one can see what he is doing with a quick glance, but without his being aware of it.Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind, p. 255
Another not so obvious method of teaching used in Montessori is the use of observation. While it does seem like just watching the children, observation is a key and crucial ingredient of the Montessori instruction process. The teacher, in observing, is noting what the child is interested in, how they are progressing with the materials, their attitude towards the work, and through this know each child and help them by having in the prepared environment materials that may interest them more and encourage them to work.
The teacher…must be able to make prudent observations, to assist a child by going up to, or withdrawing from, him, and by speaking or keeping silence in accordance with his needs. She must acquire a moral alertness which has not hitherto been demanded by any other system, and this is revealed in her tranquility, patience, charity, and humility. Not words, but virtues, are her main qualifications.Maria Montessori, The Discovery of the Child, p. 151
Is Being a Montessori Teacher Hard?
The short answer to this question is No. Montessori teaching is not hard, but just like any other type of teaching, brings with it its own set of requirements and challenges.
Being a Montessori teacher requires the educator to operate from a different paradigm to what is usually done in traditional schools. Instead of teaching through blackboards and books, materials are utilized. Instead of rote learning, experimentation is encouraged. Instead of rows of desks, work tables are scattered around the classroom.
In a Montessori classroom, it can be that no two students are at the same point in their learning, in fact, classes are usually a mix of students aged from 2-6, 6-9 or 9-12. This can seem hard to keep up with, but class sizes are usually smaller and each teacher has a teacher’s aide that supports them in the classroom activities.
The key point in being a Montessori teacher is that they hold a genuine interest in each and every child, and are committed to helping the children explore and learn to reach their utmost potential. When this is present in the teacher, it is easy to impart to the students a love of learning and discovery, as well as a feeling of empowerment from being trusted to work on their own in their own way.
In this regard, as Maria Montessori said in The Absorbent Mind:
“The first step an intending Montessori teacher must take is to prepare herself. For one thing, she must keep her imagination alive; for while, in the traditional schools, the teacher sees the immediate behavior of her pupils, knowing that she must look after them and what she has to teach, the Montessori teacher is constantly looking for a child who is not yet there.”