A Montessori guide’s role appears understated, but it is a complex and demanding position. She exudes a sense of calm, but her mind is always active and alert.
We fall in love with Montessori when we witness the child’s joy as he discovers something new all on his own. There is nothing quite like the peaceful hum of a Montessori classroom in motion. Busy hands and smiling faces fill the room. But how did it get this way? The teacher may be sitting quietly and to the side, but she plays a major and irreplaceable role.
Montessori teachers do not lecture or teach lessons to their classes all at once. They do not call their classes to attention in the middle of their work to make an announcement about hot lunch. Guides know better than to interrupt their students’ focus. But the whole classroom experience has been carefully designed behind the scenes.
A Montessori guide has the grand responsibility of managing her classroom. She does this by creating an atmosphere where children are front and center. They feel respected and capable.
Setting the Tone
Teachers have an overwhelming influence on the classroom’s overall feeling. Often, they do not realize how much of an impact they make, or how simply this works.
Children naturally reflect the moods of the adult leader in a setting. They instinctively look to their teacher to decide how to act and feel. Therefore, a guide must always keep a calm and peaceful demeanor. Our young students need this because they are naturally anxious.
When the adult’s voice is low and slow, so will be the children’s. When little ones ask questions in an upset or apprehensive tone, responding in a relaxed tone will relax them.
Throughout teaching and all interactions with students, the teacher is always controlling the overall tone in the room. She must be aware of this influence because it will happen whether she knows it or not.
A Montessori teacher is constantly watching and observing her students. Collecting data on a moment to moment basis is one of her primary responsibilities. The guide must know her learners’ strengths, weaknesses, desires, and interests. She must keep a running tab of where they are developmentally and make a note whenever they are ready for a new lesson.
That being said, we want to watch our kids more than our notebooks. Record-keeping helps, but we must ensure that it does not take away from pure observation. When we are writing things down, our students are still showing us more. A guide must develop the skill of quiet observation.
Quiet observation should be invisible to the children. It can help to literally hide a little bit back behind a student while observing. The students’ focus must not be broken, and there is nothing quite as distracting as knowing when you are being watched.
Preparing the Environment
The physical environment is the portal through which Montessori students learn. Instead of listening or reading information, young children learn by doing and being. When you boil it down, the guide’s single most important task is to prepare the environment.
Observation is the gathering of data so that the teacher can correctly prepare the environment. Setting the tone is really part of preparing the environment, but here we discuss the physical environment. Setting the tone teaches the kids how to interact with the materials. But first, the materials themselves must be selected and made accessible.
When we prepare the classroom, we consider access. This begins with the physical. Can our learners reach the coat hooks and is the traffic flow smooth? Materials are at eye level on the shelves. The room is comfortable and the materials are right on level.
Sometimes, we use our knowledge of the general age level in the classroom, but abilities vary. We need to always know each of our students and prepare a room for them.
Allowing for Freedom while Maintaining Limits Everything we do as Montessori teachers promotes the independence of our students. That means we give them freedom. But this freedom comes with limits. It is up to us to teach them how to handle the autonomy they so desperately crave. We walk a line between reeling them in and letting them out.