Montessori – The Role of the Teacher/Guide in a Montessori Classroom

Montessori – The Role of the Teacher/Guide in a Montessori Classroom

Are you considering enrolling your child in a Montessori school or daycare? How do you know if the teaching staff are ‘Montessori’ or not? This chapter outlines some key points in what to look for when you do observations at the school/centre that can help you to make the best decision for your family.

The Montessori teaching role is quite different from a traditional teaching role for a number of reasons. Below are some of the main factors that set the two educational philosophies apart:

Follow the child: The Montessori teacher has faith in the natural developmental ability of the child in the prepared environment, in the materials, the method and the interests of the child. The Montessori teacher will “follow the child” whereas a traditional teacher will be the leader of the child and dictate what the child will learn and when following a set national curriculum. 

Teach without ‘teaching’: In the Montessori method, teachers will “teach without teaching” focusing on the child’s learning and interacting with them on a ‘guide’ level, often stepping back to allow the child to draw their own conclusions utilizing problem solving, therefore the child is an active participant in their learning which is very different to the traditional method in which the teacher is at the front of the classroom providing information for the children to learn; resulting in the child taking a passive role in their learning. 

Individualised lesson delivery: A Montessori teacher will interweave subjects and present this information one on one or to a small group of children who are developmentally ready and showing interest in the topic. A Traditional teacher will deliver set subject matter individually to the class of children regardless of the developmental requirements of an individual child which means unfortunately some children will always be ahead of, or behind the subject matter being taught (which is why you often see children misbehaving in class or becoming bored and disengaged).

Movement is encouraged: Traditional teachers will enforce the children to sit at their designated desks and be still and quiet during lessons and will set specific time limits for their work or lessons to be completed in. A Montessori teacher will allow the child to work where they are comfortable and to move and socialize within the work cycle, as long as they are not disturbing others. 

Intrinsic motivation used: Traditionally motivation is achieved by either reward or punishments, but in a Montessori environment the teacher knows the child’s satisfaction at completing their work brings its own reward; so rewards and punishments are not required. The Montessori teacher will focus on the child as a whole, emphasising their intellectual, social, emotional and spiritual development equally, whereas a traditional teacher’s main focus is on academic and intellectual development. 

Little or no ‘standardised testing: A Montessori teacher does not need standardized tests or gradings to get a snapshot of where the children are at. She has this knowledge on hand, up to date every single day by use of the Montessori tool – the Three Period Lesson. Each activity or lesson that is presented is demonstrated using this format. It allows the teacher to have insight into the level of  knowledge the child has absorbed and consolidated at each step of the lesson. This also ensures that no child is left behind as knowledge is confirmed at each step before moving on. The lesson has three periods, or parts, which are: naming, recognition and recall. A basic example is a teacher showing a child objects for the first time. The lesson would be “This is a ball and this is a bat” (naming). The next period would be “Can you point to the ball? Can you point to the bat?” (recognition – the child is able to identify the objects correctly, if they are unable to identify them correctly then period one ‘naming’ is repeated). The final step of the lesson would be “What is this?” (pointing to one object) “What is this?” (pointing to the second object – recall. This is asking the child to recall the name of each object, if they are unable to do this, you can return to the first two periods until the knowledge has been absorbed). As you can see, it is instantly evident where the child is at in their knowledge of the subject. The Montessori teacher works through materials in the curriculum in a set order (following the child) so she does not need a test to show her what she is already observing intimately every day in the classroom.

The role of a Montessori teacher is not for every person as it requires very particular characteristics. A Montessori teacher must truly have a love and understanding of children and the desire to help them to develop. Outstanding observation skills, flexibility to adapt, both within themselves and the environment, and excellent attention to detail are required as the children are constantly evolving and changing so staying ahead of the curve is essential! A Montessori teacher needs to have a genuine respect for the child and a non-judgemental attitude.

A Montessori teacher is the link between the child and the prepared environment, always tweaking the environment and evolving it to meet the child’s ever changing developmental needs and interests and then documenting the results. It is important that the teacher keeps the prepared environment in perfect condition as order is very important to the child. She must also ensure that the atmosphere of the classroom exudes beauty, to entice the child to want to engage with it and use the materials.

Observation of the child is absolutely essential so the teacher can interpret their needs and act accordingly. The teacher must judge the effectiveness of the environment and her own work daily, as well as the progress of each child to ensure their requirements are being met. Conferencing with individual students helps the teacher develop a deeper understanding of where each child is at academically. This knowledge helps support the child to work towards their personal goals and direct their own learning.

It is important that the teacher knows when to interfere in a situation, possibly as the peacemaker or when to simply observe. The Montessori teacher must be an exemplary role model displaying desirable behaviour for the children and emit an air of calm, consistency and grace in her actions as the children are always watching and learning by her example even if they don’t appear to be!

The role of a Montessori teacher is an honour and one I am proud to hold. If you are considering enrolling your child in Montessori education, keep these points in mind when you do your observations at the school or centre.

In the home environment it is unrealistic to try to take on the role of a Montessori educator as a stand alone role – you are also a parent! You have the everyday operations of the household to attend to, errands to run, people to visit etc. Compare that to the role of the teacher or guide in the classroom whose sole job and responsibility is to focus on the children all day (then they go home and do the house and life stuff – they aren’t multitasking!) – in the home setting you are trying to do all of this at once! So cut yourself some slack, you are doing an amazing job! You got this mama!

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