Becoming a Directress: Montessori Style Teaching in Preschool
The Montessori teacher must adapt to many roles. She has to observe each child to determine his individual needs and learning style. She must then tweak the Montessori environment to guide the children along their best learning paths. She must be knowledgeable in Montessori philosophy, child development and psychology. She requires excellent social skills, both for working with other teachers and parents, and also for imparting upon her charges. At the same time, she must also be aware of her own self and needs.
Maria Montessori also adopted Edouard Seguin's ideas that the teacher needed to be well-received. Her voice, spirit, and outward appearance must cultivate and inspire at all times.
The Montessori teacher is an observer. He is constantly watching the children to see what drives each one, what her learning styles are, how she interacts with people and works in her environment. He watches how she manipulates each activity, and where she is demonstrating mastery so that he knows which lesson she will next require. He looks for particular interests so that he can cultivate them. He seeks areas of strength and weakness to determine how to nurture her spirit.
At the same time, he is observing the classroom environment. He pays close attention to the layout of the room and asks himself the following questions: Can the children safely walk around without getting hurt? Is there a natural traffic pattern that allows for fluid movement around the classroom? Is there adequate space for children to accomplish their activities? Which areas and activities are popular? Which areas and activities are being ignored? How can I breathe life back into those areas? Or, is it time to change them?
The Montessori teacher is always observing, even when sitting down at a lesson. He always positions himself in such a way that he can see what is going on around the classroom at all times. When setting up the classroom, he allows for no place where a child can hide away from view. He must be adept at multi-tasking.
Part of his observational role is to also objectively record what he sees. Later, he will reflect upon his notes to help him continue to adapt the environment and present materials accordingly.
Maria Montessori preferred to use the term "directress" over teacher. The teacher is actually directing the child along his educational journey. She directs him in the method of using a material, then leaves him free to explore it again and again. She guides him along a prescribed path of learning, each activity building upon the one before it, as she presents his lessons. She also manipulates the environment to naturally guide the children along this same path. Activities are placed on the shelf in sequential order, from top-to-bottom and left-to-right, the same direction in which one reads.
She also directs a child to constructive activity if he seems to be lost. She serves as a guide for proper behavior and self-control as she models these in her every move. She keeps herself clean, and well-kept to act as an example. The Montessori teacher's role consists of preparing the child for life, not just academics.