When a beloved teacher walks into your office and says she is moving out of state, what is your first thought? I must admit mine is usually, "Where will I find another one like her?"
And yet year after year we find them. But who are they? Where do they come from?
Dr. Maria Montessori first started training teachers more than a century ago. She often said she preferred individuals with no teaching experience, because they would have no bad habits or wrong concepts to unlearn. In those early days, would-be Montessori teachers were drawn to the good doctor's method due to its word-of-mouth, or in some quarters, its cause celebre. Dr. Montessori had literally become world famous overnight, and news of her first school, the Casa de Bambini, spread throughout the European continent like wildfire. She was her own method's best advertisement.
But in the 21st century, no such figure exists. If universities do mention the Montessori method to students in their education department, it is often relegated to a small unit of study, or simply not mentioned at all. Montessori educators often find out about the method through happenstance, as I did, or as my mentor did, or as his mentor did. Sometimes children are the best endorsement, for children that attend Montessori schools act rather differently than children raised in traditional settings. At least, they appear different to that future Montessori teacher.
What allows an individual to see those differences, and how do we discuss this without sounding arrogant? After all, Montessori would say that the first step in preparation of teachers would be the elimination of all conceit and pride. One of Montessori's chief collaborators during those early years was a man named E.M. Standing, who directed Montessori training in the UK, India and Italy for three decades. He wrote in 1957 that a true Montessori teacher would first need to "purify her heart and render it burning with charity towards the child. She must 'put on humility'; and above all, learn how to serve....Ability to do this can only be attained through a genuine inner effort towards self-perfection."
Montessori had this to say, which is particularly interesting in that Benito Mussolini ruled for 20 years in Montessori's homeland, "Now a person in a position of undisputed authority, free from all criticism, is in great danger of becoming a tyrant. The stage will be that he comes to claim this undisputed authority as his right; and will regard any offense against it--ipso facto--as a crime. Many teachers do, in fact, unconsciously come to regard themselves and their authority in this light; and claim dictatorial right over the child."
So the first step for a Montessori teacher to take, continues Standing, "...is to purge herself of these defects of tyranny....From this humility will be born a new respect for the soul of the child...something so rich and pure, so delicate and precious that it is a privilege to be with it."
With two decades of Montessori education now behind me, I can say that this humility is the thing I most look for and value in Montessori teachers. Not that Montessori teachers are saints or pushovers. Just the opposite in fact. They are continually working on themselves, and they will always advocate for what is best for the child and will go toe-to-toe with anyone who tries to do otherwise.
There are so many other facets to becoming a great Montessori teacher. There are the unique materials and their extensions, the philosophical underpinnings of why we do what we do, the record keeping, the continuing education, just to name a few. But none of those would mean anything if teachers didn't first make themselves worthy to work side by side with the children. There are many teachers out there in traditional quarters who already do this. And that makes me hopeful for the future, that Montessori education will continue to expand until it's the only method left standing. See below for a link to his book :)