One of the most delicate pieces of work for a Montessori teacher is the pacing of instruction and work time in a class. It is an artful balance that is constantly undergoing evaluation and dips slightly from side to side as student involvement and time direct.
There are many pieces at play here. The teacher greets each student first and foremost as unique and capable, possessing her/his personal set of strengths and needs. The companion filter to this is the scope and sequence of the Montessori curricula, all within the greater framework of state-established content standards. Using both of these ways of knowing, the teacher then embarks on a remarkable journey of attempting to meet each student where s/he is – every student, within the spectrum of abilities and across the curriculum for each area of study.
This seems, at times, a precarious balance indeed as the needs of students, teachers, parents, administrators and governing educational bodies each stake their claim in the process. It is a dynamic system, one that requires patience on the part of all stakeholders and a willingness to first consider and then stretch to test ideas beyond one’s own comfort zones.
It should be said that teachers in a Montessori environment strive towards “life enriching education”; that is, time spent in school that inspires, awakens and enlivens a love of learning. With an understanding of individual readiness, drive and need for support the teacher forges a plan for the class and individual students that works – one that is flexible and may change over time.
Many students do exceedingly well with independence and personal responsibility. Others require more guidance, scaffolding and structure. This simplified spectrum of learning styles can, naturally, be time and place dependent. Sometimes those self-motivated students may resist being told what to do (given their past independent successes) and those children who often require the most assistance want to be left to their own devices to plan for and figure out work on their own.
Each classroom is different and each year is different, given the turnover of roughly one-third of the class in our multi-age classrooms. The culture that is created within a class is a mixture of teacher personality, skill and expectations; student experience, sense of self, tendency towards academic rigor and social responsibility; and, parent involvement, personal schooling experience, understanding of and faith in the Montessori process, view of their child, and view of their child within the context her/his future.
One of the pieces of learned wisdom that gets lost in the process, is the teacher’s experience with children in an educational atmosphere where freedom, choice and directive instruction combine to make a workable whole. Some students and parents, for example, may cry out at a perceived lack of prescriptive lessons, while others claim that there’s too much. What isn’t seen (or shared, perhaps) is the learned sense of what works for children of many stripes over time.
A Montessori teacher sees in three-year cycles. While s/he is very much aware of established performance expectations and exit criteria, s/he also has the hindsight of knowing what resonates for children – through the years, for students of varying interests and abilities. As such, it is across the three-year flow that the teacher plots the arc of a child’s growth and development. Along this curve s/he supports the needs and extends the strengths to new levels as is appropriate - given the balance of a wide and rich set of curricula.
We all have a part to play in the process of a child’s social and academic development. Given measured modeling from each of the stakeholders we can trust the child to arrive at the sweet balance point when it’s time. If we take our cues first from the child, while listening critically to those voices in our head, we stand to create remarkable possibilities.