In each of us, there is a deep desire to do what is right by the children in our care. How that is defined can look very different from person to person - formed by our own educational experiences, the pedagogical leaders who have inspired us, and interpretation of our greater mandate of service to the child.
We are all heirs to the magic of the Montessori method. That magic, that beautiful sorcery, is potent and powerful. We have each felt the incredible resonance of the work as novice teachers, and have seen the deeply meaningful results that come about from our progressively collaborative work with children.
Young and veteran practitioners alike may feel great allegiance to their particular Montessori training: the overarching pedagogical framework of the training center and specific selection and sequence of presentations, as well as the trainers themselves whom - for many teachers - are revered as disciples of the Montessori gospel.
We must be aware of, however, and guard against the tendency for individual experience, technical proficiency and opinion to be confused with mastery. Teachers and administrators alike can become trapped within these definitions. Through entrenchment in one’s own interpretation of what constitutes authentic Montessori pedagogy, or conscious disregard of other people’s perspectives, a perverse arrogance can develop that is more about the security and reputation of the adult than the needs of the child.
We cannot lose sight of the fact that our work is precious. To at all interfere with the essential ask - that of being an aid to life - is to undermine our duty as shepherds of the future. We have to look beyond our individual beliefs, our trainers and the covers of our cherished albums to see the child - revealed.
On April 4, 1967 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. addressed an assembly of clergy and concerned laity at New York City's Riverside Church regarding the war raging in Southeast Asia.
Part distraction and part paralysis, the nation was burdened with unwieldy and morally bankrupt domestic and foreign policy decisions predicated on a suite of beliefs, held by many in the federal legislature, of what was right: white superiority and anticommunist fervor. This allegiance not only risked endangering the lives of many, but also the image of the United States as a bastion of hope, freedom, and democracy.
Dr. King had watched with growing concern as the energy and momentum of the movement for civil rights at home had been sidelined by the government's attention to and financing of the war overseas, and he saw how such competing interests would serve neither area well.
King was moved to publicly comment on the issue in an effort to broaden his work for civil rights in the United States to include his desire for universal human rights the world over. His message was a call to action, ringing like a clarion bell, for an immediate cessation of violence in Vietnam and the prevention of the spread of the conflict.
In his talk, Dr. King said:
"We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late... We must move past indecision to action."
Our work is a gift to humanity. We cannot be distracted by petty allegiances and theoretical divisions. Like Dr. King, we must act boldly - led by our conscience - in the service of our students, their families, and our school communities.
To do so we need to reflect critically on our practice and its pedagogical foundation, while mindfully fostering the spiritual preparation of our staff through guided mentorship.
There is a predictable pattern to this evolution. Novice teachers can, indeed, become very attached to the technical aspects of the Montessori materials and sequence of lesson presentations taught in particular ways. This time is important as a deep understanding of place and purpose can come through meticulous practice. Within a few years, as strict reliance on one’s albums becomes less of a need, the focus on doing shifts and broadens a bit to now include a more open perspective.
When this settling occurs a teacher can more fully see the children. Suddenly, now shown in a new light, the needs of the students appear more faceted and complex than previously realized. This shift in perspective changes a teacher's response to become one less tied to particular materials and presentations, and more to the inherent aims behind them. The focus then lands on the skills in question, and not only the method of acquisition.
The journey of a Montessori teacher is measured not so much by mastering the specialized materials, but rather by coming to see the children with continually fresh eyes. Over time, and through thoughtful practice, the thin veils of personal preference and prejudice can be gradually drawn away to reveal a more distilled and accurate perspective of the child. When this happens both we and the children are as if newly born. Our response to their needs, then, becomes all the more centered and balanced and true.