Diary of a Teacher: Working as Though I Do Not Exist
“The greatest sign of success for a teacher..is to be able to say, ‘The children are now working as if I did not exist.’” – Maria Montessori
This ultimately is one of the goals of every Montessori teacher in their classroom: to be able to watch your students purposefully working and learning, as if you, the teacher, were not even in the room. This goal, while certainly not easy to achieve, when reached, is a thing of beauty to any Montessori teacher. It is so different from educational norms, that to some, it may look like the students are just teaching themselves and walking aimlessly around the classroom. In reality, there is so much more than what meets the eye. It is in this state that meaningful learning takes place and the students are both responsible and accountable for their education. But it doesn’t just happen in the blink of an eye. This student-directed learning requires constant observation by the teacher and a huge behind the scenes effort by the teacher.
Here is a glimpse of just some of my behind-the-scenes narrative and preparation:
- Student A is mastering every math lesson put in front of him. I know he is ready for square rooting. I need to make sure I’m prepared so I will need to practice the presentation on my own first and make sure I familiarize myself with the materials and all of the terminology…binomial squares, peg board, periods.
- I’ve noticed that Student B is still struggling with long division. He really struggled in yesterday’s group and when I checked in with his Albanesi work, he missed some steps. He’s already had the golden bead and stamp game presentation. I need to set time aside the next class to work one-on-one with him so he can be taught in another way, using racks and tubes.
- The students have just done the pin map and puzzle map of Africa and now it’s time to lure them to the cultural studies shelf to continue their Africa work. First step-I need to print off all the nomenclature cards of African culture, animals, instruments, and shelter and then cut them all out. The next step is to head to the laminator, followed by hours and hours of cutting and cutting and cutting. Once this material is made, I’ll need to find just the right basket to display it in, which of course I won’t have just the right one, so to the store I’ll go.
The Next Day in the Classroom
Like anticipated, Student A lets me know that he is ready for the square root presentation. I join him on the rug where he has his materials laid out and we begin working through the problem together using the peg board. After a couple problems, he says, “Ok, Ms. Shannon. I think I’ve got it. I’m ready to try it on my own.” I make a mental note to check back on him to make observations about his understanding. Later in the day, I invite Student B up for a one-on-one lesson on long division using a material he’s never used before: racks and tubes. He begins working through the problem on his own. I make a note to work with him tomorrow, this time transitioning that material to abstract computation. Shortly after, I look up and see a student walk up to the cultural studies shelf and carefully pick up the African work that I prepared the day before. She walks it slowly to her rug and begins to lay the cards out. There is intense focus as she completes the work. I watch as she self-checks her work and put the material back on the shelf, ready for the next student.
I continue to walk around the classroom, making observations and notes to put in place for yet another day. Some students are working on language, some are at rugs solving math problems. Others are using computers, typing out their research projects. I look around the room at all the students doing purposeful work. I am there to help them meet their educational needs, but it is behind the scenes where my work truly lives. I take a minute to revel in this, for to achieve them working as if I did not exist is no small feat. It takes a lot of dedication and a prepared environment for this to happen.
And when it does, there is nothing more magical.