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"Now, what really makes a teacher is love for the human child; for it is love that transforms the social duty of the educator into the higher consciousness of a mission." — Maria Montessori

Being a Montessori teacher is no small task. So much will be required of you. Is it worth it? Yes, very much so. You will find yourself as changed by the Montessori method as the children will and together, you’ll be able to change the world.

Great Montessori teachers come from varied backgrounds, from artists to scientists, mountain climbers and dancers to grandmothers; but what they all share is a commitment to the full development of the child. So, exactly what are the characteristics of a successful Montessori teacher? A good candidate for a Montessori teacher would be one that is an active and curious learner. They must respect a child's unique learning needs, and have an interest and respect for their students. This is definitely not a comprehensive list, but it’s a great starting point. At Creative Minds Montessori, we believe a Montessori teacher should:

1. Observe

This really can’t be stressed enough. Just like concentration is the key to the child’s ability to learn, observation is the key to the teacher’s ability to guide. You can’t know what to do or when to do it without observing, let alone know when it’s best to just leave things alone. Observation gives us a chance to see where the child is developmentally and what skills they are working on. It allows us to understand what lessons need to be presented and which ones need to be revisited. You will normally find our Montessori teachers carrying a notebook and making notes each day on the children in their classrooms.

2. Model correct behavior

“Good behavior is caught, not taught," so the saying goes. The children are watching our every move, and they will do what we do. Are we polite to others? Are we honest? Are we kind and courteous? Are we peaceful and grounded? Or are we complaining, gossiping and being loud? Never forget: The children are always watching us.

3. Take care of the classroom

At Creative Minds Montessori, the classroom is for the children and we must prepare it with them in mind. It is their special place and we need to show them how to take care of it. There should never be anything in the classroom that the children are not allowed to touch. They are shown how to use everything with purpose and how to carefully put it back once they are done. The children are able to clean up their own spills, take their shoes off and put them away neatly, and sweep the floors and clean the tables.

4. Lead the children toward independence

In a traditional classroom, the teacher is at the front of the room and is the center of attention. If you have a question, you ask the teacher. Creative Minds Montessori flips this on its head. The children, not the teacher, become the center of attention. The teacher sits with the children at a table or on the floor, blending into the class. An observer should have a hard time spotting them. The children learn to rely on the built-in "control of error" in the materials, on each other, on control cards or booklets. The teacher is the guide, directing them towards independence.

5. Remain curious

Curiosity is the driving force behind self-education. Human exploration and invention has been driven by curious people. We should always be ready to learn and never consider ourselves above anyone else or too experienced to learn from anyone else. Children are naturally curious and sometimes adults find that annoying. Montessori teachers shouldn’t; instead they should be delighted to make new discoveries.

6. Trust the Montessori method

This can be very hard. We have our own ideas about what we believe children should be doing and how quickly they should be advancing. We may daydream about how a perfect Montessori work time should go and we expect the children (and the adults around us) to see things our way. Yet when things turn rocky, it’s easy to believe the problem is with the Montessori method.

What we simply need to do is give ourselves, and the children, time. The children need time to become acclimated to a Montessori classroom and materials, which are different from anything else they see in the culture around them. We need to give them time for repetition, which is essential to the mastery of a skill. We need to give ourselves time to build a special relationship with each child. It doesn’t happen in a moment, a day, a week or even a month. But with consistency, careful attention and love, the children will begin to grow and mature. They will smooth out the rough edges of misbehavior and internalize the concepts of community, grace, courtesy, autonomy and self-confidence. Montessori, done correctly, works. Let’s never doubt that it does.

Maria Montessori said early in her work: “The education of teachers who are able to kindle flames rather than just fill vessels is not easy.” The Montessori method is philosophically different from other educational methods, and also very different from the personal educational background of most adults who become Montessori teachers. Montessori education has worked all over the world, with all kinds of children and environments. And at Creative Minds Montessori we believe that it’s not the richness of the environment that determines the success of the Montessori method, but the preparation of a really great teacher.

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Diane M. Bauso is head of school for Creative Minds Montessori, 169 Genesee St., Auburn. She can be reached at (315) 406-9495 or auburncmms.com.

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Features editor for The Citizen.