They’re Called “Guides”
Thoughts & Reflections
There’s this beautiful quote from Dr. Montessori’s Words of Advice to Teachers, published 95 years ago.
“She must give her lesson, plant the seed and then disappear; observing and waiting, but not touching.”
May 6th marks the anniversary of Dr. Montessori’s passing, and, like many dates of note, often has us feeling a bit sentimental. We’re grateful for the path she started for us. We’re humbled by the responsibility. We’re hopeful for work yet to be done.
It’s natural, though no pun intended, that they’re called “Guides.”
We occasionally call them Teachers, since Montessori is known for using rather inaccessible vernacular and Teacher is a more common term, though, inside Montessori circles, it’s not quite accurate, is it?
We also will hear the phrase Directress, which is often what Dr. Montessori herself used, but many of us have emotional responses to this one, with connotations of power, or cultural biases that make us hesitant to embrace it.
But Guide is probably most accurate.
Montessori aside, what does a Guide do?
A Guide can be a map, a book, showing “You are here,” helping us make sense of our surroundings. It shows us the big picture, how we’re really not that lost, or even if we are more lost than even we thought, there’s a way out. It’s seeing the forest for the trees.
A Guide can be a pointer. A special talisman or touchstone. Base. A pointer on the path, yep, keep going forward! Flags or markers, each within sight of the last but just barely, until oh my how did we come so far?
A Guide can be a partner. Though in Western culture the term “sherpa” is often used inaccurately, a Guide can be a Sherpa. Acutely acclimated to this place and time, keeping the climber company on this part of the journey, navigating the path, mitigating the obstacles, knowing when it’s safe to move forward, when we’d be better served by going back.
Just as a climber could not make it up the mountain without the sherpa, the guide makes all the work the child does possible.
Dr. Montessori writes that children are the ones educating themselves, that we are the ones putting them in touch with the experiences. We say the children will figure it out but not if we are not guiding them. We do not just set them free in the classroom, close the door, and hope for the best. After all, so much of what we’re guiding children into is arbitrary. They’ll learn language but only the ones their exposed to and have an opportunity to practice. They’ll embody the pro-social behaviors we model and expect from them. Would they read if there were no books? Would they develop long division just by looking at the Racks and Tubes? Would they tuck in chairs and arrange flowers and scrub tables just because those things are on the shelf? Maybe, but maybe they’d also be like a certain undersea human-fish with her Thingamabobs and Dinglehoppers.
We guide. We point in the right direction. We say “you are here” and we say where we’ve been and where we’re going. We’re Base. We can read the signs and know when it’s time to back off and when it’s time to jump in, when the way we serve the child best is by staying out of their way, and when the way we aid their development is by jumping in.
Yes, we’re Guides. Dr. Montessori guided us here, the children will guide us; what an appropriate term.
Written by:Charlotte Snyder