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The sacred work of teaching
Happy Friday, everyone.
And happy Teacher Appreciation Week!
“Appreciation” and “gratitude” are words that feel too weak to capture the sentiment I have for the role of the educator. A term like “reverence” comes closer, but still doesn’t get all the way there.
Montessori wanted, above all, to seed a certain sort of virtue in children. She thought that things like persistence and generosity, like thought and honesty, emerged from thousands of specific instances of a certain pattern: to concentrate on a fascinating object, to be our best self in response to a challenge, to surrender to our own curiosity about a proximal mystery, to fill childhood with days where the choice is made “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield”.
She also recognized that this moral development in children could only be achieved by a transformation of the role of the educator. Like with the child, this transformation is a moral transformation, one that supervenes upon thousands of hours of deliberate practice of skill-embedded virtue.
“In our concept of self-education the teacher's activity becomes prudent, delicate and multiform. Her words, her energy, her severity, are no longer necessary; they are replaced by a watchful wisdom and by spreading her attention to the whole of the community. Her task consists in serving, in going to assistance and in retiring; in talking or being silent according to the case. As you see, to do this she must acquire a moral essence which has never been asked of her by any other method: she must be calm, patient, charitable, humble. In the old method her preparation was the use of instructing words. Here it is the mastery and possession of virtue.” (Montessori, “La Maestra”, L2)
But here, on the final day of teacher appreciation week, I just want to focus on the virtue itself. The ability to educate—to teach, to guide, to observe and diagnose, to catch, to inspire—represents a tremendous self-creation.
If you embrace the demands of this craft, you have chosen a way of being that is as much about you as it is about the children you serve. It is something chosen by you and created by you, something that lives inside you and is so deeply yours that it isn’t just yours but is you, your very self.
If you’re a teacher reading this: I am grateful beyond words for the thought and work you are putting into creating yourself. I appreciate you because this is the journey you’ve chosen, and because your capacity to find joy in it speaks to some greatness in you.
I know, from personal experience as a teacher (which is how I still regard myself), that the journey is a struggle. There is the happiness of connecting with children and families, but there is also the pain of missed connections and of false starts at inspiration. There is the lesson or presentation, meticulously planned and practiced, that goes well, that is met with hungry eyes and followed by eager interest. And there is the one, also meticulously planned and practiced, that goes poorly, that is met with muted interest or indifference.
But with some distance, I can say with great confidence that it is glorious. It is all part of one process, one practice of virtue, that adds up to your very person and that absolutely delivers your best to your students. But equally, that delivers the best to you—in the way your career evolves, the way your relationships evolve, the way you draw meaning across life.
And in case there’s one of you who, at the end of teacher appreciation week, does not feel this way, let me assert it on your behalf: you are both building future greatness in yourselves and your students, and you are great here and now, today. Your greatness is seen.
Montessori had demanding, elevated standards for teachers, expressed in intimidating passages like the following:
“An English poet wrote of a teacher that she should be like an angel, protective and sweet and dignified. The children will feel a sense of security when they are near this superior person. The teacher must be everything that is perfect.” (Montessori, 1946 London Lectures, L33)
Perfection is not a flawless, unchanging state, but an ambitious process. By undertaking it with devotion—a major, ongoing commitment full of stress and sweat and joy—you thereby achieve it. So, thank you.
First we shined a light on guides at Folsom, including Mr. Dominic, a software developer turned Montessori educator, who can inspire us all with his aspirations:
“I try to keep in mind my students fifteen or twenty years from now and how they'll view the long-run effect these years had on their lives. I hope to provide an incredible foundation that enables them to thrive and move towards their chosen goals and values as they develop into capable, happy adults.” –Mr. Dominic
Then, we took note of some exceptional guides at Lawrenceville, including Ms. Lex, who joined Guidepost knowing nothing about Montessori and, two years later, is leading her own toddler class:
“She is fiercely dedicated to her students and works hard every day to give them the consistency, structure, and excellent education they deserve.” –Allison Angelou, Head of School at Guidepost at Lawrenceville
Next, we discovered the global origins of our Fort Mason team, including Mr. Hugo, who become a guide after interacting with Montessori students for the first time:
“Mr. Hugo’s goal for his students is to give them “the keys to the universe”—to take their big questions about the world and give them the tools to start to answer them for themselves. … He believes by giving them the tools to think, question, and evaluate the world, there will be no limit to what they can learn going forward.”
Finally, we highlighted two members of the toddler team at Evanston, including Ms. Christina, who has been at the campus since it first opened its doors two years ago:
“Ms. Christina is a true gem. She has instilled confidence in us from day one of our child’s journey with Guidepost. She is so warm and compassionate with the children, and we couldn’t feel better about leaving our daughter with her every day.” –Guidepost Parent
Have a truly wonderful weekend,
Founder and CEO, Higher Ground Education