Montessori emphasized that it was not enough to create a perfect environment for a child. There must be a living entity to direct that environment, a trained adult who would ensure that the environment keeps pace with the constantly changing needs of the growing child. That adult would not be a figure who imposed knowledge upon a child, but rather a servant and guide to the child’s natural quest for discovery and information. The teacher in a Montessori environment must be an extraordinary individual for whom life represents growing and not just existing.
The Montessori teacher works in combination with the environment to fulfill the needs of the child. It is the child, and not the teacher, who is the active agent in the environment. The objects found in the classroom, therefore, do not serve as aids to the teacher in “teaching” but, instead, as aids to the child in his “discovery” of knowledge. It is essential that the child make his choices directed by inner needs, tendencies and special interests, and be primarily motivated by the object, and not the teacher.
What is the function of the teacher, if not to be the active teaching agent of the child? Her jobs are many and of great importance. Her main function is one of observer. She serves the child best by watching and responding to his needs of the moment; by remaining calm, patient, open-minded, charitable, loving and humble; and by sublimating her desire to “do” for the child what he is capable of doing for himself.
The teacher functions as a link between the materials in the environment and the child. Her delicate role as a guide to the environment requires that she have a good working knowledge of the materials and their function in the child’s development. She acts as a director, helping the child to make suitable choices and, then, presenting the materials so that he not only understands them, but is excited by them.
And lastly, but most importantly, she must not hold back the minds of children that are more developed by presenting lessons too late, or discourage those who are not prepared for any given piece of work by presenting a lesson too early.