Teacher Talk: The Freedom to Interact (or Not) as Teachers
Our first goal as Montessori teachers is to prepare environments within which children no longer notice our presence. So, how come this work can feel so exhausting so much of the time? Shouldn't we be increasingly blending into the background, disappearing as the children take greater and greater ownership of their own communities?
Make no mistake: invisible is not the same as passive. And some of the hardest work happens in the hours when the children aren't there. In order to prepare an environment that's truly responsive to the children it serves, you need to observe without ceasing, analyze those observations, enact the interventions those observations suggest and observe again... there is no "end" as a Montessori teacher, only an ever-present horizon for us to pursue.
Yes. It's exhausting. Now, add to that the other adults who also want your attention: the parents and colleagues, administrators and peers. This is a work that, for all our efforts at wall flowering, draws energy and engagement from us, physically, emotionally, intellectually, throughout the day and often long into the night.
It's ok to ask for space. When other adults pop in to ask, "Hey, do you have a second? I have a quick question?" it's ok to answer, "Not at this moment, but I can find you in ten minutes." It's ok to tell a parent in carline, "This conversation is important. Let's make time for it when we can sit down and really talk." It's ok to let your administrator know you need not to be disturbed during your lunch time, that you're going to spend some time in the garden or in the workroom or just in some quiet corner with your thoughts.
If we make ourselves available to every demand on demand, we leave nothing for our own spirits. And just like the children, we need both time with others and time by ourselves. In a vocation as outward-driven as teaching, you have to insist on that time. Far too often, the same personality traits that brought us to teaching, the empathy and compassion, the work ethic and humane-ness, make it hard for us to set boundaries around ourselves. It's hard to protect time for ourselves without feeling selfish. But when you design and follow through on the limits that protect yourself, you model for other teachers, for parents and for the children, that it is not only appropriate to learn how to graciously decline interaction; it's essential. If you're not so comfortable (yet) preserving time for yourself, tell yourself it's the "Self Care Lesson," and imagine that you are presenting it to the children. What kind of attention do you want children to learn to pay to their own spirits? What kind of limits do you want them to learn to develop to the demands of their communities? How much do you want them to live a life in balance? What are you doing to demonstrate those practices, the same way you demonstrate word-building or complex math lessons?
The need to interact doesn't end in childhood, but neither does the need to have protected space from interaction. The difference is in whether the environment will offer it to you or you'll have to design it for yourself. Either way, the need is there. Satisfy it.