“I was myself strangely exhausted. I felt as if I was giving up some of my own inner strength. What we call encouragement, comfort, love, and respect are actually a drain on one’s soul, and the more lavish one is in this regard, the more one renews and reinvigorates the lives of those about him.”

May 29, 2020

 

You are not a superhero. 

 

Let me repeat that: you are not a superhero. 

 

None of us is. 

 

Not even Montessori herself. Even when our intentions are noble. Even when we seek to serve the child before we preserve our own pride. Even when we work long hours and prepare all weekend long. Even when the classrooms are running beautifully. Even when they are not. 


You are not a superhero. 

 

Teaching is a vocation that often calls us to heroic commitment, and Montessori teaching all the more so. We work toward an unknown horizon. We work with a faith in outcomes that none of us have ever seen completely, toward the development of a new society and a new man. We know we are doing our work best when we are no longer needed, when we can disappear from the classroom without the children knowing we are gone. This is not a typical profession, in which we will be promoted and earn more titles and more celebrity the better we get at the work. In our profession, the better we are, the less you know about us. It is all outward energy.

 

But you are also not a martyr. Montessori does not call us to sacrifice ourselves, to enslave ourselves to our classroom or to the children. Being exhausted by the work is not the same as being eroded by it. Exhaustion is that satisfied feeling of leaving it all on the field, knowing that you’ve done your work well and renewed the lives of the children. When we are exhausted at the end of of one day, we wake afresh the next. When we are eroded, we lose ourselves in the work entirely. We cannot be replenished. We cannot be renewed. 

 

There is a necessary balance here, if we are to preserve the sacred exhaustion of this work without degrading into the inhumane erosion. If we are to share our souls generously with the children, we need to have measures by which we regenerate them. We need to be reinvigorated and renewed as lavishly as we allow that for the children, or we will find ourselves with very little left to give. 

 

You are not a superhero. 

 

None of us is. 

 

Not even Montessori herself. 

 

Remember that, particularly when you feel the exhaustion begin to shift to erosion. We can recover from exhaustion by our own rest, by self-care and space. And often that’s enough. But just as often, preventing exhaustion from becoming erosion means asking for help, help for which few of us like to ask, help which many of us would prefer to believe we don’t need. 

 

Imagine your teaching is like a long race. You have prepared for it. You’ve trained and eaten well. You’ve dressed for the challenge and built your endurance. Maybe you are running alone. Maybe you are running with a friend. But when you finish, even in your exhaustion, you are confident in the challenge you’ve met. You are pleased with your effort. 

 

Now, imagine that you injure yourself along the way. And instead of taking care, instead of slowing down or asking for ice or using a friend’s shoulder to bear your weight, you keep running. You run even though it hurts. You run past all the messages your body is giving you to stop. And when you are done, the damage you’ve inflicted on yourself keeps you from running again for a while. You might finish the race, but you’ve done so in a way that prevents you from lacing up the next day. 

 

Ask for the help you need. Maybe it means taking things more slowly, or letting someone else bear the weight for a while. Maybe it means changing your strategy, learning how to move in a different way. Asking for help allows us to stay in the race. And it reminds the other teachers who are running this same race that they are not alone either. You’ll be there to bear their weight. They’ll be there to help cheer you on. That’s the lavish we offer to each other, the encouragement, comfort, love and respect that invigorate our lives as adults as they invigorate the lives of the children. 

 

You are not a superhero. But nor are you alone. 

 

* A response Chapter 2, Part 1, The History of the Method The Discovery of the Child. M. Montessori

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