Normalization of the child

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“Let us remember that inner discipline is something to come, and not something already present. Our task is to show the way to discipline” (The Absorbent Mind, 26, pg. 240). Discipline in the Montessori setting should be regarded as a point of arrival for the child. Rather than equating discipline to the breaking of the will, our goal is to assist in the development and strengthening of the child’s will and sense of self. A Montessori classroom offers numerous opportunities for the child to develop his will, and therefore, facilitate the emergence of discipline. A key component to this concept is the role of the teacher. Through careful observation, she is able to determine which lessons to present to each child. Once the child has been presented lessons, he will then be able to make choices within the classroom. These choices in turn, ultimately lead the child to self-discipline and the development of the will.
Montessori indicated that there are three distinct Stages of Discipline, or Levels of Obedience referring to them as The Call, Apparent Order, and Discipline. Behaviors of disorder manifest themselves in the children during the stage of The Call. Montessori also described this first level of obedience as having impulsive traits. That is, the child is able to obey only because his desires match the adult’s direction. Of paramount importance during this phase is the teacher’s duty to present herself in a more traditional manner. She therefore, becomes the center of the classroom and not only must care for the total environment but also intervene to prevent disorder. Likewise, this is a time for the teacher’s ‘call’ to the materials. She must present as many lessons as possible in order to assist the children in their choices. Eventually, this will lead to the second stage of discipline.
The Second level of Obedience is also known as a stage of discipline called Apparent Order. The level of discipline attained at this phase is characterized by the child’s requirement of needing the presence of an adult in order to maintain discipline. The child is capable of doing all that is asked of him, however, his follow through is not intrinsic. “The appearance of discipline which may be obtained is actually very fragile, and the teacher, who is constantly warding off a disorder which she feels to be ‘in the air,’ is kept in a state of tension” (The Absorbent Mind, 26, pg. 246). A deeper undercurrent of discipline can be attained with the teacher’s response of presenting more lessons during the Second Level of Obedience. Furthermore, she must act at a “gatekeeper” and entice the children to the materials so that the child’s inner needs will be nourished. The teacher’s skills of intervention of disturbing activities must also remain in the forefront as children progress through this stage of discipline. This will eventually lead the way to the emergence of the final phase of discipline.
Montessori’s observations and recordings gave evidence to the fact that discipline is achieved when the child was intellectually nourished. The normal state of childhood is therefore the third stage of discipline, when Montessori coined the term, ‘Normalized Child.” Montessori referred to this term to describe the characteristics of the third level of obedience, that is, the true nature of childhood. She maintained that children whose needs are met and are able to develop freely, will not exhibit typical patterns of childhood behavior including tantrums, crying, or possessiveness. Rather, the normalized child will show a love of work and order, a love of silence and working alone. He will also show tendencies to work well in a group with a sense of community and be able to show profound concentration, independence, and obedience. Furthermore, a child who shows the true nature of childhood is rooted with an attachment to reality. Likewise, he submits to the possessive will because he now knows about the world around him. Most importantly, if the “child’s true personality is allowed to construct itself normally,” we find he is filled with a sense of joy, and only then, will we see the child for who he truly is.
Throughout all levels of discipline, the teacher must also keep to the principle of freedom within limits. The children are free to choose the materials with which they want to work for as long as they wish, as long as they have had a lesson. The children must also respect the work of others and cannot disrupt others in deep concentration. It is the teacher’s responsibility to assure that this idea manifests itself in the classroom. Likewise, the teacher should be versed in the art of knowing when to intervene and when not to intervene. If a child is concentrating on a task and is not bothering others or not using the materials inappropriately, the teacher should not intervene. If, however, the teacher observes incidents which are dangerous, destructive, or disrespectful, she must intervene at once. Once the teacher identifies the level of obedience within her children, she will then be able to respond in the appropriate manner. Undoubtedly, this will facilitate our single, most important task as Montessori educators – the emergence of the Normalized Child.
“Montessori teachers are not servants of the child…to wash, dress and feed him – they know that he must do these things for himself in developing independence. We must help the child act for himself, will for himself, think for himself” (Education for a New World, 13, pg. 69). A teacher in the Montessori classroom setting plays a remarkable role. It is one which functions as a ‘dynamic link’ between herself, the children and the environment. Not only does the teacher remain a vital element between the children and herself, but she also holds a deep understanding of the specially prepared environment. “Once the environment exists the directress will become the link between it and the children…This requires a great variety of qualities – knowledge, patience, observation, discrimination, tact, sympathy – and above all, charity” (Standing, 18, pg. 305). Of paramount importance in her role as a ‘dynamic link,’ is the teacher’s own spiritual preparation. The teacher comes to the classroom filled not with pride or anger, but rather with a sense of humility in the presence of such dignified beings. All of these aspects work together in the role of the Montessori teacher and culminates in achieving the ultimate goal of which Montessori herself describes as “the revelation.” Here, one will see, “an entirely new child whose astonishing characteristics can eventually contribute to the betterment of the world.”
One of the first duties the teacher has in her role as the ‘dynamic link’ is to meticulously prepare the environment. For example, all materials and apparatus should be in pristine condition, complete, and in their proper places. The Montessori teacher constantly assures that all items in the classroom are ready for use. Montessori elaborates, “It is one of the main duties of the directress to maintain order in the environment; and be ever on the watch lest it be impaired in the smallest degree…everything must be always and absolutely in its right place” (Standing, 16, pg. 271). Likewise, the teacher herself should appear neat and orderly, for her presence in the environment impacts the core of the classroom. She must study her own actions and movement in order that a sense of calm and peace may permeate throughout the environment.
The teacher in the Montessori Early Childhood classroom entices the children to activities and lessons and awakens the child’s interests. She remains enthusiastic about the subjects introduced while always maintaining the art of observation. Observation of the child is a critical element in the role of a teacher in the Montessori setting. “The way in which we observe a child is extremely important. It is not sufficient to have a merely theoretical knowledge of the education.” (Standing, 22. pg. 149). Furthermore, the teacher must rid herself of any predisposed judgment of any child. The Montessori teacher who is gifted in the science of observation will undoubtedly be able to effectively guide the child as he progresses in the prepared environment throughout all areas of the classroom.
Another key element in the role of teacher in the classroom is her ability to “teach teaching, not correcting.” The teacher must be very careful in the way she corrects mistakes. One of the attributes of the Montessori environment is that the autodidactic materials uphold this maxim. If a child makes a mistake, he will soon discover it on his own through continued use of the materials. Therefore, the need for adult intervention is minimized, and consequently it paves the child’s way to a joy of self-discovery. “The whole art of being a Montessori directress…lies in knowing when to intervene and when not to. The general rule is that the teacher should not intervene when she finds the child engaged in some spontaneous activity which is orderly and creative” (Standing, 18, pg. 297). Montessori further proposes that as soon as a child has found work and shows deep concentration, the teacher, at this point, should refrain from any type of interruption. A simple, “Good job!” or “Nice work!” might suddenly disturb the working child and break his profound concentration. “A guiding principle which brings success…is this: as soon as concentration has begun, act as if the child does not exist” (The Absorbent Mind, 27, pg.255). Naturally, Montessori also notes a teacher should respond to a child who enthusiastically shows her work, being careful not to praise in such way which would promote the teacher’s will. The child should be encouraged through the teacher’s interest in her work, rather than seeking the teacher’s merit or approval.
The Montessori teacher’s work in preparing the classroom coupled with her interactions among the children, enables her to provide the children the most positive means by which they can absorb the environment. The greatest sign of success for a teacher is to exclaim, “The children are now working as if I do not exist” (The Absorbent Mind, 27, pg. 259). Montessori uses the term ‘normalization’ to describe this unique process a child experiences in the classroom.
Montessori described the Normalized Child is “one who has overcome himself and lives in peace and harmony with the environment preferring disciplined tasks to futile idleness.” She believed that children are born with innate capacities for self-governance which should develop freely. She also suggested that the greatest obstacles to development of these natural instincts in children are adults. Therefore, the Montessori teacher must ensure that the classroom provides activities and motives for Normalization to occur. This is due to the fact that Normalization emerges as a result of deep concentration. While a Montessori teacher spends a great deal of time on the preparation of the classroom, materials and lessons, the focus of the teacher’s duty is the normalization of each student. The materials chosen by the children will engage them and lead them to self-discovery and awareness. Montessori’s definition of Normalization demonstrates the profound scope of our responsibilities as Montessori teachers.
Ultimately, it is the teacher’s role as the ‘dynamic link’ which allows the process of Normalization to occur. One must not forget, however, that it cannot occur immediately. The teacher must also prepare herself for a period of practice which may take many years. The ‘Spiritually Prepared’ teacher will recognize this critical factor, and through her practice as an observer of children, can further observe the spiritual growth within herself.
The role of the teacher is therefore, “to watch with humble reverence, day by day, the spontaneous unfolding of the children’s lives; seeking always to remove obstacles, both internal and external from their path, whilst she guides with science and sympathy the irrepressible energies of life” (Standing, 18, pg. 318). The ‘spiritually prepared’ teacher will do so with a joyous heart. Only then can the most important factor in her role can be established, that is, to see the child for who he really is.