Thursday, September 24, 2020

As If I Did Not Exist


I was hanging out with a group of kids on the playground, including a two-year-old girl I had just met. At some point she began to dance the way one does when nature calls. I knew she was relatively new to the world of underwear. I prompted, "Do you need to go potty?" She nodded so I said, "The toilet is inside."

We were a long way from the door, as far as one can be on the playground. She began heading that way, albeit without urgency, stopping here and there for a closer look, picking up stray items, but otherwise making her way in the general direction of the bathroom.

I'm not an expert in helping kids make the transition from diapers to underpants, but I've spent a lot of time around children who are in the process of learning. I know that many of them are still accustomed to being accompanied by an adult. I know that many can get distracted. I know that accidents happen, even with seasoned veterans. For these reasons I kept an eye on her as she made her way, knowing that she might need a reminder or a helper or some other support along the way. She didn't. When I later told her mother, she informed me that it wasn't the first time that she had demonstrated this sort of independence, but she was nevertheless impressed, as she should be: not every two-year-old handles using the toilet at our place for the first time with such aplomb.

The greatest sign of success for a teacher is to be able to say, "The children are now working as if I did not exist." ~Maria Montessori

What I did was provide information, then watch. I was ready to help, but she didn't need it, a fact that I could have only learned by not helping. I'm most "successful," I think, as an important adult in the life of a young child when I do not "exist." Of course, I help when help is needed or requested, although even then I try to do so minimally, lending my support with as light a touch as possible, before attempting to once more disappear.

I've not always been this sort of teacher, and I still sometimes inject myself into situations where I'm not needed, offering advice and opinions that are unnecessary or beside the point, but I know I'm doing it right when I find myself just watching, poised to help, on the balls of my feet, so to speak, but otherwise off to the side, not existing.

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I'm excited to announce that Teacher Tom's Second Book is now available in Australia and New Zealand as well as the US, Canada, the UK, Iceland, and Europe. And if you missed it, Teacher Tom's First Book is back in print as well. 

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