Charlotte Mason Teaching Tuesdays – It Begins With Authority

CM Teaching TuesdaysI’m beginning a series of reflections on teaching and teachers based on Charlotte Mason’s writings.  I decided to do this because in recent reading in Charlotte Mason’s volumes, I just kept coming across these little gems on the topic of teaching, and they really began to stand out to me….and sink in.  I enjoyed visiting with these ideas over the last couple of months for a few reasons:

  1. These thoughts – these ideas – are usually fairly succinct.  And that’s not difficult to imagine, is it?  Because in a Charlotte Mason education, it’s the child that does the work by self effort.  {Volume 6, p. 6}  The teacher’s role isn’t so much diminished or devalued – not at all!!  The role of teacher is properly oriented so that she is not spoon-feeding, over-burdened, or driving the child’s every interaction in the day.  She is alongside.
  2. I found that these little gems of thought from CM on teaching pepper almost every volume of Charlotte Mason.  They’re not difficult to find, and together, they form an inspiring collection that help a CM educator remain focused and on-task – because the fruits of this education are in the long-haul.
  3. I can find ideas and reflections on teaching and the teacher’s role in a few sources outside of CM’s volumes – for example, in Eve Anderson’s excellent example in the Teacher Training Tool video series, and in Cholmondeley’s excellent work, The Story of Charlotte Mason.  And I found a lot in Parents’ Review Articles, too.

I think I’m in a good place for revisiting some of these ideas on teaching in particular because I’m spending some time considering my role as teacher these days.  And probably also because of where I happen to be along this road of home education right now.

My Perspective – Around the Block and Back Again

In a couple of weeks, I’ll be graduating my oldest and we’ve delighted in a Charlotte Mason education from the beginning right on through to graduation.  It was exhilarating – just as Charlotte Mason said it would be. Not perfect.  But exhilarating.  {By the way, I’m going to ask her if she’ll let me “interview” her on the blog at some point – would you like that? – give us her perspective on her CM home education and maybe ask her to share some of her post-graduation plans. She has some exciting plans! }.


So with Sarah done, next year I’ll have a son doing high school work, one son in mid-elementary, one daughter in lower elementary, and a rapidly growing toddler.  I’ve been around the block a bit, and it’s been a worthwhile and truly delightful trip around this Charlotte Mason block.

When my first was younger, I was focused on so much that was just right in front of me.  One step at a time.  And now…I feel like I have a grander perspective.  I’m eager to learn more and apply it.  I see where I’ve been (remember – it wasn’t perfect, ok; it was really good though!), and I’m delighted I’m headed there again…and again…and…and…  So I’m spending some time thinking about teaching.  And of course, that means I want to know what Charlotte Mason said about it.  I really value her thoughts on this because I’m so blessed to be sitting here looking at the fruits of a Charlotte Mason education – a perspective that is both reassuring and inspires me to want to learn more and apply more faithfully.

Teaching from Peace: Our Authority Comes From God

My lovingly worn copies of Charlotte Mason - handed down from my mom to me.  :) And treasured!

You know, in considering where to start this series on teaching I really wanted to start with something foundational.  And in considering that, it was easy to see that place: it begins with authority.  Where does it come from?  Who has it?  How is it exercised?  {Philosophy of Education, p. 73}

The teacher, or other head, may not be arbitrary but must act so evidently as one under authority that the children, quick to discern, see that he too must do the things he ought; and therefore that regulations are not made for his convenience.  (I am assuming that everyone entrusted with the bringing up of children recognizes the supreme Authority to Whom we are subject; without this recognition I do not see how it is possible to establish the nice relation which should exist between teacher and taught.)

Our authority derives from God.  If we teach with the understanding and recognition that our teaching authority is from God, and that we are under His authority, we are able to teach from a place of peace.  We exercise our teaching with kindness, respect and an awareness of the child as a person made in the Image of God.  In recognizing that we are in a position of authority, and with our teaching springing from that recognition, the relationship between teacher and taught is rightly ordered.  And with that – peace.

I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, or all roses and pretty-flowery-tiptoe-ing-through-the-tulips happiness…because that isn’t necessarily peace. In fact, it’s my experience that the above is the anti-thesis of peace – some sort of artificial, forced and contrived atmosphere that exists only in the imagination of one person – usually the mother – who may be idealizing everything…and this artificial feeling is easily toppled by the first challenge.  And challenges do come.

Peace is a confidence that springs from knowing you are doing what God wants you to do.  You’re living His will.  You’re working out your sanctification.  In teaching.  Living out virtue.  Pointing toward the good, true and beautiful, and living out the good, true and beautiful in the ordinary parts of your day.  And as with ANY growth in virtue – there WILL BE stretching…and pruning.  Oh my.  The pruning.  You know that this part is painful, right?  It hurts – the stripping of selfish, dis-ordered ideas of perfect days, perfect children, perfect responses.  {Instead of perfect, seek the best.}

Even in our growth as teachers, even when days are messy, we can teach from a place of peace because we exercise our God-given authority seeking after the good, true and beautiful.

Exercising authority can seem somewhat nebulous in living it out in the practical day-to-day.  Sometimes it helps to start with what authority is not:

  • It is not disorder – chaos does not reign
  • Authority does not arbitrarily give commands or dictatums
  • It does not motivate out of fear
  • It does not motivate with treats or rewards
  • It does not yield decisions to the child which are proper to the teacher – especially in the case of a child that may not want to do a particular assignment.
  • It is oriented toward growth in virtue
  • It recognizes that there can be value in the doing of a thing out of discipline
  • It expects cheerful obedience
  • It meets challenges with a spirit of willingness to brainstorm through a challenge {I think this point is really important because a lot of people think of authority meeting a challenge and they think of a result that looks more disciplinary in action, when authority would rather grow and stretch toward virtue within that challenge, as opposed to meeting out dictatorial demands}

Reading More….

There is great joy in teaching from a Charlotte Mason perspective.  To read more about authority in our role as teacher, read pages 1 – 24 in School Education.  And for some excellent background on teaching, authority and atmosphere, view this excellent video from Ambleside Schools International:

Well, in living out my Tuesday, it seems I’m barely going to get this post published in time to still call it a Teaching Tuesday post.  I hope that in considering teaching, you might consider your teaching role as grounded in the authority you’ve been given by God.  There are so many other great insights Charlotte Mason gives us on the topic of teaching – I hope you’ll join along if you’ve come across something in your own reading!  I’d love to hear your thoughts on authority in teaching!  Leave me a comment or write about it and link me!

This post will serve as an index of the posts in this series.  All of the posts in this series are also linked {look up…} in the blue navigation bar, under the title CM Teaching {hover your mouse over the title and a drop down menu will appear}.