Spotlight On: Arbor’s Montessori Assistants

Montessori assistants are more than an extra adult in the room, or the people who clean the classrooms. They are an inspiration, guiding children through modeling and examples. They are an extra pair of hands, a watchful eye, and a comforting smile. Montessori assistants possess a positive, adaptable disposition, a friendly personality, and an understanding of the importance of contributing to the lives of children. The assistant plays an invaluable role in ensuring the overall success of a Montessori classroom. 

What’s the role of Montessori assistants in the classroom?

In the primary environment, the Montessori assistant plays an active role with the children. As the lead teacher presents lessons to individual children, the assistant is responsible for maintaining peace and order in the classroom as well as protecting the lesson from interruption. Knowledge and understanding of the Montessori philosophy and methodology are vital, along with a calm, respectful approach.

In an elementary environment, the Montessori assistant is an assistant to the teacher. They may supervise cooking and Going-Outs, but do not give lessons. Assistants even defer disagreements or curriculum questions to the lead teacher. They protect lessons by redirecting the children, cleaning the classroom and materials, making materials, supervising playtime, and acting as an extra set of eyes in the class. 

Why doesn’t the Adolescent Program have assistants? 

The Adolescent Program (AP) has more lead teachers, called guides, in the classroom than at other levels due to the differing needs of students. The foundation of the work is based on close interaction and observation between the guides and the adolescents. To enable this, there is a low ratio of students to guides. Each guide leads lessons in their chosen field, and each guide also oversees an advisory of students. They follow 8-10 students throughout their time in the AP, and serve as a first point of contact for parents and students alike. It is the advising guide’s role to ensure that their students grow and learn in a manner appropriate for adolescence.

Do assistants give lessons? 

Assistants don’t give lessons, but they may help the children if they have quick questions. They will direct the children to the lead teacher as needed and let the teacher know if a child is expressing uncertainty about work.

Are the assistants Montessori trained? 

A Montessori assistant does not need Montessori training to support their class. Having too many trained adults functioning as lead teachers in a class takes away from the independence of the children. The students are much more likely to rely on adult input than problem-solving on their own. It is very rare to see a team-taught Montessori class. However, it is important for assistants to have an understanding of Montessori theory and place a focus on supporting the children’s independence.

What does a typical day look like for an assistant?

In the primary environment, the Montessori assistant moves quietly through the classroom while the lead teacher presents lessons. They understand the importance of the uninterrupted three-hour work cycle, they value the children’s work, and see the necessity for intense concentration.They never interrupt a child who is working. If they see a child who needs help, they crouch down to the child’s eye level and quietly and respectfully ask, rather than taking over. They might say, “it looks as if you are struggling. Would you like me to help you?” If the answer is no, they respect the child’s wishes and only assist if the situation seems unsafe. If a child asks questions about a work or material, they make notes and ask the teacher at the end of the day. The primary assistant also helps the guide make materials and supports the maintenance of a beautiful classroom environment. 

An elementary Montessori assistant starts the day by preparing the classroom: cleaning high touch surface areas, setting out the snack, replenishing the supplies, etc. They assist with the morning carpool and take the class attendance. They might join the morning circle, or help children coming late to class acclimate while others are in their meeting. The morning may include jobs like refilling paper supplies, laminating materials, or laundry. Assistants also supervise experiments involving fire or help children with heat sources while cooking. At lunch and playtime, they help supervise the children along with the teacher. The afternoon work cycle continues in a very similar fashion. 

There is always so much to do in the classroom, and the assistant is always there, providing quiet, constant support. It is hard to encapsulate how valuable the assistants’ contribution is to each and every classroom. 

We asked some of our current assistants…

What inspires you in your classroom?

“When a lesson or concept finally clicks and you see the lightbulb go off in their eyes. For example, when the sixth year students are working on algebra and a few times Lora and I have explained something but it just isn’t computing. And then, all of a sudden, the next day they come in and start, and the switch has flipped and it just makes sense.” — Kelsey, Upper Elementary Assistant

“Observing the growth in the children who have entered the classroom at 2 and a half years old, who are now 6 years old. Above all, the sincere kindness the children have for one another.” — Maria, Primary Assistant

“I love the toddler’s energy, their sweet smiles, and hearing them say, ‘I did it!’” — Ginny, Toddler Assistant

What’s your favorite part of the day?

“Singing songs and looking at things we find in nature.” — Amanda, Primary Assistant

“Their free play time outside. It’s nice to see them express themselves and come out of their shell that they have indoors.” — Marissa, Toddler Assistant

Do you have a favorite Montessori material?

“The baking tables. To see the toddlers follow ingredients step by step and to witness their smiles at the end once their completed treat is out of the oven.” — Marissa, Toddler Assistant

“The golden beads.” — Amanda, Primary Assistant

“The pink tower.” — Ginny, Toddler Assistant

“I love hearing the Five Great Lessons of Montessori. I have been privileged to have witnessed the lessons being taught in the classroom at two different Montessori schools. Each time I have heard them, the excitement and anticipation of what’s next are palpable in the room among the students.” — Sarah, Lower Elementary Assistant