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Is One Certified Teacher Enough in a Montessori Classroom?


My sister described her visit to meet a lead teacher and observe a classroom at a local Montessori school in search of a good spot for her daughter: “There were 25 kids in the class. It just seems too much. We want 12 kids max.”

As a Montessori trained teacher and parent, I had to take a deep breath before responding: “How many teachers were in the class?”

She paused for a moment, “There were 3 including two assistants and a lead teacher.”

Is One Certified Lead Teacher Enough in a Montessori Classroom?

Then I explained three key tenets of a Montessori classroom that make the teaching arrangement possible and effective:

  1. Multi-age environment
  2. Liberty within a Prepared Environment
  3. Role of the teacher

Although Montessori classrooms typically have 3 adults, the lead teacher is typically the only one with certification. This reality is somewhat shifting, however, as the demand becomes more apparent that every adult in the class should be trained to some extent in Montessori. There are Montessori assistant training programs that exist and the popularity is rising. You likely will see many schools begin to adopt this approach in the future.

When Maria Montessori designed her method, she emphasized the following:

  • children interact and learn from their peers within a multi-age setting 
  • children interact with the carefully planned environment and the materials on the shelves with liberty 
  • after careful observation of the children and preparation of self, the teacher prepares the environment, customized to the children’s development and interests, in a way that invites the child to engage and want to learn

3 Reasons Why One Trained Lead Teacher Works in a Montessori Classroom

# 1 – Montessori’s Multi-Age Setting

Montessori classrooms consist of three-year age groupings at all levels. The oldest children have a firm grasp of the material in the environment. Therefore, they are able to give lessons to the younger students, thereby solidifying their knowledge. The youngest students see the older children as models, and as they progress through the cycle, they begin to look forward to their third year when they are able to be the models. {Read >> Why Multi-Age Classrooms Rock and Advantages of Multi-Age Classrooms}

#2 – Montessori’s Prepared Environment

Montessori’s carefully prepared environment gives children liberty to choose works that attract them. With that said, an important note is that Montessori designed the curriculum so that the materials on the shelf progress in a way that allows the child to move through the sequence easily and seamlessly based on observing and understanding the children within the environment. This liberty allows the teacher opportunity to observe more than intervene to guide the child.

#3 – The Role of the Teacher

Montessori requires intensive teacher training.  He or she must learn all aspects of the curriculum, the materials to use, and the lessons to give. In The Discovery of the Child, Montessori said, “A teacher must, therefore, be well acquainted with the material and keep it constantly before her mind. She must acquire a precise knowledge of the techniques that have been experimentally determined for the presentation of the material and for dealing with the child so that he is effectively guided” (151).

The role of the teacher is a critical component of the prepared environment. Through training, the teacher prepares herself in order to better prepare the environment for the children.  She will know how to navigate the environment, how to lean into older children to give lessons (to aid in their own development of leadership, communication, and social skills), and how to observe effectively to create an engaging classroom for the children.

Therefore, the second (and often third) adult in the classroom assists the lead teacher with observation, helps children who might need redirection or a bit of guidance with the materials.  While the assistant is often not a fully certified Montessori teacher, their experience in the classroom is worth a great deal as far as child development, communicating with kids, and disciplinary approaches go. Plus, the mentorship offered by the lead teachers goes a long way in preparing the assistant. 

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