Today was my last day playing a teacher’s assistant at the Montessori school.
If this is what I’m going to be doing next school year, I have a lot to learn.
I need to be really familiar with all of the materials in the classroom — where they are, what they’re for, how they’re used, what they’re called.
I need to accumulate a much larger classroom management toolbox, one suited to the Montessori way of doing things. How to be available to kids without intervening too much. How to help kids get to a working frame of mind. How to deal with the fact that there are more of them than there are of me. How to help develop and maintain a classroom atmosphere that lends itself to a good working flow. How to minimize cracks for falling through, whether it’s the less skilled or the more skilled or the ordinary or the different who are most at risk for neglect or insufficient support.
I need a thicker skin, and to remember that while there’s a job to be done, ultimately I can’t force anyone to do anything, and it’s not my job to control anyone.
Today I spent a lot of time again with the girl who latched onto me on Tuesday and again yesterday. I believe with all my heart that kids who ask for attention in any way really do need it — and that even when it seems they are pulling their neediness out like a hat trick, it’s because they aren’t able, in that moment, to think of a better way to get what they need. And yet… well, after a while I sure was tired of finding this girl by my side and feeling her hand slipping into mine.
I also spent a good bit of time with a young girl from another culture, whose English I have a hard time understanding. She speaks quietly and quickly, sort of abruptly, and more often in single words or short phrases than in whole sentences, so there is less context to help with the more difficult words. I tried to transcribe a story for her today, that she was dictating… as far as I could tell it was about peeing — and included some apparently unrelated words — and none of it seemed at all related to the horse sticker she’d put on the page. She’s little and quiet, and in these three days I haven’t seen her demonstrate much focus, but she’s got some fire in her and is more skilled with things than I thought she was.
The bulk of the rest of my time was spent trying to redirect the two girls playing “puppy” to choose and actually do any work. In a play-based preschool, it wouldn’t be a problem that they were crawling around the whole room, under and around tables — but it’s not what’s done in a Montessori class. The teacher suggested I have one of them just sit with me for a while — side by side on the carpet, doing nothing. The other girl found a willing accomplice and continued playing. The girl sitting with me just seemed withdrawn. The teacher had someone else in her lap, and it did seem for him to be a warm and safe place to get settled. Perhaps if I weren’t a stranger, sitting with me might have been warmer and safer.
At the end of the three hours, I had a renewed appreciation for this teacher’s calm steadiness — nothing unruffles her, even terrified screams from the bathroom and a bizarre cut from an ordinary shelf unit. (Or if things do unruffle her, she must have some excellent coping skills.) I’ve never heard her yell at a kid, and yet she’s perfectly able to set and enforce limits.
I suppose next week sometime the powers that be will want to discuss the experience — and next year’s possibilities — with me.