Thursday, July 17, 2008

Suggestions for beginning work in Montessori

I received an email from a woman asking for suggestions on finding a job in a Montessori classroom. I thought I would post my response here in case it should ever prove helpful for others, and so that any other Montessori teachers can add their thoughts as well. If you have any, please add them in the comments. Let's discuss!

I've never had trouble finding a job in the Montessori world. If you are working toward a degree in education, that shows a real interest in not simply playing with children, but helping along their education and development, so you should be a great candidate and find a position easily. Any lead teacher will be certified by either the American Montessori Society (AMS), Association Montessori International (AMI), Montessori Centre International (MCI), or some other training. These are the three most common, and most respected in the US. If you have not worked in Montessori before, it's probably advisable to seek out a position as an assistant to a teacher at the level you are most interested in. With a resume that shows an interest in Montessori, and work toward a degree in education, this should be easy. If you find that you love the work, you can then consider going on to training yourself (most trainings are full time for a few months, or part time for a year and are followed by an internship that runs one school year. They are incredibly intense, so you will want to take this time off from working on your education degree, or wait until you have finished).

Simply look for Montessori schools in your area, and start sending out your resume! Be careful about the job you choose, however, as the Montessori name is not protected, and anyone can call their business a Montessori program without having been trained, or even read a single page of Montessori's works. This is really the reason for mixed opinions on Montessori. Many people think of Montessori as being incredibly rigid and overly structured, while others think of it as far too loose, with no structure at all. This is because there is no one to say what is a Montessori school and what is not. Make sure the lead teachers in the school you decide on are trained, or you are likely to be turned off without ever gaining a true understanding of how a Montessori classroom should work. In your first year, if you have the option, you may look for a school that has been around for quite some time, and is well-established. Classrooms in newer schools are seldom good samples of what a Montessori classroom is like. In the first two years of a school, it is almost impossible to have a class that covers the range of ages it is supposed to cover equally, and if it does, the older children may be in their first year of Montessori and are not typically able to act as role models for the younger children in quite the same way as children who have been in Montessori since age three. A large part of setting up a classroom that meets the children needs is getting to know the children and observing them as they work to determine what will best meet their needs. A school in its early stages has not had sufficient time to do this, which is perfectly fine, but if you are new to Montessori it will be better for you to see what Montessori is intended to, and can be. However, if you find a great position with a dedicated teacher in a newer classroom, you will be just fine.

Lastly, if there is one thing I have learned about children, it is that they are incredibly perceptive. In environments where the teachers do not get along, or even where they appear on the surface to get along, but harbor unspoken frustrations, the children respond. It is important that you make sure before taking on a position that you can respect and work well with any adults that will be in the classroom with you. In any other job, you may be able to get by with being friendly and civil to people, even if you do not like or respect them, and everything will be perfectly fine. This does not work with young children. My suggestion would be that before accepting any position, you observe the classroom during work time, take note of how the teacher responds to the children, and make sure that you can support her in the way she engages with the children. If there is something you do not like, it will almost certainly be amplified when and if you spend your work days there. Take a few minutes to talk with the teacher or teachers as well, and make certain that you will be comfortable relating to and working with them.

If there is a Montessori training center in your city, they may offer a one or two day workshop for assistants, which would prepare you incredibly well for your first experience in the classroom.

I know I'm long-winded, but hopefully that helps. Let me know if there's anything that doesn't make sense!

Monday, April 21, 2008


Well, it's the end of my three year cycle and my current school, which I have grown to love a great deal. It's so exciting to see the children who were three when I began there preparing to graduate and move on to kindergarten. They have grown, developed, and changed so much, and it has been a joy to observe.

I've decided that, being the end of a three year cycle for me, it's a perfect time for me to move someplace where I'll have more opportunity, and chance to grow and change myself. So, off to Austin I go. If any of you Montessori teachers are looking for a place to relocate, I must say that Austin seems to be it! I interviewed at six different schools, and all of them seemed to be very true to the philosophy, and to have the best interests of the children at heart. It was amazing. I also got a sense of the reputation of several other schools that I did not have the chance to visit, and all sounded excellent. The Montessori community is vibrant, and the schools seem to be very supportive of one another.

Here in Colorado Springs, I have had the chance to see most every Montessori school, and I know that I could never bring myself to work for any other than the one where I currently am. I have never had to compare schools, and spend a long time thinking about which one was best for me. I just begged for a job, and took what they offered me, because I knew that was the only place where I could be happy. In Austin, I could work at any one of several schools and love my job! I chose the one that suits me the best and I'm thrilled, but had I not been offered a job there, I had several other options to choose from. It's amazing! I am more excited than I can begin to express about this next phase of my work with children.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Really Proud

At our school, we have several certified Montessori teachers for one large classroom. Each teacher has their slot to do a "topic" during the year, which means that they lead the circle times, and incorporate work having to do with whichever theme or subject they are teaching on into the classroom. Right now, I'm doing my topic, which is literature.

Yesterday, during the morning work time I walked into the kitchen where one of our four year olds was having snack. Seemingly out of nowhere, he said to me, "Miss Melissa, I'm really proud of you for getting up there on circle."

It was the most charming thing. Perhaps he senses that being the center of attention (not so much of the children, but more of the other teachers, and any parents that may be present) makes me feel a touch uncertain. I'm so fortunate to have so many sweet, charming children around me.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Montessori Moms

I am young and unmarried. I have been a nanny, a big sister, a cousin, an aunt, and of course a Montessori teacher. I have plenty of confidence in my ability to provide excellent, developmentally appropriate care for children.

I have never confused this with an ability to be the sole caretaker for children 24 hours a day. I recognize that this takes far more energy, patience, and selflessness. This is why I am still not a mom. I love working with children, and then sending home to their moms and dads at the end of the day. I'll be honest - I like me. I like my uninterrupted sleep. I like being able to eat my breakfast while rushing around the house getting ready for the day if I wake up too late to sit down. I like being alone with my thoughts at the end of the day.

I am excited about the idea of having kids in the next several years, and am sure that motherhood will be both exciting and rewarding. I don't doubt that I will do just fine when I am a mom, but I'm glad that I'm not one now.

For the past week, I have been the stand-in for a mom who is out of the state on business. I am living in the child's house. Getting him up in the morning, and off to school with me (he goes to the school where I teach), taking him to swim lessons, etc. after school, then home. At home I'm making dinner, helping with bath, etc. and then putting him to bed.

I have a brand new kind of respect for Montessori moms. When you have ten minutes to get out the door, it's oh so tempting to call the child to you and let them stand passively while you dress them, and then take them by the hand and out the door and stick them in the car. However, the Montessori mom knows that this is not fair to the child. The Montessori mom gives the child time to choose his or her clothes, and then to dress and get their things together. Sometimes gentle reminders and tips as to what clothing is appropriate for the weather are needed, but the Montessori parent lets the child do everything within reason for him or herself. This is not easy when you have a schedule to meet!

You Montessori moms (and dads) out there know this, and yet you manage to meet your schedules on a daily basis.

The rest of us should stand in awe.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Early Montessori Writing Exercises and LOLZ

A bit of info on Montessori for those who are not teachers: one distinct difference between Montessori and traditional education is that writing comes before reading. This may sound crazy, but makes perfect sense when you consider that the process of writing is encoding, a process much less complicated than decoding, which reading necessitates. The children learn the sounds of the English language and their corresponding symbols, and soon learn that they can put these together to make words. Later on, they have what is often called an "explosion" into reading. They know all the sounds, understand concretely what it means to put letters together to make words, and for this reason are quite well-prepared for reading, and as soon as they realize that they have what it takes, generally take to it quite easily.

When they do begin to write for the first time, however, they write phonetically, and without having been exposed to the correct spelling of many common words through reading. (You would be surprised how easily they adapt their writing later, however.) Children in Montessori classrooms are encouraged to put letters together to make words, without being bothered with the tedious task of making sure all of the words are spelled correctly. For the young child just beginning to write, the main concern is that they can express ideas in written form, and that they gain confidence in writing. This is fascinating and exciting to watch, and fills the teacher with great pride.

The material used for writing in primary classrooms is called the Large Movable Alphabet (pictured). Children take out the letters needed to form words from the box and place them on a rug or a table. Children are not corrected when they choose the wrong letter, but encouraged to write whatever they desire. As they practice, and are exposed to more written material, they begin to write more perfectly, usually without even realizing it.

This process is absolutely incredible, and is often a source of great pride for the children. I love reading what the children have written in the way they saw fit to do so, and sharing their excitement over this accomplishment.

However, as a member of a generation where proper grammar and spelling are often abandoned for the sake of brevity, internet culture, or lolz, it can be quite amusing as well.

Vowels are often omitted, as they are much harder to pick out than the consonant sounds. So, sorry is often written as sry, and please as pls or plz.

Third person verbs and plural nouns are often written with a z on the end instead of an s, as in runz, livz, walkz (more commonly wokz), and catz.

My often becomes mi, your ur, and our if often just r. Love is almost invariably written early on as luv.*

Perhaps lesson plans for the LMA box should be adapted to include the indirect aim of preparing the child to communicate via text message and the internet(z)?

Very young children who do not yet know the sounds, but do know what some letters look like often try to write as their older peers do. One favorite thing for children to write is their own name, and many very young ones insist that they know how to write their name simply because they are so determined to do so, whether they have learned to or not. I have learned to memorize many strings of shapes and squiggles as the "name" of particular children on their art and other work to take home. One of my favorites, however, is one girl who always writes her name (in all caps) as LOL. L is actually in her name, and most children, no matter what age, know what O looks like.

*Note: Writing in this way is only done early in the process of learning to write, and children have been shown to benefit greatly from uninterrupted practice and the confidence gained from the same. Children who write in this way are generally quite young, and become excellent spellers and masters of their language soon after.

Friday, January 25, 2008


I have posted nothing more on the literature unit, because it was rescheduled. One of my lovely co-teachers was going to teach on Space in March, but had to schedule a surgery and will need recovery time, so her space unit is going on now and my literature unit will start in February.

I must say that space is amazing. If you are trying to think of a special topic for a class, do consider space. The kids are so into it, as are the teachers and parents. It's so cool!

Anyway, the reason for this post is so that I can wind down after the most exhausting day I think we've had since September!

Perhaps it was the change in the weather, or the long and not so engaging (but incredibly well thought out and well-meaning) talk about satellites from one of our dads who is an engineer, or the two wonderful interns who came to observe and spent the work time shooting numerous photos. Whatever it was, it made the kids WILD. I screamed when I got into my car. I literally screamed. It was all I could do to hold on until I made it into my car. Ah, well.

All of that meaningless chatter out of the way, I can get to the point of telling you the most hilarious moment of the day, which I am only able to laugh about now:

It was almost 3:30. We were at recess and almost all of the kids had been picked up. We were exhausted. I looked over at a small cluster of kids near the fence on the playground, and one of our feisty little pre-k girls* was halfway up the chain link fence with four or five others watching her in amazement. Of course Montessori teachers yell very seldom, if ever, but I did yell her name across the playground at this point, hoping that she would immediately get down off the fence. She didn't hurry, but did come down, with a very innocent look on her face. I walked quickly to her end of the playground, and as soon as I began to address her she enthusiastically pointed up into the sky and with great excitement shouted, "LOOK! A HELICOPTER!" I was too frustrated to notice at this point, but I am reasonably certain that there was no helicopter. I am continually amazed at how clever children of this age can be when they want to take an unhappy teacher's attention off if the issue at hand.

* This happens to be the same sweet girl who, in her first week as a new three year old looked at me with amazement when I said "Adios," gasped, and asked, "Are you a Dora!?"

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Literature Unit

I've published my rough plan for the literature unit as a google document so anyone can see it who is interested. It is very rough and tentative. I'll make changes after I hit the library and hobby lobby, and a critique after I see how it works for the children. I'll also post photos of the works when they're all set up.

Here's the link to the doc:

First Post!

All of my best ideas come either in the middle of the night, when I should be asleep, while I'm in the shower, or while I'm brushing my teeth. The trouble is that many of these same ideas never make it past the idea stage.

Awake at 3:30 am after New Year's Day finishing up plans for circle times centered around a thematic unit for my Primary Class on literature, I am frustrated by the apparent lack of a viable Montessori teachers forum, and really any Montessori activities on special themes posted anywhere. We really ought to share these things! There are so many pages with printable cutesy, cartoony coloring sheets and little songs about everything from washing your hands to Purim, and nothing that really works perfectly well in a Montessori environment. How can the internet be missing something so huge!?

Thanks to my frustration, I have decided to start a blog just for the Montessorian in me. Here I will post the ideas I think up, and how they went once implemented. I will post joys, surprises, successes, and terrible failures in the classroom, as well as anything the kids say or do that strikes me as particularly fun and/or interesting on any give day. I will happily welcome your thoughts and input, and do hope to dialog with many other Montessori teachers eventually.

When we get back to school next week, I will start the literature unit, and create a lot of fun thematic works in all of the classroom areas to go along with it. I will take photos and post the successes and blunders of these new lessons for your enjoyment.