What to Look For in a Montessori Teacher Education Program
Almost as often as parents as about how to find a good Montessori school, potential teachers ask about how to find a good training center. Believe it or not, this is a more complicated question to answer.
It’s important to recognize that choosing a Teacher Education Program (TEP because we love our acronyms in Montessori) is quite like choosing a university for a post-graduate professional degree. It is a very serious first step towards a new profession. This is not a decision to be made lightly, or based on marketing. Quality teacher education is a serious proposition. It is intense and challenging. Do not make the mistake of thinking this is going to be easy, because it won't be, but it will be fun, inspiring, rewarding, and life-changing.
Ask administrators at the schools you think you'd like to work at what training centers they most respect. There are two big reasons I think this is an important conversation.
First, you are networking - just like you would in any other field. If you are serious about making this your profession, you will need professional contacts. This is a good way to establish yourself as a potential future candidate for a position.
Secondly, people who work in the profession will give you their professional opinion as it applies to your geographical region. When you ask about training online, you'll invariably be told to look for AMI and/or AMS, and quite passionately. But in a great many places, especially outside of the USA, independent or MACTE centers are more prevalent and/or respected. The people who run good Montessori schools in your area will be able to tell you from which training education programs they prefer to hire their staff. That will tell you most of what you need to know. In fact, you may reasonably base your whole decision on that without looking at any other considerations if the majority of the people you speak to are in agreement.
Make appointments for formal interviews with the people who run your various TEP options if it is not already part of the application process. If the training center you’re considering does not have a formal application process, ask yourself why. A TEP that is serious about their level of professionalism will want to ensure that their teacher candidates are worthy both of the profession and of graduating from their institution. As you talk to the staff at various TEPs, think about which of your potential lead trainers inspires you personally - who you’d like to spend more time with. This person is going to be your mentor and the person who rules your life through your training. You will get much much, more out of training if you like and respect your mentor.
Talk to teachers, assistants, and specialists. People in your community who may just give you the low-down, the dirty gossip, and the word on the street.
As you deliberate between the various TEPs, keep these considerations in mind:
1. Experience and Background
What is the experience and background of the lead trainer, and those who teach theory, philosophy, and observation classes? Are they respected in your community? Do they have a good chunk of experience as lead teachers in a Montessori classroom? Do they have a background in adult education or other work with adults? Do they have credentials beyond Montessori? Are they still involved in teaching or in schools in some way? Do they feel like the kind of person who can support you in your learning journey? Any TEP is going to ask you to examine aspects of yourself you’d rather not see. Is this the person you want to guide you through that process?
2. Personality Does the TEP’s marketing material read like a personality cult? If it’s all about the trainer, then it’s not about Montessori. Does the website have no information at all about the training team? If not, you really have to wonder why.
In terms of the degrees of separation from Dr. Montessori, how far are the majority of trainers in the program, and especially the lead trainer and the trainer who gives philosophy, theory and observation courses? This is kind of important but not a guarantee of quality by any means. The more removed we are from Dr. Montessori, the more likely other sources and influences have crept in.
4. Number of Available Mentors
How many trainers are there in the program? I looked for courses that had multiple trainers because growing up in Montessori, I learned early on how many different interpretations there are of basic ideas. I wanted to hear from different people, and have more than one viewpoint on which to base my own professional opinion and development.
5. Format and Assignments
This goes beyond logistics. Is the course format one based in traditional education, or is the course run in a Montessori way? Is it fully lecture based, or are there experiential components, and how much of the coursework falls into which category? The best programs will take a more Montessori approach with their format.
What kind of assignments are you expected to complete? Are they in line with the way you learn, and will you find them helpful? The biggest assignment is the albums. Are you the kind of person who will benefit from writing out the albums, or are you the kind of person who will not? Is there a research component, and will that benefit you?
6. Personal Transformation
The biggest aim of any quality training center is to provide opportunity for personal transformation. Ask directly about this and how the TEP goes about it. Their answer, or lack thereof, will tell you an awful lot about the quality and integrity of the program.
7. Courses, Emphasis, and Reading List
Dr. Montessori’s legacy is so vast that there is no way to cover it all in the time allotted for training. Each organization that runs TEPs chooses which aspects of that lineage are presented to student teachers. Trainers then pass on what they are most passionate about in the way they deliver the content. Find out what courses are offered and where the TEP places emphasis, consciously and otherwise. There are TEPs that are almost solely materials-based, and those that are almost solely theory-based. There are TEPs that do not look beyond Dr. Montessori, and there are courses whose focus is on meeting regional regulations and on non-Montessori developmental psychology. The best courses offer a balance of all of these, which a tough thing to manage.
Many TEPs will include a list of courses in their marketing material. Pay attention because this list will tell you a lot about where the TEP puts their emphasis, especially if you can see the calendar as well. How much time is spent where? You’re looking for a balance between the strength of the theory and philosophy program, and the time spent on the curriculum subjects themselves. Is there an over-representation of the traditional Math and Language? How much time is dedicated to Observation both academically and in the field?
The reading list will also tell you many things about the TEP. Are most of the books on the list by Dr. Montessori herself? Are there books that are more recent? Are there books about child-development and/or developmental psychology? Speaking of reading... I would ask the TEP how they handle the readings of Dr. Montessori’s work - whether and how they guide students through her books. If they expect you to read her work on your own I would very seriously consider looking elsewhere. If they do not require you to read any of Dr. Montessori’s books cover to cover, then you have to question their commitment to her vision.
8. Location and Logistics
This is a huge consideration, especially for those of us who have children and/or other strong ties to negotiate. Make sure the logistics of attending the course are reasonable and that the sacrifices you will make (and there will be sacrifices) are worth it. For my 3-6 TEP I commuted over an hour each way. For my 12-18 TEP I actually moved out of country for the summer. It was worth it - for me.
If you have a school that will sponsor you, they get a say in which TEP you attend. There may be some wiggle room, and there may not. Seeing though as sponsorship eases a financial burden, and that Montessori teachers are not exactly well paid, this is a huge consideration.
Finally, remember that this is all my opinion, nothing more, nothing less. There are other considerations I may not have covered, and some of my considerations may not feel relevant to you. This is your journey, and your TEP will play a huge role in that. And so will synchronicity, coincidence, and the variances that make up the situations we find ourselves in. Go with it. Make the best of it. Commit yourself wholeheartedly to the process. It is worth it.
Andrea Lulka has spent her whole life in and around Montessori, the last ten years more formally than the rest. She is a certified 3-6 teacher holding an MEd. in Montessori Integrative Learning, now working towards 12-18 certification.
Andrea also has experience in various capacities with every age group from Toddler through to Middle School as well as with parent education and school administration. By far her toughest and proudest role in the Montessori community is that of mother to a Montessori boy.