If you’re starting here but didn’t read the first list, check out the first 10 things I would tell my younger self about working in a Montessori school here .
11. Staff turnover can be insane at Montessori schools. They probably don’t pay the staff enough money to stick around or to survive. They might work staff for very long hours. The job doesn’t give people benefits. Working with very young children (0-3) in a school setting is grueling, emotional, often difficult work. It doesn’t matter how cute the munchkins are– they drain you because they are so needy. You’re wiping snot off of noses, tears off of cheeks, and poop off of butt cheeks all day long. So people quit these jobs a lot. Ask any mother if she would raise like, 14 kids in her home at the same time. No mother who isn’t a teacher would say yes to that question. And that’s basically what we’re doing professionally in Montessori programs. #burnoutisreal .
12. Not all schools know how to curate materials that develop a strong program. That, or they allowed a bunch of lead guides to BYOP (bring their own program). What that means is every time a former guide leaves, they pillage the program and leave it gutted. So when a new guide takes over, they are starting from the ground up. If it’s ever possible to tour a classroom, really slow yourself down and pay attention to the work you see out on the shelves. Like, literally, ask the boss/ HOS for 10 uninterrupted minutes of observation alone of the room, even if there are no kids in it, and write down a list of as many work activities you can see out on the shelves. If you are a trained guide, this will tell you exactly what to expect from a program. Do you see the stuff from your training albums out on the shelves, or not? It took a few years for this truth to really click for me.
13. Some programs lets parents walk all over them. Based on my experience, there are two kinds of Montessori programming: the kind that knows what it stands to offer, take it or leave it; and the kind that lets parents decide what the program will do. Some schools create and change their practices to and fro based on every parental complaint. And I’m sorry, but that makes for a very poor Montessori school program. That kind of letting parents boss you around might work in a nannying situation, or maybe in a Montessori play group format where parents never leave the room. But it will not work in a Montessori school format with toddlers. I can vouch for that. Parents need to understand clearly what a program offers and where it stands firm in its policies. And if they don’t like what is offered, they should choose another program. Or if they choose that program and don’t like what is offered knowing what is offered, they should be redirected to the parent handbook 100% of the time they complain.
14. The parents. Oh god, some parents. Every single classroom you serve will have parents who are just, on another level in a not good way (shakes head/ shudders with PTSD). As an assistant or guide gearing up for a Montessori school job, you need to go in knowing this. It has taken me a few years of berating from crazy parents to understand what it is I signed up for; and to get me to the point of true fearlessness as a guide. I literally have told parents, point blank and looking them straight in the eye, “after doing this work for over _____ years, I’m not afraid of anything parents have to tell me. I do this work with integrity, honesty, and transparency, because I genuinely want to help people. So lay it on me”. Period. And then I just listen. And I attempt to support people as best as I can. Maybe they’ll take my suggestions, maybe not. But there will be no fear mongering. I’m the qualified and trained professional in the room for my trade, the parent is not.
If you’re greener in this industry, when challenging parents come your way, go find the book “emotional intelligence 2.0” and read it as fast as you can. You have to know how to read and respond to difficult people after being a really good listener. After enduring challenging parents for years, I now strive to respond in a way that balances…
a) confidence & humility (this ain’t my first rodeo; and I’m always open to hear people out, learn new things, and to serve no matter how many years I do this work)
b) fearlessness & integrity (no matter how hard it gets, I’m doing what I know to be right by your kids and this program)
c) love & compassion (even though you’re straight up going crazy on me right now, I still love your kids and I see and acknowledge that you’re suffering in this moment),
d) being self-defined & emotionally mature ( I know who I am, I know I’m constantly learning and growing, and I know that I’m my own person separate from anyone else’s opinions/ feelings about me and what I choose to do in order to run this classroom effectively. I also know how I will and won’t allow parents to treat me, and that my value as a professional and to society is not defined by this job alone).
Those four features are essentially my own personal Montessori Four Planes of Parental Responsiveness. (trademark potentially pending on that idea, LOL!).
15. Programs hide secrets. That won’t stay secrets forever, but they will come to light after you agree to work somewhere. I once said yes to a job that completely pulled a switcharoo on me days before I was supposed to start this job. The plan was to start a brand new classroom designed and opened from scratch. Then I got hired and they immediately asked me to take over a pre-existing classroom. There might be a very corrupt board of directors for the school you work at. They might ask staff to donate to every school fundraiser (you’re like “huh? I get my paycheck from this school though…). They might have a major critter infestation of some variety. And when you enter the storage spaces you’re literally surrounded by the dead carcasses and feces of said critters. Schools lie to licensing personnel and pull shenanigans to pass licensing visits. Some schools even have a way to solicit the grandparents of its wealthiest new families to donate sums of money to the school. Some schools have zero shame, in a not positive way.
16) Some schools will pay for your entire training. Say yes to these positions. And make sure it’s written into your contract that upon agreeing to employment, the school will not back out of this offer after they hire you. It cannot be just a verbal suggestion, because shady owners will say whatever they want to pull in employees, then try to back out of it and say they never said anything about training. Make sure it is also written into the contract that if they agree to subsidize your training (however they go about it), if they choose to lay you off, you are not responsible for reimbursing the training fees they covered.
17) Start with primary, and then work your way back down the age scale. In my honest opinion, and don’t get me wrong, I fully love babies and toddlers buuuuut… it is best to choose to work with primary-aged children in a Montessori classroom first. Or maybe even elementary. And then move down the age scale to the younger students. Why? Because the youngest ones are super hard to work with. People don’t realize just how hard it can be. And because you don’t get paid as well working with the younger kids as you will to work with the older populations of children. Even if you all get the same pay for being assistants no matter what room you’re in, it’s just way easier work with more capable children.
It takes a very special kind of person to work in 0-3 Montessori classrooms. Someone who is not lazy, has a very positive attitude or can laugh through challenging situations, and doesn’t need others to uphold their own morale. Someone cut out to work in 0-3 Montessori classrooms is someone with a very strong work ethic. The ideal 0-3 Montessori worker is strong in body (like you can lift kids, bend over all day, and sprint after the runners), mind, spirit, imitation skills, obedience, feedback, and immune system. It is thankless work. If those characteristics don’t describe you, give yourself a few years in primary or elementary before you try jumping into a toddler community or a nido.
18) If you understand how Montessori works and if it’s a strong program, this work can actually be a million times easier than a play-based preschool. Because the goal is to foster as much functional independence and grace/courtesy from the children as possible. So the kids can do a lot of things for themselves and they can be fantastically behaved compared to “regular” kids their same age. Which makes our work just lovely, if executed properly.
19) If you think you stand a chance at being crafty, start your own Montessori materials side hustle ASAP after training ends. You’re gonna want any extra money you can provide for yourself. Especially if you work in 0-3 classrooms, don’t wait to make more money. Start right away.
20) If you’re an assistant, and if the school is willing to pay for it, go get trained! That was me once, and it changed my life. Just make sure you get trained somewhere reputable and really good. Do your own research about where you can get your training, and what the salary potential is for a particular age range (which I did NOT do before saying yes to training).
Don’t just take whatever training center the school who hired you is willing to pay for or go where they recommend. But do take whatever money they are willing to give, and do say “yes” to training, even if you have to pay for some of it yourself. Training centers do give out scholarships. Find out for yourself where training centers exist. If you would rather live in San Diego for a couple summers instead of Arizona, but your school says they’ll pay for training at Arizona’s training center because you are in Arizona, you can say yes to training but say no to Arizona and go soak up the surf in California. There are training centers all over the world. I adore AMI training and I would happily repeat it again if I could afford to. I would not choose any other training besides AMI after receiving AMI training. I kinda wish I had the bravery to go to another country for my training in retrospect. But I still loved training either way.
But if you have checked on scholarships and absolutely feel like you could never afford AMI training, or if the school you work for won’t let you leave work long enough to get AMI training (which means that school is foolish IMHO), definitely do your own homework and try to find out what non-AMI training centers are the good ones, and which ones are not good. Not all AMS training centers are created equally. If you can find an AMS training program delivered by an AMI trained practitioner, that is your best bet. There are also other organizations out there besides AMI and AMS.