10 things I would tell my former self about working in a Montessori school if I knew then what I know now

Ever find yourself giving advice to peopke who are where you once were? Tony Robbins suggests that it is way wiser to learn from the lessons of others and do more efficiently what they had to live and learn their way through. If only us adults had the luxury montessori kids have of watching our peers try their hand at unfamiliar activities  before we do. Imagine us all in a giant warehouse with every career set up on a shelf, and a loving guide available to show us how to do things perfectly… (sigh). haha!

Many all-too-hopeful, or uninitiated Montessori school employees don’t realize that  working in Montessori programs can bring with it it’s own host of unforeseen… twist and turns.  That are sometimes avoidable issues you never have to face if you can avoid the misstep.  Here is the advice I would give my past self, if I could approach this career all over again years ago with the wisdom I know now.

1) There can be chronic disorganization at the administrative level.  The more disorganized the HOS/ owner/ boss is, the more chaotic the whole school tends to be. I think the state of the director’s office can be very telling.  Internal order, combined with effective time management and reality management, creates external order.  The best way to find out if this is a potential problem for a school is to find employee reviews on glassdoor.com.  Obviously not all schools are going to be on glassdoor.  So the next best bet is to contact someone who already works there, and try to pick their brain for their honest feedback.

2) There are far more corrupt, unethical, foolish managers/ owners than there are awesome ones. So this problem is harder to “fix” because you can’t fire the boss.  But it is a popular piece of feedback on glassdoor about schools “the owner/director is horrible”; and it is a very common trend I have experienced in my work.  It’s like a thing no one talks about at training.  “what if your HOS is horrible? How do I spot a good one” is not a question that comes up for the trainer before we all leave the nest.

Quality leadership with strong morals, good intentions, and ethical integrity is sorely lacking in the Montessori world.  Which is sad.  Because these are kids we’re serving, after all.  It doesn’t actually make a difference if the person is “trained” or not.  I have worked for trained bosses who are just, well, awful. I question where these people got trained.  Because they clearly still don’t know what they’re doing.  And even if the training they received was supposed to be effective, perhaps it got lost on those particular individuals, or perhaps those particular individuals have a corrupt heart. And you can’t train that out of someone.  Not all people are meant to run schools, period.  Some people do it very well, and some people don’t. The best you can do is ask the director for an example of something good s/he did to help the employees of their school during the interview.

3) The school historically chooses to never hire, or can’t manage to hire a trained Montessori guides and won’t pay for them to get trained. Trained guides make the school strong. Another all-too-common problem in the Montessori world! Especially for assistants to infancy (0-3) level.  So if you are a trained guide, you need to ask for the highest possible salary you can get.  Don’t be ashamed to ask for what you know you are worth.  Don’t be ashamed to negotiate your job contract.  You don’t always have to say yes to a year-long contract; especially if it is in a state or for a school that says they will fire people at any time for any reason.  Get all the benefits you can.

Along the same lines, montess-sorta schools (which are any montessori school school that claims to be Montessori but is sorely missing the mark),  usually don’t want to pay the salary of a legitimately trained guide.  So they let basically anyone run the classes, fill the school with wooden toys on trays, and call it Montessori for $1600 a month tuition.   You can think of it like a yoga studio with no actual yoga instructors leading any of the classes.  Probably with an uglier studio, and poor quality mats and equipment.

So if you choose to work at a school that reveals itself as a Montess-sorta, you’re in for a rude awakening.  If you’re lucky they will at least have the proper materials.  But chances are, they won’t.   When an actually-trained guide comes along and does a classroom takeover at a Montess-sorta, I will be the first one to tell you that it is a difficult, difficult road to travel.

I find it is especially difficult for AMI trained guides, who receive training par excellence.   You come in with this hopeful vision for what could be possible, only for everyone at the school to trample it under foot.  When you’re a trained guide trying to bring the gospel of Montessori where it does not yet exist, possibly never existed, and where the truth is not actually wanted, you face a LOT of pushback, scrutiny, mistrust, criticism, and passive aggressive hate from everyone who was already working at said school before you arrived.

No one appreciates the “oh shoot. S/he is actually better at this than us” a-ha meets uh-oh moment.  No one wants anyone drifting in from outta nowhere like Mary Poppins floating down on her umbrella, and disrupting the very broken Montes-sorta paradigm that has kept parents hidden from the truth, oblivious and yet happily paying thousands of dollars a month unquestioningly, to send their child to what is actually a run-of-the-mill daycare.  But the parents have no clue!  Parent loyalty to Montes-sorta programs is the lifeblood of how these terrible programs never collapse despite a myriad of problems.  So they don’t want anyone coming along making parents realize that what they have been doing is all wrong.

It’s also a lonely experience when you’re the only trained person at your level who works somewhere, or who “gets it”, and when you have no one to turn to and collab with. Work with others who are trained right away. You will need the mentorship.

4) Not all heads of schools actually care. About the classroom.  Or the people they hire.  Or being moral.  Some owners/ heads of schools can be detached, unsupportive, and yet, exploitative.    They just want those dolla dolla bills y’all.   And they have no desire to actually be a teacher, or to actually help others glow up in life using Montessori education as the vehicle of aid that it is intended to be.

Now, don’t be mistaken. Let me be clear that not all HOS need to be Montessori trained  or to even have a history working in ECE.  But they absolutely  do need to care about the needs of the people served by the industry.  If they don’t care, boy does it drag things down.

One major solution to this issue? More trained guides with truly good hearts and strong visions of what a Montessori program stands to be need to be the ones opening up their own schools.  Especially AMI people.  So many of us just go to work for the man, instead of going to work for ourselves… doing literally the exact same work.  We don’t think we can afford to open our own programs.  We may not have the space,  the administrative skills, the whatever… well let me tell you, I’m seeing more and more of my colleagues open up their own programs. And it is very possible.  One of them even did it with zero savings.  I don’t know why we just don’t think we can start our own programs,  and go the “employee” route by default instead of going the “program founder” route.   Wildflower schools is another great organization that can help trained guides open up Montessori schools.

5) Even Montessori schools can be toxic-level, “mean girls” caliber clique-y.  If you think Montessori is all peace giraffes and hippy dippy love-filled people like the kind in training, guess again.  I think every aspiring guide or assistant needs to not be fooled.  Real schools are nothing like training centers, OK?  And that includes the bosses! LOL.  They are sometimes the WORST at perpetuating work cliques.  It could be the best friend of the boss working as the secretary; and the secretary’s best friend is an assistant with zero training who gets everything she asks for at work and all the privileges.  It could be the head of school starts doing crossfit and all the rich parents who go to the school also do crossfit. So they are the “in” group, and everyone else is out.  No joke, I wish I was making this up.   But I’m not.

6) You need to ask during your job interview “what is the maximum enrollment you allow in your toddler classroom?” Otherwise, know that the program has every intention of habitually over-booking and jam-packing your classroom with way. too. many. kids. Montessori for toddlers and below literally will not work if there are too many kids in the room, period.  It was never designed to accept a million toddlers.  Primary, maybe.  Because primary-aged children are way more self-sufficient.  But toddler and below program will just crumble if there are any more than like 14 very young kids in the same space. So you need to put limits on what you,  as a guide or assistant, will and won’t tolerate during the interview.  If you were a mom, would you raise 14 children within the same 3 year age range in your home?  No? Well you better ask somebody how many kids are slotted to be in that classroom.

7) Always ask during job interviews how many campuses the person/company owns.  And if they own more than one, ask if all the mortgages are paid off yet; and if you can  tour all of them (or at least more than one) before you accept a position.  Pay attention in every campus you visit.  Do they all suck?  Are some better than others?  Which one would you prefer to be working at?  What kinds of teachers run the classrooms?  AMI? AMS?  Some owners and corporations treat opening Montessori schools like a game of monopoly. There are way too many campuses owned by the same entity.  None of them are “correct” or anywhere near perfected; and none of the campuses are actually paid for!  And the owners just keep on opening more and more and more.  This is not good.

8) Whether you’re a guide or an assistant job hunting, ask the owner to tell you about the assistants in the class.  What are their names, how educated are each of them, and how long have each of them been working in the program/classroom?  Don’t shy away from this question, because it will give you a LOT of insight about the quality of the program, and what you’re taking on when you say “yes” to a Montessori job.   You’re either going to lead those people if you become the guide, or become one of them if you’re  interviewing for an assistant position

9) Not all owners/ HOS manage the income well.  This is another truth I wish someone had told me about working in a Montessori school.  If they can’t manage the income, you don’t get paid well and you don’t receive any benefits.  If they can’t mange the income well, your job is perpetually on thin ice, as the newest hire to the school.  If the income sinks, they’ll axe you.  You also need to know if this is the kind of job where you will always need another job in order to survive.  And that will dictate what your schedule at this job can be.  Assistants can make as little as $10/hour.  Most people living independently without  a spouse can’t survive off of $10/hour in America.  I have known assistants who still have to pay for their children’s tuition to attend the school, and assistants who are on welfare despite working 40 hour weeks for a Montessori school.  That’s how bad it can be.  So you need to get a feel for how well the income is being managed.  Ask about the benefits.  Ask if the campus is owned or rented.  Ask the range of salary you can expect, and what future raises look like.  Don’t wonder.  Seek, and you shall find.

10) It is not uncommon for a Montessori school to have no sub list… And assistants who call in sick aaaaaallllll theeeeee tiiiiiimmme.  So always ask if the school has a sub list to pull from in case you get sick and need to call in.  I suppose the HOS could always lie to your face and say “yes” when the truth is no, they don’t.  But you should ask anyway.

……………………

So if you are a Montessorian or an assistant looking for a quality job, I hope this list can provide some guidance for you.  If these kinds of problems exist in your professional reality, they don’t have to.  You can choose to be the change agent that gets the ball rolling on fixing these problems, or you can find another place of employment where these problems don’t exist.   Do be forewarned, once people find amazing schools to work in, they rarely ever quit.  That means there are generally more vacancies at schools with problems than there are at schools which are solid.  So it may be hard finding open positions at amazing schools, but it is possible.   Hope this list helps!

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