Montess-stressors: parts of being a 0-3 Montessori guide that no one talks about, part 2 (the stressors that aren’t the work)

Hopefully you already read part 1, but if you didn’t, you can reference it here.

 In addition to just the work required of you, here is a list of other unforeseen stressors that you may encounter in your 0-3 school-based Montessori guide job that no one talks about in training. If you’re anything like I was as a novice Montessorian, you thought that you were going to be working at a peaceful school where everyone just came in to work consistently, did their job correctly, were hard-working, fun, kind, and peaceful.  And then we all go home at the end of the day. Mmmmmm…. Nope! Here are other factors worth considering as you commit to this field.

 1.The juxtaposition between training and the real world. Everyone at training was so passionate and so genuinely kind. Then you get into an actual Montessori job where there can be cliques, favoritism, trash talking about other coworkers, workplace bullying, and other interpersonal negativity.

2. The isolation. Just because you are informed and passionate doesn’t necessarily mean everyone else around you at work will be, too. You may never actually have time to collaborate and truly work with the other trained people who care as much as you do, or who are trained for the same age range as you. It is possible to feel quite isolated in your respective classrooms, hustling in your own struggles.

I’ve taken Montessori jobs that are seemingly set up on purpose so that the leads never get to take lunch breaks together; or so that the employees are literally eating in their cars or disappear to I don’t know where to take their lunch breaks.  Or where the classrooms are so far apart you feel like you’re all alone like Belle in beauty and the beast, never allowed to go to the west wing of the castle or something. Get used to feeling alone.

3. The lying. The amount of lying and the switcheroos that many Montessori employers will pull on you can truly be astounding. Private Montessori schools are a business at the end of the day.  So they are not beyond exploiting anyone’s knowledge and skills for the profit of their business.

Employers I’ve had will make certain claims in your vague job description and employment agreement, and then in reality they won’t back them up. Or they slam you with many things that you didn’t see coming and/or that conveniently didn’t end up in the job description at all.

At one job I was never told that we were going to have to push these huge, heavy, six-child buggies around the community during the morning work cycle, instead of doing actual Montessori work. Each buggy probably weighed a minimum of 100 pounds; and it physically felt nearly impossible for me.  But I had to do it.

Another job promised that I would start a brand new classroom at a school.  As soon as the school year actually began (once it was too late for me to say no and find another job, of course), the owner told me that the other toddler guide had “suddenly quit” and they needed me to take over her (huge, ugly, disorganized) classroom that I had never seen beforehand.

4. Untrained people leading classrooms is the status quo of the school. And if you’re trained, you’re the anomalie. Another major problem is that a lot of schools are guilty of rarely to never hiring actually trained guides. So if you are trained and take over these classrooms, they are usually a disaster/ fixer-upper.

5. Co-workers bring problems to the table. People who work in Montessori schools can be liars, gossipers, workplace bullies, and can have zero consideration for the work that a solid guide is trying to accomplish for the school. In worst- case scenarios, I’ve had coworkers actively thwart my agenda to create something beautiful and necessary at a school.  Full-on sabotage is not beyond any private Montessori school. You wonder why there are untrained assistants running classrooms?  Well…  they sabotage the lead guides and then they become the lead guides. 

6. Some parents are straight up monsters, and they bring problems to the table. The parents are deeply enmeshed in a Montessori preschool experience, like it or not. This isn’t just “drop your kid off, and drive away, never to be seen again until events on the school calendar”.  The… let’s call them… “challenging” parents at Montessori schools feel completely entitled. And instead of partnering with you, trusting you, and acknowledging your expertise, they are fully at war with you and they are dripping mistrust.

These kinds of parents will email about every little problem and act like it’s your fault instead of realizing that that’s just how toddlers are.  If their kids cause problems, they will never give any credit to their little wonder of a child.  They are never satisfied even if you are constantly in communication with them and having a million meetings, and going above and beyond busting your ass for their child in particular.  Monster parents expect things that are borderline ridiculous in general; and which are fully not even aligned with Montessori or any group care experience possibly anywhere.   If you guys only knew some of the things parents have said to me…

7. Some heads of school are astounding… in a not good way.  Some of them don’t really care about human beings.  They don’t take care of their staff.  They make decisions without considering the reality of the teachers. They can’t manage the finances. They are removed from the classroom (or school), and yet they call the shots without ever having observed any of the classrooms (or certainly not mine).  They are highly disorganized.  They are pushovers.  They are clearly afraid of ever displeasing the parents instead of focused on delivering a high-quality Montessori experience to the children.  They may lack appropriate boundaries.  They clearly play favorites.  They make empty promises.  I’ve even known some that tried to sue teachers who quit before their contract was up. If they’re never around, all the staff are relieved.

8. Many schools do not pay their staff very well.  There’s the reality that you’re dealing with this insane amount of work, right.  And then you’re barely getting paid enough to survive, or you’re not receiving all the benefits that real adult careers receive.  There’s no 401K, there’s no medical benefits.  And you’re living paycheck to paycheck and can’t save any money… wait… why are you putting up with all this stress again, if you can work at Starbucks, Whole Foods, or the Post Office and at least get benefits?  Amazon delivery drivers make more than ECE childcare workers.

9. There’s somehow never enough time to be on top of all the work, no matter how long your scheduled day is.  It takes multiple days to complete teacher prep tasks… if you even get a formal teacher prep window at all, that is.

10. Nonexistent work-life balance.  In a dream world, no Montessori teaching job should be scheduled for longer than 7 hours a day.  And that is because you will always be working outside of work; and/or because you don’t get paid enough, and therefore you need a second job.  I have no idea how some of my Montessori guide friends have two jobs, honestly;  because I don’t even have enough time to just do this one job, and then go home and take care of my personal life like cooking dinner, cleaning/ recovery, and working out.  There have been days where I eat cereal and milk for “lunch” because I don’t have time to cook dinner or make a proper lunch before waking up at 5am. Some of my guide friends refuse to do any work around work.  Maybe I’m just not at that point in the school year where I get that luxury?  I don’t know.

I also once worked at a school where the owner created mandatory teacher work days on some holidays.  The free meals didn’t soften the blow of losing what was a day off for every other teacher in our state.

11. Being under contract can be a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, you’re like “Yes, I have a secure job for the next year”.  On the other hand, you’re like “I’m stuck in hell for the next 364 days.”  There have been many times I look back and wish I had gotten out of a bad situation sooner. But I couldn’t, because I was under contract.

Choosing Montessori jobs is the same as choosing a partner to date. And you can find yourself stuck in a “bad relationship”, sometimes an exploitative, emotionally abusive work relationship.  And you see no way out because you think you need the paycheck or you need the child care discount. Or you’re afraid there won’t be any other schools hiring (which is a legitimate consideration depending what time of the year you’re in).

While all potentially true risks, target and Whole Foods pay just as much as Montessori assistants make. And the US Postal Service can turn into a 6-figure career with no experience necessary.  Running your own daycare can become the child care your kid needs. So let it be known here and now that you’re never actually truly stuck even if you signed a contract. Unless they try to sue you for breaking the contract.  Which unfortunately is not unheard of, sadly.

12. Failure to recognize the problems, combined with the failure to rapidly adapt.  This is one of the ones that’s on you.  There’s a winning approach in the Montessori method that applies to the adult Montessori career just as much as it does to the toddler’s. And that idea is to “learn it right and master it once so that you never have to start over”.

Self-correction is a principle that applies to the career classroom Montessorian journey just as much as it applies to the kids’ educational journeys.  I wish I had realized my own advice and applied it to my career  years ago; and just found a way to open my own Montessori daycare.   A good rule of thumb is that if you have to switch jobs more than three times, maybe you need to step away from this profession, or maybe you need a career pivot and just need to get out of the classroom or switch age levels.

13. Having special needs kids in your class that derail your entire agenda.  The truth is, not all of us have the desire to be a special ed teacher.  I wouldn’t be broke if that was the case.  But even if you know your truth and teaching special needs isn’t a part of it, it doesn’t mean that Montessori keeps you immune to being a special ed teacher anyway.

I have had a special needs kid in my class every single year for my entire career so far.  “Special needs” is not synonymous with “difficult”; and just because they are undoubtedly different doesn’t mean they will necessarily all be difficult.  But some of them will be difficult and poorly suited to a Montessori learning environment.

During some years, the special needs kid was frankly too much to handle.  But we had to deal because the directors are too paranoid about getting sued and the bottom line of the business if they turn the kid away. The child would go around the room overturning basket after basket of materials.  Finding ways to throw materials in the class fish tank.  Hiding all the bars of soap.  Unable to nap without screaming as if someone caught their body on fire.  The one going around hurting all their friends.    The other friends constantly complained about them, or were terrified of getting hurt by them.  You and your assistant are working on overdrive just to manage the impact of this one kid; and it is utterly exhausting. You were like “This is going to be my most peaceful year yet”, and the special needs kid is like “oh no it’s not”.

14. The other 99 problems. Everyone is usually trained by the workplace culture to just keep their mouth shut and suffer through a host of Montessori school problems that certainly don’t surface on the tour, or appear in your job description. As a result, stress abounds.  Other problems include:

* Environmental dysfunction (leaking roofs, broken toilets, broken sliding doors, poorly designed rooms not meant to receive the population or volume of kids served or not designed for the purpose of delivering Montessori education, critter infestations, etc)

* Lack of clear policy that is upheld inconsistently.

*  terrible work hours.

* Financial problems and fiscal mismanagement.

So there it is.  No sugar coating.   All the stressors that you can anticipate when saying yes to choosing a classroom 0-3 Montessori job.  I hope that you will dodge most or all of these.  But just in case you don’t, at least now you know.

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