Words of Wisdom for the Rookie Montessori Teacher: Eight Tips for Staying The Course

Words of Wisdom for the Rookie Montessori Teacher: Eight Guideposts for Staying The Course

You've taken your first steps as a Montessori teacher. You've completed or at least begun your Montessori training and, if you are like most Montessori practitioners, the philosophy resonates deep within you, and the beauty and elegance of the materials call to you. You understand the importance of the prepared environment and the value of observation. And you sincerely appreciate the focus on a respectful, cooperative classroom community and, especially, that peace education is not an isolated topic but is threaded through every aspect of the classroom and curriculum.

You are committed to the theory underlying Montessori education; however, putting it into practice can feel daunting, or even overwhelming to new Montessori teachers. Having guidance through your journey and returning to it when needed, is good reflective pedagogy. While this author has 23 years of Montessori classroom experience, she continues to learn, to adapt, and to grow. Along the way, she has found the following practices particularly key to her own success in the classroom; she shares them now as you begin your own journey.

Ask for Help

Don't hesitate to tap into the experience and expertise of those around you. Asking for advice, guidance, and support will yield a wealth of ideas on everything from classroom management and curriculum planning, to record keeping and parent conferences. Talk to others. Ask questions. Consider any or all of the following:

  • Ask for advice from veteran teachers; they can be an invaluable resource.
  • Contact your peers from your teacher education training center. Ask them what is working well for them, and where they are struggling. The comradery of a cohort cannot be understated.
  • Reach out to your training instructors, most of whom are happy to hear from former students and would be delighted to lend a listening ear or a helping hand.
  • Take advantage of the range of membership benefits offered by AMS membership, from free online professional development opportunities to AMS Connect, where you can join any number of online communities to access resources and share ideas.

Just remember that you are not alone; help is out there for the asking.

Schedule Observation Time

Your trainers likely instilled in you the idea that observation informs instructional and other decisions; as such, it is not only sound pedagogy, but vitally important. New Montessori teachers, however, often feel they don't have time for observation. While it may take time to establish a regular observation routine, make observation a habit, a part of your school day, even if you can only spare a few minutes. Regular observation will help you:

  • gauge the child's competence with and interest in a particular material or concept
  • plan for future lessons
  • gain awareness of individual and group dynamics
  • gauge academic, social, and emotional development, as well as physical wellness
  • assess the effectiveness of the prepared environment

Remember, “If the teacher is always moving from one child to another, giving lesson after lesson, she's probably missing some important social and physical cues from the children. It's important to step back, slow down, and observe the children and the environment with fresh eyes” (Baker 2015).

Establish and Maintain a Good Record Keeping System

The other hand of observation is record keeping, without which good instructional planning cannot occur. Of course you make informal observations throughout the day, but authentic, formative observation requires documentation; it is the means by which you are able to develop an individual plan for each child. Developing a system early, at the beginning of your teaching career, is key. Don't assume that you can keep every child's progress and plan in your head; and even if you could, your administrator would have difficulty accessing it there. For any number of reasons, your administrator may eventually need to refer to your records if questions arise, from parents or others, regarding the lessons you have presented. You will, of course, also refer to your records, likely on a daily basis.

  • Look at other teachers' record keeping systems, or into the many systems available online.
  • Work with other teachers at the same grade level to develop a system together; In this way you can support one another.
  • Whether you decide on a digital or paper-and-pencil system, find something that works for you, implement it early, and use it consistently.

Don't Let the Curriculum Overwhelm You

The Montessori curriculum is rich and extensive, and it can be daunting for a new teacher trying to cover all the areas and topics in their presentations. It is all too easy to feel inadequate about not getting in enough lessons in one area or another. Consider these approaches to keep the curriculum manageable rather than overwhelming:

  • Find common threads between two or more curriculum areas; connect one area to another. This is a key component of Cosmic Education and not only covers more ground in one topic of study, but also encourages your students to make meaningful connections between ideas.
  • Keep your sights on the spiral curriculum, which allows the child to revisit basic concepts and major themes, from all curriculum areas each year, in greater depth and complexity as they gain abstract understanding.
  • Focus on thoroughly developing one or two areas at a time, and forgive yourself for not covering every topic as in-depth as you'd like every time.

If you are in a conventional Montessori setting, you have three years with your students. By integrating curriculum areas and spiraling back on major topics, you and your students will get through everything in good time.

Establish Schedules, Routines, and Rituals

As you have likely learned, follow the child has many iterations and is manifested quite differently from one school to another. In whatever manner it is interpreted, Montessori was clear that the prepared environment is meant to create pedagogical boundaries and provide self-discipline by way of its parameters. These include schedules, routines, and rituals.

  • Teachers find classroom management is facilitated when a schedule is followed; children, too, like to know what to expect.
  • Routines provide a sense of order and predictability to the day; for example, independent work time starts at 9:00, classroom jobs at 2:45.
  • Rituals provide a sense of meaning to the day. Rituals may include shaking each child's hand as they enter the room, or observing a moment of silence before beginning to eat lunch.
  • Set aside blocks of time for lessons, independent work, and whole group meetings. Think of these time blocks as a structure within which you can plan and adjust the day, but allow for flexibility for both yourself and your students.

Schedules and routines are important and will add needed structure to your day, benefiting both you and your students. But do accept that you will not get to every lesson you plan or schedule; anything can happen, and anything will, so flexibility is key.

Build a Cohesive Classroom Community

The prepared environment includes two dimensions: physical and psychological (not to mention a new set of considerations due to the present pandemic). You can prepare a picture-perfect physical environment, aesthetically pleasing and with all the materials present and in good order, but without a cohesive classroom community, little learning will take place. By emphasizing the importance of community—respect and cooperation—from day one and throughout the school year, your students will feel safe and valued and can, consequently, focus on learning. To this end:

  • Schedule regular community-building activities, projects, and games.
  • Include children in the establishment of class rules so they take ownership of them.
  • Prepare a conflict-resolution plan. Model this for children and let them practice. Make a visual for their reference. Knowing what to say when the time comes will help diffuse anger and hurt feelings.
  • Learn when—and when not—to intervene. Allow children to take care of their spills, help one another, and problem solve on their own (as long as everyone is safe).
  • Help children understand that they each have a responsibility for the well-being of all the others.

By contributing to a cohesive classroom community, by supporting the learning and "inevitable struggles” of others, children “expand their humanity and redefine their civility" (Goertz 2001, 6). Community building is an integral aspect of Montessori's peace education; it must be practiced daily by every child. Role model the behavior and attitudes you want to see in your students.

Keep Reading

Read professionally, read for your own enjoyment, and read for your physical and mental health.

  • Go back to those Montessori classics that inspired you during your training and read the others you never got to. You will gain new insights from The Secret of Childhood, even if you are an Elementary trained teacher, or from From Childhood to Adolescence if you trained at the Early Childhood level.
  • Read books for personal pleasure. Whether you enjoy a gripping mystery story or an historical fiction novel, immersing yourself in different worlds, for as little as ten minutes or so each day, takes your mind out of the classroom, giving you a much-needed mental break.
  • Read science news and human interest stories, and take a few moments from your circle time to share these with your students. Begin with, “I read the most amazing article last night!” You will have your students hooked, and they will look forward to the next news story you have to share. You will also have role modeled the importance of reading and lifelong learning.

Look Forward to Each School Day

Despite your best efforts, you will have good days and bad in the classroom. You will celebrate the days when “the children [worked as if you] did not exist” (Montessori 2019, 283), and bemoan those when you feel overwhelmed. Maintaining certain practices will help you nurture a positive relationship with your students and your job.

  • Ask yourself each day what is going well and reflect upon what can be improved. Consider keeping a journal to record important thoughts, ideas, and classroom anecdotes.
  • Allow your students to teach you. Learn from them.
  • Don't take yourself too seriously. Laugh with your students. Have fun together.
  • Take care of yourself—get enough sleep, exercise, and good nutrition; put time aside to pursue your personal interests outside the classroom.

Remember your training and why you chose Montessori as your career path. Each morning, look forward to the work day ahead of you; each evening, reflect upon the achievements and challenges of the day. Keep your focus, stay positive, and be good to yourself.

Some Closing Thoughts

It takes time, sometimes years, before you become the teacher you want to be. You are on a personal and professional journey, one in which you will invest a great deal of yourself, and one that is likely to bring you tremendous rewards. You will gain knowledge, experience, and wisdom along the way, and you will find that it gets easier every year. Refer often to these tips—and others you may learn—and don't be afraid to let go from time to time.

This author had some of her best days with her students when she threw out the plans and schedule for the day and allowed things to progress organically. Pay attention to what happens between presentations, among the children, and beyond the materials, for your work is not limited to preparing the environment and giving lessons. As a very wise school director once told me, “The most important work is not on the shelves.”

References

Bryant-Goertz, D. (2001). Children who are not yet peaceful: preventing exclusion in the early elementary classroom. Berkeley: Frog Books.

Montessori, M. and Claremont, C. (2019). The absorbent mind. Amsterdam: Montessori-Pierson Publishing Company.

About the Author


Cynthia Brunhold-Conesa

Cynthia Brunold-Conesa, MEd, is an educator of adult learners at two AMS teacher education programs. She has 23 years experience as a lead guide at the Elementary and middle school levels. Cynthia also publishes on a variety of Montessori topics. She is AMS credentialed (Elementary I – II). Contact her at cynthia.conesa@meipn.org .

Interested in writing a guest post for our blog? Let us know!