Early childhood workers vary widely in their qualifications. In most states, the legal requirements are minimal: In California, for example, 12 Early Childhood Units from a community college are all that’s needed to teach preschool. Along with minimal qualifications often comes low pay and poor working conditions, which lead to a detrimentally high staff turnover at many childcare centers.
Montessori teachers generally have at least some additional training. But even within Montessori, training can vary significantly. As Montessori is not a copyrighted term, anyone can offer “Montessori teacher training”—whether or not they actually know anything about Montessori!
That’s why at LePort, we are very selective on who we hire. We actively recruit the best candidates from the pool of Montessori teachers, and most of our teachers hold an AMI Montessori credential. AMI stands for the Association Montessori International, the original Montessori organization founded in 1929 by Dr. Montessori herself. This training sets the standard in Montessori training, and our classrooms largely operate along AMI principles. When we on occasion hire teachers with a training other than AMI, we ensure that their qualifications live up to this standard:
- A graduate-level course. Teacher candidates at a good Montessori training program like AMI generally need a Bachelor’s degree to be admitted to the program—making it more likely they have the general intelligence that is needed to be a strong teacher.
- An in-person, year-long training program. While some Montessori programs are delivered exclusively online, and others are “quickie” 10-week summer courses, the AMI training and other high-quality programs are the equivalent of a full academic year program. Students attend classes in person, and interact with other students, with experienced trainers, with the materials, and with children.
- An in-depth exploration of early childhood development and the full range of Montessori materials. An good Montessori training course doesn’t just provide a quick overview of Montessori. Instead, it is, as many AMI-trained teachers will confirm, “one of the most challenging years in my life.” Lectures cover a wide range of topics on early childhood development, including a deep-dive into the principles behind Montessori, as well as the specific use and lessons of every material in a Montessori classroom. Candidates don’t have textbooks to study from; instead, they make their own “albums” by taking lectures notes and then describing, in their own words, with their own, often hand-drawn, illustrations, the use and lessons for every single material.
- Experienced master teachers as trainers. Becoming an good Montessori trainer is difficult. For example, candidates for the AMI “training of trainers” program must hold an AMI Montessori credential and have at least five years of Montessori teaching experience in an authentic Montessori setting. They then “apprentice” as a course assistant, before graduating to become a certified AMI trainer.
- External written and oral exams to graduate. While many training programs give final exams in-house, AMI teacher candidates are examined by an outside trainers. This helps ensure quality, and makes it all but impossible for training centers to graduate teachers who have not mastered the skills required to become excellent teachers.
AMI training, to us, guarantees that a teacher has the intelligence and knowledge base to become a great teacher. We look for even more, though, when we interview candidates: We want our teachers to be happy, motivated people with great interpersonal skills and a willingness to work hard and grow.
This is not to say that there aren’t other outstanding Montessori teachers, and on occasion, we will hire teachers with American Montessori Society (AMS) or other credentials from good training programs, who bring a high level of skill or experience. This is more common when we integrate existing Montessori schools into our network, usually when a long-term owner retires and we step in to continue their legacy of delivering a good Montessori education. When that happens, our primary focus remains unchanged: to provide the most authentic Montessori experience to each of our students. In those instances, we take great care to get to know the current staff and culture of a school to identify areas where it excels, as well as instances where strong academic support and additional professional development are needed to help teachers deliver a Montessori experience that lives up to our high standards. In some cases, this can result in staffing changes, and we work hard to anticipate those changes with minimal disruption to the student’s experience.
As part of our commitment to developing our staff, we regularly sponsor our best assistant teachers for their AMI Montessori training, paying for their training through a refundable loan. To make it possible for them to do the training while working with our students, we have partnered with AMI training centers to create training programs with afternoon/evening and weekend schedules. The goal is to promote these newly-trained teachers as soon as possible to head teachers; usually, this happens once they complete their training, but sometimes, we will offer assistant teachers a head teacher position concurrent to completing their AMI training. In those cases, we ensure that our new Montessori teachers are well-supported by our regional and academic teams, so they deliver an authentic Montessori experience to the children and parents they serve from the beginning of their tenure as head teachers.
Teachers we hire right out of AMI training who haven’t worked as assistants at LePort often start out as “junior teachers,” and complete a six- to twelve-month paid “apprenticeship” under one of our “master teachers.” That’s how they learn the art of teaching, from classroom management to communications with parents.
We also support all of our teachers—floaters, assistant teachers and head teachers—with ongoing training opportunities, from bringing outstanding AMI-trained experts to our schools, to offering ongoing in-classroom coaching from our Montessori-trained, experienced Heads of Schools and our Montessori academics support team.
Because we hire highly-qualified teachers, and select them for “culture fit,” because we offer a great working environment, career growth opportunities, and ongoing support, because we pay well and offer a benefits package including paid time off and health insurance, we are able to attract great people to work with the children in our schools, and to help them make teaching into a long-term career.