More Thoughts on Teacher Training

Those who know me well know that I’ve been mulling over the AMI teacher training process a lot lately.  Having just completed this training program I’m still in the reflection phase of the whole process, trying to integrate all that I learned into my practice as an educator.  Two months in the classroom has given me a lot to think about.


Before I say anything else, I think it’s worth noting that there are many things I loved about my training.  The diversity and camaraderie of the training cohort and the passion of the staff are admirable and inspiring.  I am confident in my understanding of Montessori theory and ability to give captivating and succint presentations.


But there were also aspects of the training that I found odd, and sometimes downright frustrating, especially given that I am also a Montessori child.  My childhood experience of learning was one of direct engagement and exploration.  My experience of learning to become a teacher was one of passive note-taking during lectures.  It was, to be honest, a very difficult experience for me.


I think my biggest frustration right now is that what I received in training does not feel like adequate preparation for the realities of teaching in a relatively new charter Montessori program (this is its second year).  This is not really the fault of the training itself–it was always made clear that we were being given the training to run an “ideal” Montessori program.  In my opinion, “ideal”  is a not so subtle euphamism for private Montessori programs–that is, programs that have more flexibility in picking and choosing their students to create optimal possibility for achieving a “normalized” class as quickly as possible.


Certain assumptions are made in our training about the kinds of children we will work with–children who are prepared by three years in the primary (3-6) environment, who have experienced a wealth of sensorial and practical life work that directly and indirectly prepares them for the depth and richness of the Montessori elementary experience.


But I will be the first to say, this is not the experience that many of my students have had.  And that’s not their fault…but I wish my training had better prepared me to handle the realities of teaching children who do not come from Children’s House programs.  Yes, I can apply Montessori theory and principles to this situation, and yes, I am learning new strategies every day…but wouldn’t it be easier if every teacher left training feeling confident that she knew not only how to deal with the ideal, but also how to successfully support a remedial learning process?


To go back to Doug Stowe’s comments in his blog post about the practicality aspect of teacher training, I thought I’d compare number of hours of AMI student teaching (the most hands-on part of the training) to conventional graduate level education programs.  In browsing through Portland State University’s requirements for initial teacher licensure, I was struck by how much time candidates spend in the classroom before their first teaching job:


OARs-584-017-0180: Practice and Student Teaching

(3) Student teaching is at least 15 weeks in length.

(a) At least nine weeks are full-time in schools, during which the student teacher assumes the full range of responsibilities of a classroom teacher for the purpose of developing and demonstrating the competencies required for initial licensure.

(b) During the remaining six weeks, the six-week requirement may be met either through full-time or the equivalent part-time experience.

(c) The assignment of responsibilities may be incremental in keeping with the objectives of the experience.  In GTEP, Student Teaching I is a half-time experience (20 hours per week or its  equivalent) for one quarter, and Student Teaching II is a full-time experience for one quarter.

So, all together, conventional teaching candidates get nine weeks of full-time student teaching and six weeks of half-time student teaching.  At 8 hours a day, that adds up to 480 hours in the classroom with regular feedback from an advisor and supervising teacher.


AMI requires 120 hours of student teaching, during which we are only responsible for giving lessons.  In fact it is clearly stated that we are not supposed to be in charge of classroom management.  In the summer programs, like the one I did, the director of training is unable to actually observe each candidate in the classroom, so other representatives from AMI come for one day to observe and take notes.  I happened to have an amazing colleague come to observe me in the classroom…but that one day of observation was not really enough, in my mind.


I can’t help feeling a bit of sadness over this fact.  Here we are, training a new wave of teachers in this highly unorthodox methodology, one that requires, in Dr. Montessori’s own words, a spiritual transformation of the adult, and yet, we only get 120 hours to practice?  Imagine the depth of experience to be gained with 500 hours of supervised practice in a Montessori classroom, during which we are fully responsible for all aspects of classroom management?


Perhaps I just need more time in the classroom…I will be interested to come back to this post in a year and see how I feel about all of this.  I’d love to hear thoughts from other Montessorians about how they felt about their training, AMI or otherwise…especially from those who are now working in public schools.  What did you love about your training? What do you wish was different? What would you tell people enrolled in training now?  If you could do your training over, what questions would you ask and how would you have organized your time?


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6 Responses to More Thoughts on Teacher Training

  1. Karla says:

    I am a primary teacher at a public Montessori school in San Francisco. I finished my AMI primary training in 2005 and have been teaching since then. This is my third year at the public school. Public school is certainly different than private, but I believe my training prepared me completely to be a public Montessorian.

    My first year was at a private school and I definitely struggled with “classroom management” and got frustrated that my training didn’t teach it. But classroom management is in the training; everything is. You just need to trust completely in the method and in the children. Practice, practice, practice; make mistakes; and learn from your mistakes.


  2. Lena Wood says:


    Thanks for the encouraging words…it’s good to keep that perspective in mind–this is only my first year, and I have yet to meet a teacher who thinks she got it right the first time around!

    I think my frustration is not so much that classroom management wasn’t *taught* in my training…it was. My frustration was that we weren’t given more opportunities to practice in the classroom under careful guidance with constructive feedback. Everyone is so encouraging and supportive, which is wonderful, but at the end of the day during student teaching I was still hungering for something more useful, and I feel like I wasn’t pushed enough to think critically about the choices I made in presentations, etc.

    Of course, as my friends will point out, we are always our own harshest critics…

  3. This is my second year as a Primary guide in a “private” school. I use quotations around the word private because the selection criteria that allow most private Montessori schools to have normalized classrooms really doesn’t exist where I work. The school is in an industrial area and welcomes all sorts, so most parents use it as a glorified and affordable daycare and make no efforts to understand Montessori. I write this to let you know that even in so-called private schools, we struggle with some of the same aspects of public education.

    With that said, I completely agree with you on the lack of classroom experience afforded to us during training. I, too, struggled my first year, but I came to the realization that true learning starts when you get your “own” classroom. Because our method is so personalized, you have to approach every child differently, and that only happens when you have your own classroom. I can’t imagine how difficult and unproductive it would be for EVERYONE if a practice teacher came into the classroom and took over for several weeks. Good-bye normalization and many months of hard work by the head guide…

    I guess that in our society, where everything is fast and immediate, we pressure ourselves to develop that “spiritual preparation” in a matter of weeks, when in reality it takes YEARS! In retrospect, I don’t think that spending a few weeks practicing classroom management would have prepared me any differently for dealing with my own classroom. It is a journey, one that takes decades of practice to perfect.

    What I have been reminded by many VERY experienced guides and trainers is “go back to the books”. It really is all in there, including classroom management, at least at the Primary level. And the magic word: limits, limits, limits. And a huge sense of humor and self-forgiveness.

    In retrospect, I wouldn’t have changed my training (although during my first year of teaching I bemoaned the lack of practical experience).

  4. Just wanted to let you know I posted my response on my blog. I had too much to say!

  5. E says:

    I am currently in my second year as an AMI teacher in a private school. We are currently making a huge push to have half of our enrollment be non-tuition paying students. As a result, we also have to deal with the struggles of parent communication and education, and having students come from less than ideal home or community conditions.

    That being said, I want to echo the thoughts of those comments before me: Teaching is very much an “on the job training” career. I have many friends who are non-Montessori public school teachers and we all deal with the similar issues of making our classroom ours – from the physical environment to the guidelines and expectations of our students. I believe this is not something that can be taught but only experienced.

    However, I HIGHLY recommend someone who is considering taking the AMI training to first spend a year in the classroom as an assistant. Not only will this make one a better guide by being able to relate to the difficulties of being an assistant, but will also provide the opportunity to be able to see the classroom transformation from deviated to normalized over the course of the academic year. Conversely, if someone completed the AMI training before stepping into the classroom, I recommend they still spend a year assisting a well-trained guide. From this, the tools of classroom management can be observed and adopted.

    My only recommendation for you would be to take it one day at a time and FOLLOW THE CHILD. If we as guides keep in mind what is in the best interest of each individual child, the rest of the puzzle pieces will fit together beautifully!

    I speak from the view of a Montessori assistant for 2 years and now a trained guide – have faith that the children will show you the way!

    Good luck!

  6. Kela says:

    Sorry to be late in reading this, and also I’m obviously not a Montessorian… But just wanted to add my perspective as someone who went through a “conventional” undergraduate education degree program. I can say that although I theoretically had those 480 hours of student teaching PLUS a full half-year of practicums in suburban, urban, private and public schools with K-12 students, I still felt the same way about my training. And the amazing thing was, so did many of the other students in the general college of ed (since music ed. majors had more requirements, we actually did significantly less practicum work than they did).

    When I finally got into the classroom as a student teacher and on my own, it was like, “Yo, did I ever go to school for this??? Those professors lied to me! And they have no idea what actually happens in the classroom!” I was awkward and really bad at teaching, especially the younger ones. But it got better (granted, that was about one week before student teaching ended, and only with the older ones, ha!!).

    My student teaching situation, as you know, was nothing like what you have on your plate this year. But I can relate to the feelings of disappointment in training, or even a mild sense of having been betrayed. I felt as if my professors had lied to me, and given me an inflated sense of my teaching abilities and of what I would be capable of accomplishing in the classroom. If its any consolation, what emerged from within me at the end of the student teaching experience were the following thoughts:

    1) I agree that many teacher training programs are bogus, often because they’re taught by people who research education rather than actually practice it
    2) I want to play a role in making sure that other young music teachers get better training than what I had
    3) I love teaching. I really do. And I’m so happy that I can devote my life to learning this craft. Surely the experiences of age must deepen one’s capacity for the wise and formative teaching we dream of being able to do.

    From student teaching, I began to learn what and how I wanted to teach. I was far away from any of my professors, my student teaching supervisor came three times in the four months I taught, and my cooperating teacher, while wonderful in his own way, was unlike any other person I had ever met! And I was in a foreign country, with new terminology, textbooks, desks in rows, exams, and an entirely new curriculum to learn. It was overwhelming and felt mildly insane. Eventually, however, I got so curious about how and why things worked and the students’ development, that I forgot to stand in criticism and just immersed myself in the experience. I knew that later I would be to look back and evaluate, taking what I wanted and letting go of the rest.

    I learned to be flexible. I realized that there is no ideal classroom out there, and that who my students were on one particular day at one particular moment would not be the same the next day. It could be sooooo aggravating!! But also so wonderful.

    Maybe that’s one of the most beautiful things about teaching: It’s a profoundly human practice. As teachers, we arrive carrying our own challenges, stresses, insecurities, joys, exhaustion, imperfections. And our students arrive in the same way. The way we bridge the space between us, narrow or wide, day after day, lesson after lesson, is where education begins.

    Late night rant… Sorry… Would love to hear your thoughts in whatever form of communication you want to share them. Congrats on finishing conferences!! Happy Thanksgiving break! xxx

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