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?