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To Be or Not to Be, That Is the Montessori Teacher!

December, 2013
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What are the qualities of a successful Montessori teacher? There is by no means an exhaustive list, but the features listed below are a good starting point.

A successful Montessori teacher should:

Trust the Montessori Method. This can be difficult at times, especially when society has set ideas of what children should be doing and how quickly they should be advancing. The successful Montessori teacher will give her/himself and the children time.

This includes time to acclimatise to the Montessori classroom and materials, time for repetition which is necessary for the mastery of a skill, time to build a relationship and rapport with the children, time to observe and  time to make mistakes – “mistakes are the portals of discovery” James Joyce (1882-1941).

img_8054Model appropriate behaviour for the children. Good behaviour is caught not taught, as the saying goes. Children watch our every move and therefore will usually do as we do not as we say.  Examples of this would be – asking for and receiving permission before assisting the child in any work, saying ‘please’ when asking the child for something. Another important aspect is to allow the children sufficient time to carry out tasks, using words and actions that show respect for the child’s experience and in turn expecting to be treated respectfully.

Be prepared (準備, allzeit bereit,  bí ullamh). It is not possible to know everything that will happen on a particular day, but a successful Montessori teacher can be prepared for a lot. It can be as simple as having new materials for a rainy day or being ready for additional questions outside the scope of the materials you are presenting.

Show enthusiasm and wonder for learning new things. Curiosity is the driving force behind self-education. Human exploration and invention has been achieved by being curious. Children are naturally curious, hence the endless questions that fly at us constantly. Montessori teachers are aware of this and have a propensity to continually be on the lookout for books, materials and activities that will be appropriate for the age group they work with.

Observe, observe, observe! Just like concentration is the key to the child’s ability to learn, observation is the key to the teacher’s ability to guide. Observation allows the teacher to know what to do and when to do it and when best to leave things alone.

img_7716Motivates and encourages the child to do more challenging work. Freedom of choice is one of the main tenets of the Montessori method, but the teacher must be cognisant of each child’s potential and help him/her to reach it. They should be aware of ‘teachable moments’ – an unplanned opportunity that arises in the classroom, it is organic and timed to maximise the impact on the concept that has captured the children’s interest. For example United Nations day is celebrated all over the globe on October 24th, so a child may ask a question about UNICEF or the WHO – this is a ‘teachable moment’ and may lead to interesting lessons in the classroom.

Foster a good relationship with parents, other teachers and anyone else involved in the school. An open, honest relationship between the teacher and parent fosters respect in the child for the teacher and this in turn enhances the learning experience. It is important to recognise and respect one another’s knowledge and expertise. Montessori teachers invite parents to observe their children in the classroom and have them visit the classroom for particular events.

Guide the children to become self-directed learners. The Montessori teacher helps each child to grow towards independence by building confidence, competence, self-esteem, social responsibility and respect for others. More than an approach to education, Montessori is an approach to life.

Prepare the environment for learning. The Montessori teacher prepares the environment to facilitate maximum independent learning and exploration by the child. There is a variety of activity as well as a great deal of movement. “Watching a child makes it obvious that the development of his mind comes about through his movements.” (Montessori, p132) The space is designed to stimulate the interests of the children to further their general development. It must also be arranged so that they can carry out these activities in their own way and at their own pace. Within this organised environment “the child’s personality begins to organise itself and reveal its characteristics.” (Montessori, 1917/1965, p.70)


How does the teacher incorporate the outside environment with the inside environment?

The Montessori teacher knows that the curriculum should grow out of real home, work and other life situations. Therefore the experiences and learning in the classroom can be transferred to the outside and social life. Mathematics, language, geography, botany, geometry and gross motor skills are some of the areas where children can transfer their knowledge to the outdoor environment. For example, the older children can measure the perimeter of the garden and design vegetable patches or flower beds. They can use their mathematical skills to decide the budget for these purchases and estimate how long they will take to grow and how much water or sunlight they need. They will have studied photosynthesis before this.

Younger children can hunt for insects, birds and leaves. They also will set up weather stations to monitor weather or air pollution.

Toddlers can build and refine their gross motor skills by using the equipment in the playground and also learning how to behave as part of a group in a larger space. Their spatial awareness will become more refined when they have to walk in front of another child swinging on the swing or riding a bicycle on the cycle track.

The older age group will now engage in group games such as tug-of-war or football. The children will learn here that these games involve rules that order their conduct. They will learn that control of individual actions is affected by the entire situation in which a group of individuals are involved.  This participation and cooperation benefits the entire group. Therefore, a successful Montessori teacher will endeavour to replicate whatever is happening inside in the outside environment.

Training programmes for Montessori teachers

Montessori teachers come from a wide range of backgrounds. Most Montessori teachers have a primary degree (BA) in another discipline and attend a postgraduate programme to attain a Montessori Diploma for a particular age group.

Montessori teacher training programmes are offered from hundreds of colleges and institutes around the world. Programmes usually involve a year of study – in the USA , many programmes are run over the summer months for one, two or more summers followed by a year long supervised internship.

Montessori teacher training programmes are typically offered at the Infant/Toddler (birth-age 2), Early Childhood (3-6), Lower Elementary (6-9), Upper Elementary (9-12) and Secondary levels (12-15 & 15-18). Most programmes in the US require a college degree and the tuition varies. 

There are several organisations that accredit Montessori teacher training programmes in the United States and many more in other countries. In Europe and Australia most of the Montessori training is AMI, with the exception of England and Ireland where St. Nicholas is the known name.  St. Nicholas College in Dublin, Ireland has a four-year BA in Montessori where the graduates are qualified to teach children from birth to 12 years.

In the US most but not all programmes are accredited by the MACTE commission. They include The American Montessori Society (AMS), The Association Montessori Internationale (AMI), The International Montessori Council (IMC), Montessori Educational Programmes International (MEPI) and Pan American Montessori Society (PAMS). A number of smaller independent colleges in Canada and the US that offer Montessori teacher training are also MACTE accredited.

The standard of the programmes vary so it is up to the individual to decide which programme best suits his/her needs. Please check the countries where you wish to work for the criteria needed for registration as a Montessori teacher.

And perhaps the essence of Montessori can be best summed up in a Chinese proverb that says ‘learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere’.



Montessori, M. (1949). The Absorbent Mind, Clio Press, Oxford, England

Stoll-Lillard,Angeline. (2005). Montessori, the Science Behind the Genius, Oxford University press, New York.


By Aileen O’brien

Director of Trainning, Trinity Montessori Education Center

Montessori School of Shanghai


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