Sunday, April 15, 2007

Tips for Evaluating Montessori (and other) Schools

Here are some tips to guide you through the school selection process. As harsh as it sounds, kindergartens are big business in many areas, so you cannot rely on the Montessori or other label to help you navigate the process.

  1. Spend a day in the classroom with the teacher and teaching assistants.
  2. The school should be welcoming and invite your questions and observations. If there is a headmaster or principle, that person should also be knowledgeable about Montessori and explain things clearly.
  3. If the school cannot explain Montessori to you, they either cannot communicate well or they do not know what they’re talking about. Don’t fall for any hand-waving excuses about intricate methodology. You do not have to have any sort of training or educational background for a good explanation to make sense to you.
  4. The teaching staff is the most important element in the classroom, so don’t let yourself be wooed by expensively-decorated classrooms and beautiful new Montessori materials. Well-worn material may come with the most experienced and dedicated staff.
  5. Keep an eye out for schools that use Montessori equipment as toys and market themselves as Montessori schools.
  6. Talk to parents in the school to get feedback on the staff and school.
  7. Remember that everyone in the school will have an effect on your child’s learning environment.
  8. Is the headmaster a pompous arrogant non-educator hired for his or her fundraising prowess? This person's daily nteractions with the teaching staff may make their lives unbearable and that will effect their classroom demeanor.
  9. Will your child be sent to the headmaster’s office for behavior problems? Make sure your child will not be isolated with an adult, headmaster or not. In a typical classroom, children are given a time out in the corner of the classroom, if their behavior is out of control. Worse than that and the parent should get a call to pick up the child.
  10. Physical activities are important. Make sure children will be able to run and play outside.
  11. If you are overseas, check the staff carefully. Frequently, Montessori schools will charge high tuition and decorate impeccably, but save on staffing by bringing in cheap, inexperienced Caucasian teachers on the theory that parents will not be able to evaluate the teacher thoroughly (but be impressed because a Caucasian teacher looks as if he or she ought to speak good English).
  12. If you are not a native speaker of the language that the teacher uses for teaching, bring in a native-speaking friend to evaluate the teacher’s use of grammar, pronunciation, and quality of interaction with the children.
  13. The classroom should be clean, orderly, and bright with plants and fish or other animals.

We feel that it is better to put your child in public school with a wonderful teacher than to choose a mediocre teacher in a Montessori school. Remember, anyone can sign up for Montessori training, but no exit examinations for suitable personality types are given before certification!

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