How to become a Montessori teacher in Japan (and elsewhere)

I’ve recently begun studying to become a Montessori guide and I have had several people ask me how I am doing this in Japan. I thought I would write a bit about it based on some of the research I have done. This is only my research and my interpretation of the options available in Japan. If you have a different experience or more information to share, please leave a comment or contact me on my other social media because I would love to include it!

What is a “Montessori” teacher?

A Montessori teacher is essentially a teacher trained in the Montessori approach to education. Montessori teachers are actually called “guides” in most circles so I will use that term throughout this post. I think it’s good to keep in mind that the term “Montessori” is not copyrighted and because of that, many training organizations, schools, and professionals have adopted it to describe their method or product. This does not mean that it is approved by Maria Montessori herself or fact checked in any way. The only official organization with this responsibility is the Association Montessori Internationale, which was founded by Maria Montessori and aims to continue on her authentic work by certifying educators and schools who meet their rigorous standards. If you see a Montessori teacher with an AMI Diploma or an AMI certified school, that is essentially the top level of certification.

However, there are several other certifying organizations that may be worth looking into if they are popular in your area. The American Montessori Society (AMS) being one of the other main ones. North American Montessori Training Center is another option for people wanting to become trained teachers. They offer courses completely online. If you plan to work internationally, then AMI and NAMTC are the two most recognized organizations. You will find most Montessori educators in Japan certified through either AMI or NAMTC. For this post I am only going to be discussing AMI because I believe it is the most recognizable and reputable internationally and it is the organization I am currently getting certified through.

The AMI Homepage

What are the requirements?

Most AMI certification courses require a bachelor’s degree or equivalent education. Some will make exceptions in special circumstances however so it’s worth checking with individual programs. For my diploma program, I needed to provide my official college transcripts, resume, three letters of recommendation, and answer the essay questions they provided. Again, every program will have different requirements so it is best to check with them via the AMI website. I also cannot speak for other training organizations such as AMS because it doesn’t apply to my work in Japan and therefore I did not research it.

What type of certification should I get?

There are generally two types of certifications within Montessori and particularly with AMI, the diploma course and the certificates courses. The diploma course is a full-time certification course requiring extensive time spent in theory lectures, observation practice, and a teaching practicum. It is as expensive as a traditional graduate degree lasting about one year. The AMI Diploma prepares you to work in an AMI certified or other type of Montessori school as a lead guide in a particular age level. The certificates courses is less intensive than the diploma and focuses on either a particular area of study or a general overview of Montessori as in the Classroom Assistants course. You can find out more about AMI courses here or scroll down for a screenshot from their website.

(Screenshot from montessori-ami.org)

If you are looking to learn more about Montessori, perhaps in order to run your own home playgroup or work as an assistant in a school, and not necessarily become a full-fledged teacher, then the Montessori Classroom Assistant course could be a good option for you. There are many online options for this type of course from training centers throughout the world which you can see here. It’s good to know that these Assistant courses are often called “Orientation” or “Foundation” course as well.

A fellow Tokyo mom, Ana, had this to say about the AMI 0-3 Assistants course she is currently taking through the Maria Montessori Institute:

“The 0-3 Assistants Course is an introduction to Montessori, and quite enough for anyone who is looking for good quality information about Montessori for organizing their homes and applying the concepts in daily life. I decided to take it because I couldn’t organize myself in the overwhelming amount of Montessori content that we have available online. Requirements for the Assistants course are not so strict as for the Diploma, I didn’t have to submit any proof of my college degree. Only a motivation letter and answer to a few questions.There are around 65 people taking the same course as I am, from all over the world. It’s 100% online.To get the Assistants certification we have to write 3 short essays, 9 hours of observation, and prepare and submit 1 language material. The workload is quite light if you compare to the Diploma course, but I believe it’s a lot for an introduction. If one is not looking for certification they don’t need to submit any of these.I am considering taking a Diploma course in the future, when we don’t have COVID restrictions anymore and I can fly home safely (I am from Brazil, terrible situation we are having there)”

Which training center should I choose?

This is where things can get a little tricky. If you are in Japan, there is an AMI Montessori training center named the Montessori Institute of Tokyo and located in Kanagawa. If you speak Japanese, this may be a good option for you. They historically offer a Primary 3-6 training course at least once a year with several options for duration. If you are like me and would prefer to study in your first language, then finding a training center abroad is your only option. Since I am American, I looked for training programs in the US. However, AMI operates in most countries so you should be able to find a training center in your home country. You can search for AMI training centers and courses here.

Because of Covid, many courses in 2020 and 2021 have gone at least partially online. The course I am taking is online this summer (2021) and in person in California next summer in 2022 for example. If you are interested in becoming certified by AMI, I would definitely start looking for programs now as it’s quite good timing! Many training centers in the US are offering a hybrid format. Additionally, even in non-Covid times, most training centers offer summer courses over two years which can be an option if you have children at home like I do. Being able to break up your study periods and plan your summer vacation around the course can be one way to accomplish it.

What age group should I work with?

This is of course a very personal preference but it is worthwhile to note that Montessori is most frequently found in schools in the 0-6 age range. Usually (and if it is an AMI certified school then absolutely), classes will be divided into the 0-3 infant/toddler class and the 3-6 Primary class (also called Children’s House). Since these are the most popular ages for parents to send their children to Montessori school, most programs cater to this stage of development. However, you can also be a Montessori elementary, middle school, and even high school educator if you are interested in that age range. The Montessori School of Tokyo for instance, offers an AMI certified Montessori education for ages 2-15 making it the only school in Tokyo with this offering. Since you are probably hoping to find a job after becoming a certified Montessori teacher, I would take in to consideration what schools and potential jobs are available in your local area when choosing an age group as well.

What training am I doing?

I am doing the Primary (3-6) diploma course through the Montessori Institute of San Diego. It is a online/in person hybrid format spanning one year. I will attend 11 weeks of online lectures plus 7 weeks of in person practice in Summer of 2022. Some of the other requirements are varying hours of observation, practice with materials, and a teaching practicum in a classroom with an AMI certified guide. To receive the diploma, you will also need to submit five “albums” for review consisting of various notes and instructions on material usage, theory, and more. You will also have a written and oral examination to be completed in person at the end of the program. Overall, it is an intensive teaching course that is comparable to what I did in my M.Ed program and elementary teaching credential.

The required Montessori texts for my training course

A note about Montessori education in Japan

Montessori education is not commonplace in Japan yet. In fact, anecdotally I have heard that is is often associated with Catholic schools here. You may see some international kindergartens advertising that they are Montessori. Most often, this is not the case but they are using the Montessori name to their appeal to parents. To be a true Montessori school, they should be certified by an organization such as AMI. In Tokyo, there is only one school with this credential, The Montessori School of Tokyo. If a school promotes itself as being “Montessori-inspired” however, you can trust that they are using some elements of a Montessori approach but perhaps not everything will be Montessori aligned. This is something to be aware of as you search for employment or for a school for your child. That being said, this means that there is more room than ever for Montessori schools to open and hopefully more will in the future.

MST’s Homepage

Are you planning to become a Montessori teacher? Let me know what your plan is!

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