Laura Roark, of Anchorage, AK, began with a survey and was surprised by the responses. Roark discusses her inspiration and process, as well as her hope for more research on the topic.
- What inspired you to study teacher attrition? Actually, 2020 and 2021 were difficult years for teachers (and also most humans). I spent a lot of time talking to friends and staff about the difficulties they were facing. When it was time to do my research I was really interested in learning more about the topic. As a school administrator, I know how hard it is to find and retain qualified Montessori teachers, and having taught myself for many years, I also have my own feelings and experiences on the topic.
- What did you learn along the way? The first thing that I learned was that there were a lot more people than I thought who were interested in this topic. I did not expect to have so many responses to my survey. In the first 36 hours of posting the survey on social media I had nearly 200 responses. I panicked and emailed my professor, who assured me that though it was a good problem to have, that I should stop accepting new responses, as I would not have time to complete the analysis and write the paper. I was really disappointed and conflicted because I wanted to hear everyone’s voice, but in the end I had to take her advice so that I could complete the project in time. Additionally, I was surprised to learn that salary was not the most common reason for teachers to leave their job, but working conditions. I was not surprised that many responses mentioned that the quality of the Montessori program was a factor. Montessori teachers are a passionate group and they really want to work at schools that follow good Montessori practice. One of the participants in my focus group talked about the debt that Montessori teachers take on when they take training or start a masters degree. While there is debt relief for teachers who work in the public system, this is not an option for most Montessori teachers. I feel the Montessori community could potentially advocate for this because this could really help to attract and retain more qualified Montessori educators.
- What does your paper conclude? The paper concludes that teacher attrition in Montessori preschools is not as prevalent as in traditional settings. A great many teachers stay at a school for many years. This is comforting to know as an administrator, but I am not sure if it speaks to a bigger problem in traditional settings, as I know many Montessori schools do struggle to attract and retain qualified staff. In general, there are many factors that lead to Montessori teacher attrition, and some of them are out of an administrator’s control. The data in my study shows that teachers want to have a supportive working environment and work with leaders who practice tenets of Montessori in their leadership and who foster good relationships with staff, as well as a living wage.
- What do you hope readers do with this information? There are several things that I hope that people can take away from my research. The first thing and my biggest hope is that someone will be inspired to do more research on this topic. There was so much interest in the topic and I feel like more can be learned from more research. Second, I hope that teachers know that they are not alone in both their passion for Montessori and the frustrations that they feel about certain aspects of the job. Lastly, I hope that the information can inspire administrators to self-reflect on their own practice and if there is anything they may change to build better work environments that may help to retain staff.
- What is your background? Originally from the Mississippi Delta, I have lived and worked in Asia for many years. I have more than 15 years of experience of classroom teaching, a 3-6 Montessori credential, and a Masters in Montessori education from Xavier University. I have also worked as head of school and training center director and will soon begin my new role as executive director of Anchorage Montessori School.
Laura, I am also an early years educator. I am not a Montessori teacher. I am a PYP teacher. I know you are very passionate about Montessori philosophies and practices. Do you believe that a Montessori approach is capable of evolving in the 21st century?
If you had to choose… are you more committed to the needs of the children, or are you more committed to the Montessori approach? Are these both one in the same, or is there a difference between them?
Wow, that’s an interesting and loaded question. I’ve worked in a 3-6 environment some years ago that was both fully Montessori and IB PYP accredited at the same time. So I’ve seen that these ideas are compatible, but there are also many differences.
Montessori can and has evolved in some ways over the years, but the basic tenets have and should remain grounded in making the world a better place through education. So I guess my thoughts are that as long as I am committed to the Montessori approach, I am committed to the needs of children. Every child (and adult for that matter) is unique and has unique gifts to share. To me, being a Montessorian means lifting each person up and supporting them to reach their potential.
Thank you for reading the article and for leaving a thought provoking comment. My apologies for the delay in replying.