Proving Montessori: Identity and Dilemmas in a Montessori Teacher’s Lived Experience




Montessori, Early Childhood Education, Teacher Training, Critical Discourse Analysis, Phenomenology


This phenomenological case study was conducted to better understand the experience of a Montessori teacher in a leadership role. A veteran Montessori teacher, newly hired by an established Montessori preschool, was interviewed over the course of her first year in the position. A critical discourse analysis revealed multiple social identities that contributed to her desire, and ability, to be what she felt was an authentic Montessori educator. While some of these discourses and social identities aligned, some did not, creating ideational dilemmas that affected her work, relationships, and personal identity. The findings suggest that current Montessori discourse excludes important characteristics of the teacher-lived experience. Acknowledging and discussing the social challenges Montessori teachers face is a necessary addition to teacher preparation, teacher support systems, and Montessori leadership decisions.

Author Biography

Olivia Christensen, University of Minnesota

Olivia Christensen is AMI primary trained and currently a doctoral student at the University of Minnesota in the department of Curriculum and Instruction. She teaches UMN undergraduate students, supervises UMN elemetary education practicum teachers, and is a CLASSroom Project research associate.  She is adjunct faculty for St. Catherine Unviersity's Advanced Montessori Programs. She teaches Introduction to Action Research and Integration Seminar to Montessori teachers earning a Masters of Arts in Education.

Her research interests include early childhood education’s connection to social reform.


American Montessori Society. (n.d.). Montessori teachers. Retrieved from

Association Montessori Internationale/USA. (n.d.). The Montessori teacher. Retrieved from

Barker, C. (2012). Cultural Studies. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Bartik, T. J. (2014). From preschool to prosperity: The economic payoff to early childhood education. MI: W. E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research. doi: 10.17848/pol2015-017

Copple, C., & Bredekamp, S. (Eds.). (2009). Developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood programs serving children from birth through age 8. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Cossentino, J. (2009). Culture, craft & coherence: The unexpected vitality of Montessori teacher training. Journal of Teacher Education, 60(5), 520–527. doi: 10.1177/0022487109344593

Cuban, L. (1992). Managing dilemmas with building professional communities. Educational Researcher, 21(1), 4–11.

Dahlberg, K., Dahlberg, H., & Nyström, M. (2008). Reflective lifeworld research. Lund, Sweden: Studentlitteratur AB.

Fairclough, N. (1992). Discourse and social change. Cambridge, England: Polity Press.

Floden, R., & Buchmann, M. (1993). Between routines and anarchy: Preparing teacher for uncertainty. Oxford Review of Education, 19(3), 373–382. doi: 10.1080/0305498930190308

Gee, J. P. (2014). An introduction to discourse analysis: Theory and method. New York, NY: Routledge.

Graue, E., Kroeger, J., & Prager, D. (2001). A Bakhtinian analysis of particular home-school relations. American Educational Research Journal, 38(3), 467–498. doi: 10.3102/00028312038003467

Hall-Kenyon, K. M., Bullough, R. V., MacKay, K. L., & Marshall, E. E. (2014). Preschool teacher well-being: A review of the literature. Early Childhood Education, 42(3), 153–162.

Helsing, D. (2007). Regarding uncertainty in teachers and teaching. Teaching and Teacher Education, 23(8), 1317–1333. doi:10.1016/j.tate.2006.06.007

Kilgallon, P., Maloney, C., & Lock, G. (2008). Early childhood teachers coping with educational change. Australian Journal of Early Childhood, 33(1), 23–29.

Lampert, M. (1985). How do teachers manage to teach? Perspectives on problems in practice. Harvard Educational Review, 55(2), 178–194.


Lillard, A. (2005). Montessori: The science behind the genius. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Malm, B. (2004). Constructing professional identities: Montessori teachers’ voices and visions. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 48(4), 397–412.

doi: 10.1080/0031383042000245799

Montessori, M. (1967a). The absorbent mind. New York, NY: Dell Publishing Co.

Montessori, M. (1967b). The discovery of the child. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.

Montessori, M. (1991). The child in the family. Madras, India: Kalakshetra Publications.

Ngo, B. (2012). Constructing immigrant adolescent identities: Exploring the “magical Property” of discourses. In M. Vagle (Ed.), Not a stage! A critical re-conception of young adolescent education (pp. 45–55). New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing.

North American Montessori Teachers’ Association. (n.d.). A career in Montessori education. Retrieved from

Sumsion, J. (2002). Becoming, being and unbecoming an early childhood educator: A phenomenological case study of teacher attrition. Teaching and Teacher Education, 18(7), 869–885. doi: 10.1016/S0742-051X(02)00048-3

Swartz, D. (1997). Culture and power, the sociology of Pierre Bourdieu. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Vagle, M. D. (2014). Crafting phenomenological research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Left Coast Press.

van Leeuwen, T. (2007). Legitimation in discourse and communication. Discourse & Communication, 1(1), 91–112. doi: 10.1177/1750481307071986

van Manen, M. (2014). Phenomenology of practice: Meaning-giving methods in phenomenological research and writing. Thousand Oaks, CA: Left Coast Press.




How to Cite

Christensen, O. (2016). Proving Montessori: Identity and Dilemmas in a Montessori Teacher’s Lived Experience. Journal of Montessori Research, 2(2), 35–48.