From Fine Arts to Montessori School Management
Learn how Iryne Roh went from graduating with a fine arts degree to becoming an Assistant Head of School at Guidepost Montessori Magnificent Mile, Chicago
The Guidepost Team
When Iryne Roh was studying at the School of Art Institute in Chicago, she never thought she would work in education. After graduating in 2017, Roh started giving art lessons and found she really enjoyed working with children. At the beginning of 2019, Roh saw an Assistant Guide position available at her local Guidepost Montessori and decided to apply. She now manages a bustling campus in the heart of Magnificent Mile, while completing a professional Montessori diploma in her spare time. We sat down with Roh to learn more about her experience.
My first job was teaching animation to middle schoolers
My undergrad program was at the School of Art Institute in Chicago. So, my first step into education was through my art background. I ran after-school programs for children — in fact, I actually started out teaching animation to middle school children, which was a lot of fun. Eventually, I started joining other daycare centers, and shortly after that, I began working in a Montessori school.
That was my first experience of Montessori. I remember my first couple of times observing the 3 to 6 year-old classroom, and I was amazed by the amount of social and emotional development that was happening there. I remember one scenario quite vividly: there was a child who got really upset — he was four or five years old. He stormed off to the "peace corner" of the classroom, grabbed a pillow, and screamed into it. Then, after about five minutes, he walked back to his work and carried on. Seeing that level of self-regulation blew my mind. I knew from that moment that there was something really special about Montessori. I was at that school for a little less than a year, and then joined Guidepost Montessori.
Working at Guidepost Montessori, I got to play to my strengths from Day 1
When I joined the team at Magnificent Mile in 2019, I interviewed for an Assistant Guide position. But when the Head of School learned about my creative background, she was like, "Okay, awesome! Let's have you join as an extended Day Program Director," which gave me an opportunity to create some art-based activities for young children to do in the afternoons. I really enjoyed it.
Then my Head of School sat down with me and asked, "Where do you see your career going? Do you want to be a Lead Guide in the Montessori classroom? Or would you like to be an administrator?" And, you know, that was something that I thought really long and hard about. I ultimately decided I wanted to explore some more of the administrative aspects of running a school, as I was really interested in what makes a school successful overall. I felt like I had a lot of learning to do, and was eager for the challenge. That's when I got promoted to Assistant Head of School.
I learn something new every day
The thing I like best about my job is that every day is a learning experience. I am naturally quite introverted, but I think that this position has helped me open up. You have to be kind of a jack-of-all-trades on the job, and the skills I've learned along the way have made me feel a lot more confident. I’ve definitely become a better communicator. You know, doing things like giving a parent a school tour, or even talking to a staff member, are incredible stepping stones. And honestly, that's my favorite part of the job. I could say things like "I get to work with children," or "I get to work with parents,", or even "I get to manage a school." All of those things are fun and rewarding, but ultimately, it’s the opportunity to learn something new every day that I love.
There is room to grow alongside the children
One of the biggest benefits of working at Guidepost Montessori is the free professional development available through the Prepared Montessorian Institute. I’ll be honest — it's a challenging getting all of the work done! But that being said, I feel like I’ve been given an incredible opportunity to gain a Montessori diploma, as well as attend all the short courses available at the Prepared Montessorian Institute.
As I mentioned, I interviewed for an Assistant Guide role, but I am now one of the most visible members of staff at my school. I'm the first person parents see when they drop off their children or pick them up; and I now find myself in a position where staff members come to me when they need someone to talk to. I'm here to be a listener and a thought partner for my colleagues.
Once you step into the world of Montessori, there's no turning back
I think that Guidepost Montessori is a great platform to start your career — especially if you are applying for an Assistant Guide role. Yes, our Lead Guides are extremely important, but without the help of our Assistant Guides, our school would not run as smoothly. The reason I say that is because many Assistant Guides arrive at Guidepost Montessori unfamiliar with Montessori education, but once they get here, they become enchanted. I mean, it's hard to ignore how peaceful our classrooms are and how well-behaved the children are!
Oftentimes when I have parents and caregivers visit, they cannot believe how calm the environment is. And I think that's the magic of Montessori. Once you're in it, and you're observing our classrooms, you can see how the traditional model just doesn't make as much sense. And that gives me such a strong sense of meaning and purpose.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. To learn more about our Montessori training programs, please visit The Prepared Montessorian Institute.
The Guidepost Team
The Guidepost Team is a group of writers and educators dedicated to helping demystify all things Montessori.