Some Reasons Why I Became a Waldorf Teacher
Last year I retired from teaching full-time as a Waldorf Class teacher after 25 years. However, Waldorf education is in my blood. Today, with the Arts Council of Monterey, I go into schools telling stories and instructing art, giving a taste of Waldorf to children starving for the arts.
Nearly 33 years ago, I became a father, and my world and future aspirations changed--At least on the outside. On the inside, I was committed to living a life of self-exploration and made myself a promise that I would only work in a profession that embraced integrity and the sacred. With that commitment in mind, a colleague at The Bodhi Tree Bookstore in Hollywood told me about Rudolf Steiner and his Waldorf education. Soon after, with my partner at the time, we toured the Northwest to seek a life away from Los Angeles. After experiencing a walk-through in the kindergarten at the Ashland Waldorf School, my eyes filled with tears. Here was mystery. It was like walking through a sacred grove. And I felt sad that I did not have this blessing as a child. I was hooked. I enrolled in the teacher training program in Eugene, Oregon.
After years of going through public school and college, I found myself in a place where I was not studying to pass the class and to achieve some diploma. I was studying because I craved what the education offered me. Art, music, drama, and storytelling I had little or no experience in, and the philosophy behind the education was both familiar and challenging, inviting me to look at the world in different ways, and my soul soaked it all in. I worked late in the night bringing forth these abilities because I wanted to. I became healed of old definitions, such as I was not an artist and only artists do art (otherwise, what was the point?)
Years later, when I needed to get a state teaching credential to teach at a Waldorf charter school, I went to Dominican University to achieve a Californian teaching certificate. What a contrast! While the program's purpose is essential—to teach us how to teach—it is all about goals, taught to us in hospital-style, aesthetically bereft rooms. How can we get the children to read more effectively? How do we pass the State test? And after each class, I felt drained. I felt cheated of the little time I have on this planet--an echo of my school days.
Why? I see a fundamental difference in the education I was committed to growing in and sharing with my students and what I find in the mainstream approach. In Waldorf education, the means is the goal. In the latter, it is about achieving functionality, to be a functioning citizen who will keep up and perhaps get ahead of others. That is why I no longer did art at one point in my childhood education. The fundamental questions of the mainstream instilled in the students are: how can I survive or perhaps succeed in the world out there? In the former, the questions are who am I? Why am I here? What is it to be a human being and my connection with the world? Waldorf education is a mystery school that keeps alive the sense of wonder. Until my Waldorf education, I never dreamt of math being wonderful—I had only found it painful. But go into a 7th-grade class, for example, and the geometric shapes, artfully drawn, will take your breath away.
"Education must have something of the process of healing," Steiner said. I have not met anyone yet who was not wounded mentally or emotionally in some way. That goes for every child. Yes, children can be taught methods that will provide academic success with many teaching modalities. But do educators have that healing process in mind? Indeed the child will feel good that they are at the same level with others in academics, or even ahead, but what wounds may they have suffered along the way to achieve that if forced to use that part of the brain before they were ready? What other part of the brain had to be shut off to ensure success? In my first school, I had a first grader who cried at the sight of letters because she had to read in kindergarten. Such methods remind me of having a newborn stretched on some scale in blazing light after being curled up in a womb of warm darkness. Yes, we get measurements that some experts find crucial—to ensure they measure up to other babies, but at what cost in that act? The lesson the baby received about this new world? Pain awaits.
The means versus the end is especially true with discipline, which is always a thorny topic. Indeed, you can go into some classrooms and see every child obediently sitting at their desks with folded hands. They know that the wrath of punishment will fall upon them if they move from that mold of behavior and will be rewarded if they stay in their place (perhaps they will earn some school money to buy some toy). This control is behaviorism. This is a way to train animals. We want to educate humans. Steiner talked about how different a Waldorf classroom might look. It might be a little shocking to those who like things in control. In creation, there is nothing in control. Control implies being at rest, and nothing is ever at rest in the stream of time. Earthquakes are a good reminder of that. Waldorf education is an art form that happens every day in class. And since art is about discovery, students and teachers need discovery every day. Is there discovery in the known, the controlled? So discipline in a Waldorf classroom needs to be creative, which certainly keeps the teacher on their feet; it is so much easier to go to the carrot/stick method (which I found myself doing at wit's end).
Perhaps, the essential aspect of being a Waldorf teacher was following Steiner's advice that the teacher needs to be able to throw away all the previous night's preparation when meeting the students the next day, to be open to the discovery between them. A teacher should feel like they are standing on a precipice when they go the threshold of a new day in class. As a Waldorf teacher, we are taught that it is not the knowledge that is important for the children--that's not what they really want--it is seeing a human being standing in front of them, complete with wounds and inadequacies, striving to know the fundamental questions of life, without the hope of ever finding the answer.
Teaching has been an adventure and continues to be so in new ways in my search for who I AM.
The following are some more chalkboard drawings I am particularly fond of. This is artwork that they see everyday that changes with each 3-4 week block of studies.For me as an artist, doing so many of them helped me grow immensely, especially with my pastel work.
Thank you for reading. Blessings