Foundations of Teaching

I have had the privilege of being in this school in many roles, first as a parent and then as a music teacher. I also did a practicum in the kindergarten when I was doing my teacher training. And now I am a Class Teacher.

What brought me to the school 23 years ago was the feeling of warmth, and beauty, and a kindness that exists in a very special way. I also felt that every single one of us is yearning to be seen. We all want to be recognized.

And of course we want that for our children even more than for ourselves. We want everyone to see the unique qualities, the beauty, even the quirks and the possible challenges in each one of our children.

There is a Zulu expression, a greeting. Upon meeting a friend, one says: "I see you." And the friend responds: "I am here." What does that mean? Why would that culture use that form of expression as a greeting? Perhaps it means that when we are recognized and truly seen by another, we are here. We come into existence.

When I was first looking for a school for my children, I felt that the teachers understood my children and could help me grow as a parent. My heart understood that the Waldorf school was the right place for my family. But soon my head wanted to get into the act. It wanted to understand: how does this work? What is the truth that underlies this way of teaching – this way of schooling children?

So I embarked upon another journey, to become a Waldorf teacher and took the teacher training. And I became convinced that those three years of work were just the very, very beginning of a lifelong journey for me.

As I began upon my actual teaching career at this school, I thought that teachers seem to be given magical tools to do this work. But actually they are not so magical. It is hard work, practice, striving, and the wisdom that has been bestowed upon us by the founder of Waldorf education, Rudolf Steiner.

You could think about this wisdom as being a set of lenses. Not rose- colored glasses and not magical magnifying lenses, but lenses that are honed and polished after years of study and reflection. There are three lenses in particular through which teachers see our work.

The first is the view of each individual child is a unique human who has come to the earth to reveal certain truths, to discover capacities, to heal wrong-doings, to become the best person they can be. Now when a teacher has that as the foundation upon which they build all of their lessons, all of their interactions with the child and with the family, that's pretty powerful.

Waldorf teachers strongly hold the belief that a child comes to the earth to fulfill a certain destiny. And teachers need to allow the child to unfold his gifts or her gifts in full freedom. I think that's what makes our children so eloquent, so confident, so poised, so capable of achieving what they want in life – of finding satisfying, meaningful work. All of these things are important.

Secondly,Waldorf teachers see each stage of childhood and adolescence as a discreet, separate entity, requiring a very specialized curriculum – a curriculum that meets the needs of the child or the adolescent.

My fourth grade class is learning fractions, for example. In other schools, it is common for children to learn fractions as early as kindergarten or first grade. And they can do it – the child can learn what a fraction is and how it works. But in fourth grade, the child has made a very distinct process of separating himself or herself from the world in something that we call the nine-year change. At this age, the child feels himself as something separate and can fully experience what it means to be part of a whole – the essence of fractions.

The third essential lens is the belief in the interconnectedness of all life. The poet and philosopher M.C. Richards coined the phrase the "grammar of connection." Again, in fourth grade, we are teaching grammar, a time when the child is withdrawing a little bit from the wholeness of life; the study of logical processes such as grammar can help a child reconnect. In class, the children learned this verse about nouns:

Of all the things I could know and love
Like the earth below and the sky above
The wind in the trees and the waves of the sea
All these the noun can name for me

Through the curriculum we help children connect to the world and each other. We also recognize that the inner life of the human being is directly connected to the outer life. So we believe in nurturing the physical body as much as the soul realm and the thinking realm.As the season changes, the sun is low and the days are short. What does that do to ones feeling life? How do you work with that? Do you light a candle at dinner every evening? Do you say a little verse in the morning to welcome in the new season of fall? All of these health- giving rhythms are intimately connected not only to the health of the child but to the health of the world. We strive to teach children that all life is inter-connected. And with this foundation, they will truly be healthy, strong individuals who help create a healthy world for all of us and for the future.

Mary Barhydt was a music therapist, music teacher, and training consultant before becoming a Waldorf teacher. She is now the Class Teacher for Grade 4. Mary has completed courses in Teaching Sensible Science, Uncovering the Voice, and Making Math Real.