What is a Trained Waldorf Teacher?
For the first time in 12 years of business, my lack of having a certificate from a Waldorf teacher training institute has been queried. How interesting this whole question is to me!
First, thank you to the homeschooling mother who raised the question – it is, from a certain point of view, an entirely valid concern. Unfortunately, it is a view that state authorities are increasingly taking with regard to Waldorf schools in many parts of the world. State authorities are presuming to be able to judge what makes a good teacher and what does not. Here we have a good example of the tension between that which is quantifiable in conventional terms (outcomes) and that which is something that has to be lived with, experienced and looked at in the light of each individual’s gifts and abilities. It is this latter view that has been the dominant one in Waldorf circles with regard to teacher training until fairly recently.
One might think this is surprising – surely Waldorf teachers have always been trained Waldorf teachers – yes, of course! But the idea of receiving training from a teaching course is relatively new. Until perhaps 20 years ago, the vast majority of Waldorf teachers were trained on the job, by their colleagues, in a living experiential way, with knowledge and meditive practice shared by colleagues whether one-on-one or in the course of teachers’ meetings. Training at a training college was seen as very much second best, not the proper way for someone to become a real Waldorf teacher at all. The ideal really was to become a teacher and at some later date, when one had real life experience under one’s belt, to possibly do a training to deepen what one already had.
Do bear in mind that when Rudolf Steiner began the first Waldorf school in Stuttgart, Germany in 1919, hardly any of the new staff were trained teachers (ie conventionally trained – which of course is a whole different kettle of fish). They came from all walks of life and were hand picked by Steiner on the strength of their inner qualities. His lectures to them, and the observations he shared with them based on his classroom visits were, by and large, encouragement to them to make anthroposophy a living force in their lives and out of that fount of wisdom, to hdevelop the inner resources to become good teachers. Personal qualities – attentiveness, ability to observe children, enthusiasm, patience – married to a creative/artistic approach to life were what was most valued.
Such attention to the inner lives of teachers at Waldorf schools was the modus operandi for decades. All those wonderful luminaries that Waldorf teachers and homeschoolers look to (Pat Livingston, Henry Barnes, Dorothy Harrer – all by the way, my teachers when I was a child !) did not become teachers at the first Waldorf school in the US, the Rudolf Steiner School in New York City, because of having certificates! It was who they were and what lived in them that enabled them to become Waldorf teachers. They then became leaders in Waldorf education because their inner qualities and their inner work married to their life long experience with children, enabled them to so shine.
What was viewed as most important was to have years of living experience in teaching children coupled with the colleagial support of other teachers in the circle of the faculty of teachers and College of Teachers, both of which have also been eroded by legalistic impingement over the years. The importance of the inner unquantifiable is no longer, in many circles, seen to be what is paramount.
And this is precisely the training I received. At the Sheffield Steiner school, at the Merlin Nursery (which I established), at the Ringwood Steiner School, at Pleasant Ridge Steiner school, at the Youth Initiative High School – on the job training, colleagial support and then maybe receiving a training from an institute, were what was valued most highly.
Over the years I often fretted over having not finished my training in the mid 1990s (with the amazing Brien Masters in London) – but I had good reasons to quit (one named Daniel, the other named Gabriel). And by the time life allowed me the time to finish teacher training at an institute, I had, to be honest, moved way past what would have been offered. I, frankly, could have run the training for others. This has been recognized again and again by other teachers, whether in the course of them asking for consultations from me, as colleagues, or as curriculum purchasers. You can go to our testimonials page and if you scroll way down, you will get to the section of testimonials from just a small selection of fellow teachers. People might also be interested to know that Floris Books, now the number one provide of English language Waldorf curriculum materials in the world, has asked me to create teacher’s versions of the Christopherus curriculum.
I should quickly add that I in no way am against the establishment of Waldorf teacher training courses. Many are absolutely marvellous, run by extraordinary people. But…the situation can arise again and again that a person completes such a course, has their certificate but….is not able to teach children. I have met many people who have such certificates and were told at the end of their course that yes, they passed the course but that they needed more real life experience before they could truly be called Waldorf teachers.
I leave it to you all to decide what qualifications you need from the writers of the curriculum materials you use. Feedback welcome in the comments section here on this blog!