Dr Rudolf Steiner
15 Aug 1924
Your ability to manage your class depends on your mood or the state of your soul. The correlation between them will bring about a special experience for you, provided you have sufficient self-confidence as a teacher.
While delivering a lesson, the teacher needs to ensure that her heart and soul are at a state when they can reach out to the students’ heart. To achieve this, the teacher needs to know her students very well. Eventually, you will realise that it is possible to do so within a very short time, even if there are more than 50 students in your class. You will understand them, have the images of all of them imprinted in your heart; you will understand every student’s temperament, talents and physical appearance, etc.
The main focus of Wardolf schools is our teachers’ meetings. In these meetings, the teachers will discuss the characteristics of each student. This has always been the first item on the agenda of our meetings held once weekly. Through these discussions, teachers can learn to improve on their performance.
Many questions will come to the teacher’s mind in the process of trying to understand his or her students better. While you are searching for answers to these questions, you will have a special kind of sensation that grows in your heart. You have to bring this sensation to your classroom. When the teacher’s feelings do not correspond to that of the students’, (this does happen sometimes), the students will immediately start to play pranks or fight and you’ll find it difficult to continue with the lesson. (I know the situation is not that bad here, what I am referring to is the situation in Europe.) This situation easily crops up, and the school may eventually replace one teacher with another. Then the students are suddenly at their best behaviour once they get a different teacher.
In your teaching experiences, this example may not be unfamiliar to you. To overcome such problems, the teacher has to be in the meditative state at the beginning of the day when facing her students with different personalities. You may think that to attain this, you need to spend at least an hour’s time. Yes, it is rather difficult to attain this meditative state if it really takes an hour. However, in actual fact, it takes only 10 to 15 minutes. The teacher must slowly develop an ability to feel the mind and soul of every student. This is the only way to understand the happenings in the class.
To find an appropriate atmosphere to relate stories rich in images, you need to understand children’s temperaments. This is also why responding to children according to their dispositions is important in education. The best approach is to let children of similar dispositions to be seated close to each other. Then you will immediately find out which group consists of the colerrcs, which group consists of the melancholics, and which consists of sanguines. You will be in a good position to understand all students in your class.
When you group students of similar temperament together and observe them, you are actually trying to help yourself maintain your authoritative status in the classroom. You will be surprised that you can achieve such results by doing this, but that is how most things work. Hence, all educators and educationalists should do contemplative self-reflections.
When you group phlegmatic students together, they will start to correct each other’s behaviour, then they will get tired of doing this and begin to dislike themselves for being indifferent. They will then try to improve continuously. Those who are easily agitated will fight one another till they feel tired. Hence, grouping students of similar temperaments together is very effective in getting them to “torture” one another. When you are talking to students, for instance discussing the story which you have just shared, you must develop an instinctive ability to treat each student according to his or her temperament. If I am discussing a story with a phlegmatic child, I must behave like I am even more indifferent than he is. As for sanguine children, the images in their minds change very rapidly, hence, I need to try to get the images in my mind to change at an even faster speed.
For colerrcs, you have to use speedy and emphatic approach to teach them. That means, you have to turn into a person who is also easily agitated. The angry look on your face will make these students detest their own angry looks. You have to take tit-for-tat actions against them, as long as you do not become too ridiculous.
Gradually, you will be able to establish an atmosphere in the classroom, in which a story is not just a story related to them, but also a story that can be used for further discussion in the future.
You need to discuss a story first before you ask them to retell. The worst approach is to ask a student to retell immediately after you finish telling a story. This method is totally meaningless, regardless of whether you appear to be smart or silly (you may not necessarily be smart at all times in the classroom, sometimes you may seem to be very silly, especially in the beginning). It is meaningful to ask students to retell the story only after you have discussed it with them. The story will become one that truly belongs to the children if you do this. After discussing the story, it is not important whether you let the children retell it, that is to say, it is not important whether the children have remembered the story. In fact, for children who have started to grow permanent teeth and those who are 9 to 10 years old, they need not develop the ability to memorize the story yet. It does not matter if they forget the story, let them say whatever they can remember about the story. We can use other methods to develop their memorizing skills. I shall touch on this later.
Now, let us ponder this question, “Why do I want to tell such a story?” It is because the thought-pictures in this story will be imprinted in the minds of the children as they grow up. Such stories have very rich contents that you can tap in your future lessons. Little Violet was terrified when she saw the huge violet in the sky. You need not explain this in detail to the children, however, when you encounter more complicated teaching problems or when the children have difficulties overcoming their fears, you can remind them of this story. In this story, there are small things and big things. Throughout our lives, we will always be influenced by the interactions between big and small things, this is something that you can bring up in your future lessons. The focus of the first half of the story is on the evil dog’s threatening words to Little Violet. Whereas the second half focuses on the kind words that the little lamb told Little Violet. When the children learn to treasure such stories and when they grow up, you will realize how easy it is to guide them to the realms of good and evil perceptions, and to understand how this two extreme feelings are deeply rooted in the human souls. Even for older children, you can retell such simple stories to them again. Through the story, children are able to understand certain life experiences without having to go through these experiences themselves. The story illustrates such life experiences very well, you can relate the story again and again in your future lessons.
The same applies to religious lessons. Such lessons will only be introduced to children at a later stage. This story is also a good tool to evoke the religious feelings, the feelings for the great Lord, in our children. The great blue thing up there, the sky, is the great Goddess of Violet.
This story can be used in different levels of religious lessons. When you are elaborating on the point that God’s nature can be found in our hearts, this story offers you a beautiful metaphor. You can tell the children this, “This great violet in the sky, the Goddess of Violet, is all blue and stretches out extensively in all directions. Now, imaging you slice a small piece from the large stretch of blueness, and that gives us the small violet. Hence the sky is as mighty and great as the oceans on Earth. Your soul is like a drop of water in this great ocean. In this great ocean, although you are only a droplet, you are no different from other droplets in the ocean. Hence, your soul is as great as the Lord in the sky, the only difference is you are one of the many droplets’.
If you can find suitable thought-pictures in any story, you can use this approach to conduct early childhood education. You can remind them of these thought-pictures when they are more mature. However, you need to enjoy creating such thought-pictures in the first place. From there, you will begin to create many stories with your imagination and creativity, so much so that it is difficult to put a stop to it! The human soul is just like a spring that will spew water endlessly, once you hit on the source, it will produce endless valuables. Most people are very lazy, they will not spend effort to develop the great potentials in their souls.
Now, let us look at another type of teaching strategy related to thought-pictures. We must remember not to force our children to acquire adult’s intellectual knowledge and skills. To develop young children’s thinking skills, the only way is to use images, thought pictures and imagination.
The practice mentioned below is suitable for a child as young as 8 years old. Never mind if they are unable to do it well at the beginning, for example, if you draw this figure (see Picture a), you have to use all kinds of methods to make the children feel that this figure is incomplete. Which method to use will depend on the personality of the child whom you are teaching. For example, you can say, ‘This line ends here (left part of figure) …, but on this side, the line ends here (right part of figure, not completed) …, it does not look good this way, because the top part is like that, and the bottom part has only reached this far.’ Slowly, you guide the child to finish this drawing, the child will feel that this figure is incomplete and will be determined to complete it. He will end up drawing some lines to the incomplete figure. Here, I use a red pen to draw, it is the same when you ask a child to use a white chalk to draw. I merely use a red pen to highlight the portion that I have added to the figure. Through this activity, the children will be able to make thinking and imaginative observations. When the children are thinking, their minds will be full of thought-pictures and images.