Dr. Rudolf Steiner
15 Aug 1924
I have taught you how to use descriptive and imaginative images to teach children between 9 to 10 years old and children at the stage of growing permanent teeth. By using this method, what you’ve taught them will be deeply rooted in the hearts and souls of children and naturally contribute to their future development.
But this attainable provided that the feelings and perceptions you’ve evoked in the children are lively and not mechanical. To achieve this, you need to be able to feel your inner soul. All educators should be patient about self-education, about nurturing and awakening those souls which will definitely sprout and grow. From then after, you may have many amazing discoveries, but it takes courage and diligence to achieve this.
LIGHT UP YOUR SOUL
When you begin to develop spiritual yourself, you have to endure the pains and difficulties faced during the initial stage. Those who cannot endure this painful stage will never achieve anything in spiritual development. Especially for those in the education line, your very first task should be lighting up your own soul. If for once or twice, you have succeeded in using the mind images method to touch the souls of children, you will unravel your hidden talent. You will find it easier and easier to use this method. You will realize how creative you are. But first, you must have the courage to bear with the imperfections in the beginning.
Maybe you’ll think, I should not be a teacher if I appear to be so clumsy in front of the children. Perspectives from the study of human intelligence may enlighten you about this. Tell yourself, it is the karma that brings me to this group of children who witness my clumsiness. When I mature and become more skillful over time, karma will lead me to another group of children who will no longer regard me as a clumsy teacher. (When discussing about the relationship between reincarnations and destinies, Dr. Steiner used the ancient word ‘Karma’ that originated from the East, see chapter 2 of Dr. Steiner’s book ‘Theosophy’) Hence, educators must face their own lives with courage, as the purpose of education is not for the teachers, but for the children.
AWAKENING CHILDREN’S FEELINGS
Let me give you another example to illustrate the point that certain matters can become part of the children’s souls and stay with them throughout their lifetimes. These matters can be enacted to evoke certain feelings of children. If there are certain matters which you can teach children when they are 7 or 8 years old and enact these matters when they are 14 to 15 years old. The effectiveness of such teaching method is unsurpassed by other methods. Because of this reason, in Waldorf School, we try to let pupils have the same teacher for as long as it is possible. When pupils join the school at the age of 7, the same teacher will teach them for as long as possible. This is to allow the teacher to improve on any immature teaching methods or content knowledge.
FEEL HAPPY BECAUSE YOU’VE HEARD IT
If we tell an imaginative story to some 7- or 8-years old children now, the children need not understand all images portrayed in the story (I’ll explain why later). Most importantly, the children should feel happy after listening to the story, probably because the story is enchanting.
If the story goes like this: Long ago, in a faraway land, a humble violet plant grew under a tree with big leaves. The violet could see the blue sky from the highest branch of the tree. The violet just bloomed; she had never seen the blue sky before. The violet was terrified when she first saw the blue sky, though not as frightened now. But she could not understand why she was so terrified when she first saw the blue sky. Then a dog came along. The dog was not a good one, he was a bit naughty and a bit fierce. The violet asked the dog, “Can you please tell me, what is that thing above me and as blue as me called?” The sky was just as blue as the violet. The dog wanted to scare her. He said, “Oh! That’s a very huge violet flower, she will grow even bigger and crush you!” The violet believed what the dog had said and was very worried and frightened from then on. Consequently, she closed all her petals and hid under a big leaf, not wanting to look at the enormous violet above her. She hid under the leaf all day long, thinking about the horrible big violet.
The violet was unable to sleep. Throughout the night, she waited for the moment when the huge violet would fall down and crush her. But nothing happened. Hence, she quietly opened her petals, not feeling sleepy at all (violets do not feel tired if they do not sleep at all, they only feel sleepy if they have slept). The things which she saw when she first opened her eyes were the rising sun and the rosy clouds of dawn. She felt happy when she saw the rosy dawn. When the clouds of dawn drifted away and the sky became bluer and bluer, she recalled what the dog had told her. That the blue thing up there was a huge violet that would crush her to death.
Just then, a lamb came along. Little violet felt she had to ask the same question again. She asked, “What’s that up there?” Little lamb replied, “That’s a big violet, a flower just like you.” Then the violet started to feel afraid. She was afraid that the lamb would say the same thing as what the dog had said. But the little lamb seemed to be very nice and gentle, the violet asked again, “Little lamb, will the huge violet fall down and crush me?” Little lamb replied, “Definitely not. It will not crush you. It is an enormous violet with lots and lots of love. It has much more love than you have, that’s why it is much bluer than you are.” The violet realized that the huge violet up there was bluer because it had much more love and would protect little violet from any harm. Little violet was overjoyed. Whenever she looked at the sky, she could feel lots of love being showered on her. Hence, she looked at the sky with much respect, the way she would look when she was praying to the Goddess of Violet.
If you tell children stories like this, they will definitely listen attentively. This is because they like this kind of stories. But you have to tell it when they are in the appropriate mood. Only then can they relate to the story and let this story become part of their souls. This is very important. To achieve this, it depends on the teacher’s confidence about managing the class.
LET CHILDREN DEVELOP THE SENSE OF RESPECT NATURALLY
This is also why when we tell stories like the one mentioned above, we have to consider the aspect of classroom management. In the past, there was a teacher in the Waldorf School who was a very good storyteller. But he could not make the children love him and respect him from their hearts. The outcome was, when the teacher had finished telling one story, the children would immediately ask for another one. They kept on asking for more. The teacher could not have possibly prepared so many stories in advance to satisfy their needs. We must avoid being a steam engine and keep on telling stories to our children, there must be a change in our approach. We must take a step further by letting the children ask questions. We have to read the facial expressions and body language of the children and judge if they want to ask questions. Give them time to ask questions and try to connect the questions and story together.
A child may ask, “Why did the dog want to scare the violet?” You can use a childlike answer to respond. Tell him that dogs are responsible of guarding our properties. They are supposed to bring fear to others, and they are used to making bad people afraid of them. This can explain why the dog gave such a horrifying answer to the violet. You can also give similar explanations for the lamb’s response.
You can tell the children such things after you have finished telling the story. You will realize that one question will lead to another and in the end, you may even rediscover new questions. Your task is to keep the class under control throughout the whole session, during which the children do not challenge your authority (we have yet to tell you about a lot regarding this point). If the children do not treat you as a figure of authority, it is likely that when you’re answering one child’s question, another child will start to play mischief. If you turn this mischievous child and admonish him or her, then you would stand to lose! You must have the ability to ignore the mischief which you have witnessed. This technique is especially important to younger children.
I have great admiration for a teacher from Waldorf School for his way of handling such discipline matters. 10 years ago, he had a very mischievous boy in his class (he has changed a lot since then). When the teacher was doing some other things with another pupil, he would jump up and hit that classmate. If the teacher got angry, he would even be naughtier. But this teacher pretended that he did not see the naughty boy. It is better that you ignore such matter and continue to do what you’re doing. Generally speaking, when a pupil is playing mischief, it is bad to give him any attention.
If you cannot keep your class in control, if you are unable to command such absolute sense of authority (I’ll tell you how to achieve this later), you’ll end up having to tell story after story and as a result, the children will not be able to relax. To help them relax, all the teacher has to do is to change the subject. This has to happen sooner or later, or else the children will be constantly tensed up and in excited mood. Then, you will see children getting up to play, sing songs, dance, hit their classmates or run out of the classroom. By then it would be totally impossible to get them to sit down and listen to another interesting story.
Your classroom management ability depends on the condition of your soul or your emotions. You will be able to feel the magical correlation between them. Most importantly, it depends on whether the teacher has self-confidence.
(To be continued)