We are looking forward to The Essentials of Waldorf Education with Anna Silber on Tuesday, December 6 at 7:30pm in the Arts Building Music Room. Anna is a GMWS parent, a former Class Teacher at Green Meadow, and now serves as Director of Education at Sunbridge Institute. We caught up with her this week and asked her to share a few things with us prior to the talk.
In a few sentences, what makes Waldorf Education unique?
There are many things Waldorf is known for that are viewed broadly as excellent educational practices, but are not necessarily what make it unique, like teacher looping, experiential learning, and artistic expression, to name a few. To discover why it is unique, though, we need to strip away what we take for granted as the "tangibles" of Waldorf Education and look at the "intangibles:" the view of child development out of anthroposophy, for one. We also need to shift the conversation from what we teach to why, how, and when we teach it.
How did you decide to become a Waldorf teacher?
I was enjoying a career as an analyst in an investment firm in Manhattan and had been studying anthroposophy as a spiritual path for several years. Out of personal interest, I took a tour through the Rudolf Steiner School on the Upper East Side and was deeply moved; I simply knew it was something with which I had to be involved. As cliche as it may sound, it had to do with a wish to contribute in a potent way to changing the world, and I had never seen anything so potent as the work being done in a Waldorf school!
I quit my job two months later and enrolled as a teacher training student at Sunbridge, then took a class teaching position at Green Meadow, bringing my class from fourth through eighth grade. After that I became a mother, and I'm now a GMWS parent.
As a trained Class Teacher, how do you answer a parent who wonders about teacher looping? How do teachers manage the challenges and personality conflicts that may arise between teacher and student when accompanying a class for 4-8 years?
The short answer is that we believe a team of teachers accompanying a group of students for a number of years offers many important benefits to a class community and to individual students. The challenges of human relationships are inevitable in life, and certainly school life is no exception. A commitment to looping is successful when it is coupled with an equal commitment to the hard work of tending to relationships with students, parents, and colleagues.
One of our main concerns in educating Waldorf teachers is equipping them with tools to navigate these very human challenges out of love, not power, not fear. We need to approach our students a bit like parents think of their own children in this particular sense: parents don't ask whether they like their children or not; they love them. Teachers in a looping situation can embody the same disposition; our job is to educate through love. That in itself is a whole separate topic which I will take up more fully in the upcoming talk.
As Director of Education at Sunbridge Institute, what do you feel are the most important things a Waldorf teacher needs to learn in preparation for taking a class?
Part of the preparation is what teachers need to learn, and the other part is who they are or are becoming. I'll take as a given the obvious list of grade level skills and competencies that are required, and go right to the ideas about child development out of anthroposophy. It is the ongoing interest in and digestion of this paradigm that will guide and illuminate a teacher's work with her or his students.
In our teacher education program, we spend a lot of time exploring this theme, along with curriculum work, the arts, and anthroposophical studies. There is of course a long list of human qualities that makes for good teachers, as well as good human beings, like humor, imagination, flexibility, and interest in the world. However, these are qualities you can't teach someone; they are developed, and freely developed at that, if they are to be authentic. As Steiner said to the early Waldorf teachers, it's not just what you know, it's who you are that matters.