Today it is difficult to write about something that Rudolf Steiner talked on the 8th day of the teachers’ course in 1919, without considering the dramatic moment that humanity is going through, 100 years later, in 2020. We are going through a serious pandemic, for which health scholars have indicated that it is the most effective measure to avoid overburdening health systems and saving lives, confining families and the consequent suspension of classes in all schools.
Here in Brazil, for years legislators have been discussing the application of distance learning as a possibility and even a solution to face various difficulties that we have in our country, such as professional qualification, physical access of children and young people to school, among other aspects. Supported by entrepreneurs from educational platforms and systems, we have had a heated debate with teachers, who are day to day teaching and working in classrooms.
This week, classes were suddenly suspended due to the prevention of contagion of COVID 19 virus and our collegiate faced the following dilemma: will we continue to offer content remotely through exercise sheets or photos of these to students? Can we organize virtual classes using cell phones and computers? Does Waldorf pedagogy include distance learning mediated by technology?
On the morning of August 29, 1919, Rudolf Steiner told his audience about the human being's articulation in thinking, feeling and will and how the teacher should prepare teaching in order to reach or move each of these areas. In the case of memory, it must be impregnated in the aspects of feeling and will so that in the future it can be rescued by the student at the right time. The aforementioned areas make up a unit and it is up to the teacher articulate the teaching worrying about how it will be received or accepted by each part, as well as by the whole soul.
In this same conference it was brought to future teachers that the interaction of human beings with their environment occurs through not five, but twelve senses. It is curious to note that Steiner does not go too far in explaining each one. He only mentions some but in others he brings in more details. The highest sense of human beings and, according to him, the least understood is the sense of self. There is a distinction between the perception of the self and the self of another human being. The latter requiring a movement of dislike, or more cognitive, and the first, sympathy and volitional performance.
The sense of thinking consists of the perception of other people's thoughts (and not of the thought itself). The following is the sense of language perception, hearing, sight, smell, taste, being the last ones well known to all. The human being also has the caloric sense, which Steiner says is distinct from the sense of touch. Finally, we have the vital sense, of proper movement and balance.
The senses must be intentionally inserted into teaching and used by the teacher to decompose the world and things through these 12 windows, on the basis of which the student must be able to compose them again. It is part of Waldorf education to provide this training and a teaching that makes situations emerge where the judgment needs to act to bring together every aspect of the phenomena presented and brought by the teacher. The ability to judge, presented by Rudolf Steiner in this context, is unique to human beings and needs to be consciously developed in education.
Here comes one more question for our collegiate: could we remotely provoke students' senses? Could we lead them to the construction of a judgment through virtual classes?
In the following pedagogical discussions, Steiner brings to listeners something that I still often see left out. According to him, the teacher needs to keep the child side for life. Through the maturity acquired by adult consciousness, he must be able to be enchanted with life, with the unknown, with the contents worked on and with the prepared classes. The teacher should be enchanted as when a child sees something new and is surprised in a moving way, allow himself not to be the holder of all knowledge, but to be open, as healthy children are, to the unknown and the unexpected. Finally, take this enchantment into the classroom and by the authority and example to inspire and educate children and young people in this direction.
The soul and spiritual of the teacher needs to have the ability to go back to childhood and transmit this to children and young people. I had very positive experiences with my students, today of the 5th year, when remembering and sharing with them important moments of my own childhood. Whenever the opportunity arises, I try not to let it go. The conversation I conduct is not limited to facts and events, but I always try to bring to them what were the thoughts and especially feelings that were going through me at that moment, similar to what they were now going through. They feel respected and at the same time they feel welcomed in their development.
The situations that rise the need to stop and talk to students rarely refer to the contents worked on. Most of the time they are triggered by difficulties and tensions that arose during games, with friends and in the relationship between boys and girls.
I realize in my class and talking with colleagues, that helping students learn to relate has been a demanding and challenging field of action for teachers. It is urgent to pay attention to this and research what Rudolf Steiner brought as a contribution to the education of the social. The tensions and challenges that arise daily and are dealt with by teachers, mainly in early childhood and elementary education, are a reality and an important part of our work. We need to develop presence of spirit, equanimity and serenity to handle the most unexpected and often shocking situations.
Trying now to return to the questions elaborated by our collegiate and to think about the challenges that the next weeks and months will bring us due to the confinement and suspension of classes, the gap is huge between what we intend to do as Waldorf teachers and the limited possibilities that remote teaching offers us.
The indications brought on the 8th day of the conference are already challenging enough in regular teaching conditions, with classes where every word and gesture that the teacher speaks or makes, instantly produces smiles, looks, movements and expressions of his students. The teacher builds a special environment in the room and can, at each sentence and proposed activity, redirect his performance, seeking to reach the child's soul aspects of thinking, feeling and will.
In regard to the twelve senses, we can prepare an infinity of indications and instructions that, remotely made by the teachers, provoke a situation, present some phenomenon or content stimulating one or the other or several senses. We could expect some precision and autonomy in the fulfillment of the instructions by high school students and perhaps by students in the advanced years of elementary school.
However, we would be dependent on parents or guardians for the younger classes. These, possibly occupied with their own tasks exercised remotely in this period or academically unprepared and unaware of everything we want to work on in the students, in the sense of what Rudolf Steiner proposed and that only a small part is being brought up in this text.
At the above-mentioned conference, Steiner emphasized that the teacher should not be a knowledge holder and therefore will to prepare something for the child's understanding. The opposite should happen - the teacher should be enchanted with a child when teaching physics, mathematics, etc.
It is very difficult to consider that a class taught through a screen or that content written and prepared, however carefully they may be, and sent to students can achieve these indications and subtleties. Preciousness, which are exclusive to Waldorf pedagogy and which Steiner has repeatedly reinforced as central to teaching. The art of educating consists of the presence of the teacher in the relationship and teaching of his students, in the broadest sense that the word presence can have.
The health crisis we are experiencing is putting all these values to the test! We have many technological resources at our disposal and most of the traditional schools, and Waldorf too, are making use of these to comply with our legal commitments and the programmatic content planned for the year. Perhaps that is the way to go in this emergency moment. Classes and activities prepared with zeal so that students create a study routine and remain connected to the school, friends and teachers. In any case, we need to be very clear that these remote classes, under the conditions set out here, can only achieve a minimum part of what is our mission as educators. The crisis we are going through is part of the crisis of the whole of humanity. Only the Presence of the teacher with his students can in the long run build a foundation for humanity grow and develop as a social organism.
We shall remember that the need to build human beings capable of setting up a healthy social organism was the impulse that led Rudolf Steiner to found the first Waldorf school, a few days after the talk here mentioned!
translated by Polyana Castro
André Volich is a 5th grade class teacher at Viver Waldorf school in Bauru - Brazil. He is 31 years old, has a degree in geography and has three children. He started his journey in Waldorf education in the kindergarten of Pérceval school, in Chatou - France, where he was born and later attended a Waldorf school in São Paulo - Brazil. Today as a teacher he has the privilege of experiencing the other side of teaching, while learning together with students, teachers and parents.
* ‘The First Teachers Course' includes Rudolf Steiner's lectures on 'The Foundations of Human Experience', 'Practical Advice to Teachers' and 'Discussions with Teachers'. The core questions arose during the anniversary conference of 'The First Teachers Course' 2019 at the Goetheanum. Many thanks to the preparational help of Claus-Peter Röh, leader of the Pedagogical Section. The interview was conducted by Katharina Stemann.