Waldorf Teacher Education for High School Teachers
A day in a Waldorf school typically begins with a two-hour main lesson. These courses are organized in 2-4 week blocks dedicated – in high school (grades 9-13) – to subjects like math, biology, chemistry, geography, physics, language arts, history, and art history. In contrast to elementary school, where one class teacher covers all the main lesson subjects, high school teachers are specialized in the subject matter that they teach.
Teacher education programs for high school teachers in Waldorf schools generally require a college degree in at least one of the above-named subjects. Programs are, therefore, at a post-graduate level, and they build on an existing basis of subject-related knowledge and abilities. Most participants have no previous training in the field of education, and so coursework usually focuses on subject didactics and educational philosophy, along with artistic coursework as an element of personal development and school culture.
According to Roth (2011, p. 255) the central question of any didactic activity is: “what do young people need to focus on in order to become educated and mature?“ In Waldorf pedagogy, the question posed takes on a deeper layer of relevance: what subject matter will best meet the needs of the young person, in his or her specific phase of development, and on all levels of his or her being?
The following example can illustrate this idea. Young people going through puberty signal to their teacher that they want to experience life „to the fullest – right now and immediately!“. They want to understand the culture they are living in here and now; they want to become citizens of our times, with their own opinions and views of the world. A physics teacher in a Waldorf school will pick up on this and turn to technology: serial data transmission in telephones, for example (Sommer, 2010a). The central question for a teacher is how the powerful potential of young people, and their burning interest in contemporary culture, can be formed and rounded out through their encounter with the subject matter being taught.
Numerous teaching examples help student teachers to practice working on the general didactic conception of main lesson teaching. The most important thing here is that the learning process be a living process, following laws which can be observed as governing life processes. For example: on one day, a small piece of the world is unraveled before a class. The dynamic of the presentation lets students have strong experiences, so that all the pupils - irrespective of what they knew beforehand - are able to immerse themselves in the life of the subject matter. Then it is time to take a deep breath. A few short notes can be taken, a first statement can be made, and then there should be a break.
The break before the next phase of teaching - usually overnight, before the new lesson the following day – is an intentional and important part of the teaching process. It allows pupils to begin making their own sense out of what they experienced before, in the next step in the classroom, the laws governing what they experienced are sought out, made concrete and conscious. Immediacy of experience and reflective distance are like two strokes of the pendulum of life (Sommer, 2010b). Once understood deeply, this rhythm can be put into practice in many different ways, from experiments to podium discussions, from group work to teacher-student conversations. Students of Waldorf pedagogy need to devote attention to both poles of the pendulum swing: the art of creating intense experiences of subject content, and the art of leaving some questions unanswered, allowing pupils to make their own discoveries.
Waldorf pedagogy is based on a specific understanding of knowledge and of the human being. It is a central goal in Waldorf teacher education that this foundation be addressed, developed, and discussed, in dialogue with established concepts of educational science.
The theory of knowledge upon which Steiner’s work is based (Steiner, 1886/2008), and the differentiated view of the human being which Steiner described (Steiner, 1910/1994) and elaborated on in the courses he gave for teachers before the founding of the first Waldorf school (Steiner, 1919/1996) are topics worked on within the course of teacher education programs. Students discuss and develop an understanding of Steiner’s monistic approach, comparing it to dualistic views of the world, and considering both with regard to for example, epistemological foundations of phenomenological anthropology (Fuchs, 2008). Developmental psychology, with a concentration on youth pedagogy, is also an important topic.
Artistic seminars in teacher education programs are not so much about sophisticated creative accomplishments, but rather about the opportunity for further education, through which student teachers are able to develop themselves as humans. A feeling for the rhythmic process of a lesson, consciousness of posture, gesture, and movement, and the ability to shape and form one’s own emotions all play an important role in teaching, and these abilities (among others) can be developed through artistic work. Student evaluations of our courses support the idea that artistic work helps student teachers to develop consciousness in the realm of their feelings, allowing them to become richer and freer in their experiences.