Aspiring class teachers must follow their second human being

By Claus-Peter Röh, February 2014

“What actually makes a good teacher?” asks Claus-Peter Röh, head of the Pedagogical Section at the Goetheanum.

Photo: © Charlotte Fischer

A student finished her studies in great anticipation of starting her dream job – becoming a class teacher in a Waldorf school. Six months after school had started, she said: “ There’s something you didn’t tell us about in the seminar: it really is a roller-coaster ride! No day is like the next and sometimes I just don’t know how I’m going to survive. But it is the greatest job there is.” In response to the question what impressed him most, a young teacher answered: “The high expectations of the children, that is something quite real – it supports me and at the same time constantly challenges me as a human being.”

The question “how do I become a good teacher?” was posed by young teachers at a meeting held at the St. Augustin Free Waldorf School near Bonn. Two things seemed important to them: good preparation of the subject provides the tools for a lesson. But whether or not the subject comes to life in the class, whether or not the pupils open up and can connect with the content out of inner interest, depends on how the teacher tackles the teaching situation as a human being.

Teachers must immerse themselves in what is happening as complete human beings and yet use a method with critical awareness which aims at understanding, challenging and supporting the pupils in their respective stages of development.  

In each lesson inner values, attitudes and abilities are transformed into concrete outer actions. Conversely what happens in a lesson can, with the corresponding training, have a reciprocal effect on the teacher’s inner attitude.

Harmony of education and self-education

The more teachers succeed in strengthening the harmony between inner attitude and outer action through work on themselves, the more self-assured they become as they face the class: children can sense abilities which their educators have worked to obtain in their own right. An anecdote told about Mahatma Gandhi provides a good illustration of this link: he once told a mother who asked him to tell her child to stop eating so many sweets that she should come back in three months, then he would have a word with her son. And so it happened. After he had talked with the boy, the mother asked him why these simple words had taken him three months. To which he responded that he had first had to overcome his own liking for sweets.

Gandhi here points to a fundamental law of education. Adults must first have obtained by their own work what the child is to learn from them. Rudolf Steiner also spoke about his law, even if in a much more differentiated way. Because the next highest component of the human being always acts on the preceding lower one. That applies to self-education, but also to education.

The compnent of the child      The impact level of the educator

Physical body                         Etheric or life body

Ehertic or life body                 Astral or sentient body

Astral or sentient body            I

I                                            Spirit self

The validity of this law can be seen in many different ways in everyday teaching: through convictions which they have obtained for themselves, kindergarten teachers use their astral body to act down into the organisation of the etheric life rhythms: the more there is an atmosphere of security, attentiveness and closeness, and the children feel supported by the adults, the better they can grow and thrive.

When at the time of the change of teeth the child’s etheric life forces are transformed into new abilities of memory, imagination and creativity, class and subject teachers can best reach and develop these strong etheric forces of learning through the abilities of their own astral body. Striking up a song, speaking the morning verse, grasping a movement, perception of the pupils in each teaching situation, guiding written work and the feeling for language when telling a story: each of these activities is introduced and determined in its quality by the transformative astral body penetrated by the I.

If subsequently during puberty the sentient power of the astral body is released, class and subject teachers must change their attitude: now the pupils explicitly or implicitly expect the stronger engagement of the teacher’s I, be it organisationally or in attentiveness. Adolescents notice and mirror watchfully whether and how the adults guide the ship of school and how they react to unexpected situations.

We can positively influence all these levels of activity as teachers through self-education: the pupils experience us as learners if we work as educators on our own development as human beings. That part of the growing person which wants to develop by virtue of its own strength finds orientation and encouragement through what the teacher achieves in himself or herself. In this way self-education and education harmonise in the course of the eight-years that a class teacher is in charge of a class.

The Danish Waldorf teacher Holger Mellerup said in a discussion about the self-education of the class teacher that anyone who develops with the pupils in the course of those years, and also lives through the stormy and challenging times of classes 7 and 8, acquires human forces of, for example, courage and modesty which help him or her to become a beloved authority in the next class 1.

The inner advisor

If we look at the human biography from the perspective of self-education, we can discover some impressive things. Johann Gottlieb Fichte held the view: “No person on earth has the right to leave their strengths unused and live through someone else’s strengths. Human beings acquire all their strengths through the struggle with and overcoming themselves. The will is the sole reality.”

If we read in contemporary accounts how powerfully Fichte presented his ideas at Berlin University, the outer side of this “philosopher of the will” becomes evident. But the source of that outer strength lay deep within him. He wrote about the voice of conscience: “To listen to it, to obey it without fear and sophistry in honesty and without partiality, that is my sole destiny, that is the purpose of my whole existence. My life stops being an empty act without truth and meaning.”

By turning to this inner instance “without fear and sophistry”, Fichte touched his “spirit self”. It stands as a spiritual force of the future – like a watching companion – still higher than the I. In everyday school life, this force, which is not externally visible but has a strong inner effect, can be clearly noticed in pupils and teachers: be it in the middle of a lesson, be it directly afterwards or during the review in the evening or the next morning – frequently a factual, loving and incorruptible inner voice makes itself heard which notes what could have been done still differently and better in our own actions. If teachers practice an awareness of this voice, this wiser, higher human being in themselves and accept such knowledge of their own imperfection, they can then draw new impulses for their teaching from that. In the lectures in The Study of Man, Rudolf Steiner encourages the first Waldorf teachers to listen to this “second human being”: “But the human being who additionally lives in you, that second human being, always develops – not in the thinking now, but in the will – a clear picture of the way he would act a second time round if he were in a position to do things again. Do not underestimate this second human being who lives in you.”

The balance between inner and outer attentiveness

Teachers can try in various ways to perceive this inner human being. If, for example, the review of the lesson and our own actions becomes a good habit, new impulses and intentions for the next lesson can arise. A further enhancement is meditation: focusing completely on one thought for a short period in the day out of our own resolution and strength requires a great deal of self-control and effort. After this has been done for a while, we can increasingly experience an inner strength which supports us in our concentration. The more the meditation begins to carry itself, the greater the freedom with which we can then focus our attention on the pictorial or verbal content.

Such concentration gives rise an initially surprising consequence for the way we encounter external everyday events: the pleasure in the perception of these outer events grows. Our interest increases in the way in which one pupil creates her own artistic piece of work, in which another pupil formulates his own question or in the atmosphere in which a class takes in a new account of something. This oscillation between inner and outer leads us – despite all the uncertainty and worry – to anticipate with increasing pleasure the next lesson and what it may bring.

The directors of such a creative balance are the teachers working on the harmony between education and self-education.

About the author: Claus-Peter Röh was a class teacher and also taught music and religion for 28 years at the Flensburg Free Waldorf School; today he leads the Pedagogical Section at the Goetheanum in Dornach with Florian Osswald.

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