Language teachers must also be artists

By Peter Lutzker, Christoph Jaffke, May 2013

In his seminal work on Waldorf foreign language teaching, Johannes Kiersch in 1992 called for teacher training to be comprehensively extended in that language teachers should learn “that their profession requires training as an artist, and philological training is only in preparation or support of that”. This call triggered some fundamental developments in the training and advanced training of foreign language teachers at Waldorf schools in the last fifteen years. This can be seen very clearly in the development of the “English Week” for example. When it was set up fifteen years ago, it directly took up many elements which had been developed in the long tradition of Waldorf foreign language teaching. But what was new about it was the conviction that foreign language teachers needed an additional artistic training in order to do justice to the specific aims and methods of Waldorf education. This training goes far beyond what any traditional teacher training offers. It led to an initial one week intensive advanced training at which there were – alongside other things – daily three-hour workshops with well-known English-speaking actors, directors, story tellers and theatre clowns. This has in the meantime become something like the “centrepiece” of the whole advanced training week. The response to these courses was overwhelming from the beginning: participants reported about profound personal and professional changes which had direct and far-reaching consequences on their teaching practice. The relevance of some of these courses for the participants has, in the meantime, been investigated as part of a long-term study. It has becomes apparent that such courses lead to increased openness and attention, more empathy, greater presence in the lesson and clearly extended improvisational abilities. 

The English Week, which is held each year, is meanwhile the largest event worldwide in the advanced training of foreign language teachers for Waldorf schools. The concept of artistic and drama work for Waldorf foreign language teachers has been included in courses in other European countries. The elements concerning the artistic handling of language have also found entry to the advanced training seminars of the other foreign languages and are a firm part of foreign language and teacher training in the full-time seminars.

This new concept has led to exchanges between Waldorf foreign language teachers and “non-Waldorf” lecturers and professors. They are above all specialists who work with so-called “humanistic methods”. Internationally recognised experts such as Alan Maley, Mario Rinvolucri, Rod Bolitho, Hans Hunfeld, Hans-Eberhard Piepho (†) and Urs Ruf were and are regular guests at Waldorf advanced training events. Over the years a lively exchange about approaches to and methods of teaching has developed which is rewarding for all concerned. We have learnt a lot through this exchange with regard to creative writing (see the contribution by Alan Maley, page 20), the role of acting in lessons or the creative and living way to deal with grammar.

Future perspectives

Where is the development of language teaching heading? At the moment we consider it to be our greatest and most urgent task to offer comprehensive Waldorf training for all foreign language teachers. A new modularised course model (see the following contribution by Martyn Rawson) is intended to contribute to that. The revived Mannheim seminar for foreign language teacher training, for example, offers a continuous, modularised two-year training for foreign language teachers who are already teaching but who have no or only a little Waldorf training. The regular advanced training weeks which are meanwhile being offered by almost all seminars are also part of that.

The training and further training of teachers is the key to enhancing the quality of foreign language teaching at Waldorf schools.

A clearly higher level of teaching and greater satisfaction among pupils and parents can be seen in schools where teachers have gone through such a training or regularly attend such advanced training. In schools where this is not the case – and in many places it relates above all to middle and upper school – a great deal of frustration can, in contrast, be encountered. Here colleagues, parents and schools are called upon to take action.

About the authors:

Prof. Dr. Peter Lutzker was an English teacher in Frankfurt and Düsseldorf and is a lecturer at the Freien Hoch­schule Stuttgart.

Prof. Dr. Christoph Jaffke, is professor of foreign language teaching at the Seminar for Waldorf Education of the Freie Hochschule Stuttgart. He teaches English at Stuttgart Waldorf schools, founded the series Materialien für den Fremdsprachenunterricht an Freien Waldorfschulen and advises Waldorf schools in all parts of the world.