The clown in the teacher

By Rosie Harrison, Robin Dennis, January 2020

Two freshly-baked teachers describe how theatre clowning during their teacher training was able to give them a taste of freedom – a freedom they seek each day anew as they stand in front of their class.

“Not I, not I, but the wind that blows through me! (…) If only, most lovely of all, I yield myself and am borrowed. By the fine, fine wind that takes its course through the chaos of the world” (from “Song of a Man Who Has Come Through” by DH Lawrence). With these words Lawrence gave expression to something that applies both to a Waldorf teacher and a theatre clown: the free and creative action of a teacher is guided in the first place by the needs of the class and ultimately does not originate in their everyday personality (the everyday I). They are “not !” but borrowed by the “fine, fine Wind”. That, precisely, is the art of theatre clowning: giving oneself to the relationship with the “chaos of the world” openly and completely. 

Intuition

The challenges with which an inexperienced teacher sees themselves confronted as a rule have a common source. The lack of discipline, active involvement and interest in the lessons often complained about by young teachers are frequently based in the teacher rigidly clinging to their lessons plan as well as a general pattern of dependence on their methodological “knowledge” and teaching theory. They do not have sufficient confidence in their abilities to deviate from the plan they have thought out even if the situation would required precisely this. But only letting go in such situations opens the space which is required to be able to listen. For as long as teachers cannot listen, they cannot hear the whispering “of the wind”: the simple and subtle solutions which give them the opportunity to perceive their intuitions at every moment and act on them. 

Theatre clowning invites the participants deliberately to discard every plan and improvise freely. Supplementing the acquisition of knowledge about methodology and content, improvisation strengthens the confidence of the teacher in their intuitive abilities. This can prepare them to deal with the unexpected, to be present in the here and now and open for what comes – like a clown who steps on to an empty stage without any plan, guided by a heightened receptiveness for what they see and feel. 

If this state occurs in the classroom, the teacher has taken an important step from apprentice to teacher. Like one participant on a theatre clowning course described it: “Just like in lessons, clowning is about confronting the unfamiliar and unplanned in a creative way and, above all, with a smile.” 

Play

“The human being only plays when they are, in the fullest meaning of the word, a human being, and they are only a full human being when they play” (Friedrich Schiller). Being playful means entering a state of levity, openness and curiosity, always in full awareness of each moment and in connection with the people who share it. It is less about what we do and more about how we do something. The ability to be connected with the present moment in a relaxed and open fashion is required both for learning and for intuitive teaching. It is this attitude, which is simultaneously simple and yet sacred, which sets Waldorf education apart and whose values it protects. 

Theatre clowning invites us to overcome old patterns and ways of thinking about what is right or wrong, how we should be, or what we have to do. Anyone who embarks on this journey of discovery gets to enjoy the experience of what it feels like when mistakes are not just part of it but are indeed a gift; they lead to a state of deep learning. 

Not I

When we find ourselves in this playfully intuitive state, we see things as they really are not as we think they must or should be, something that is a basic prerequisite for teaching. Susana Losso from the Christian Morgenstern School in Hamburg puts it like this: “Through clown exercises we understand how we use our voice, how we support people, the body language we use in the encounter with others, what we do with our hands, how open we are towards other people.” Through clowning we become aware of ourselves and of the way we relate to other people. It is a living consciousness in which we listen less to the voice of our calculating, biased I and rather follow “the wind”, our authentic and spontaneous self – fluidly, intuitively and in  a reciprocally interdependent relationship, balanced and ready to allow ourselves at every moment to be guided anew in the right direction. 

A teacher who allows themselves to be guided by their educational intuition and is fully aware of their environment is a free teacher. As soon as a trainee teacher starts to explore such creative experiences, they will experience something of the freedom for which they long as they stand in front of their class. 

About the authors: Rosie Harrison is an English teacher at the Karl Schubert School in Leipzig. Robin Dennis is an English and history teacher at the Free Georgen School in Reutlingen.

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