How do I teach without stress? Practical tips

By Susanne Speckenbach, July 2020

That the job of teacher belongs to those professions in which people are subject to great stress for relatively long periods of time is well known. Just think of the many teachers who want to take early retirement or the burnout numbers.

Photo: @ Charlotte Fischer

But is it also possible to teach without stress? When a lesson doesn’t go well it is very stressful for the teacher because in fact every person wants to do their job well. So when in my early years I came out of a class in which not everything went as I had planned in my preparations, that was a burden on my soul and I had to free myself from it quite deliberately before going into that class again or even just into the next lesson in another class. The worst ones were the lessons in which I stood in for someone else, did not know the names of the pupils and as a result felt dependent on their good will. What a relief that this has meanwhile changed! I am grateful to many colleagues for conversations, hints and tips along the way. 

What have I changed since then?

1. I find it helpful to accept the given situation. Lessons on Monday, for example, require a longer warm-up period than on other days. So I let the pupils talk about their weekend before we start properly and in doing so try to get the children to remember the forms of behaviour in lesson we have practised. “A squirrel” – now there is no point in trying to keep the children at their desks. So they are allowed to run to the window to take a look and I tell them a little about how squirrels live. When it snows, space has to be made for that too. I did not trust myself to do so at the beginning. Because I myself meanwhile remain relaxed, this transfers itself to the class which more quickly returns to the concentration needed for work.

2. Rhythm replaces power. The structure of the lesson, never quite the same but always similar, turns into a progression that provides security. The variation in the individual elements here is refreshing and an art.

3. Very thorough preparation of the material and methods leads to inner calm which also has an effect on the class. If I feel at home in the subject matter we intend to work on in the coming weeks, I can allow for deviation from my plan without becoming stressed. That also includes asking myself on the day before: “What am I going to do if wee Johnny can’t concentrate on his work?” or similar. Such careful preparation also allows me to explain very thoroughly why I want the pupils to do something. For the younger ones, my assurance is frequently sufficient; for the older ones, I can convincingly set out why, for example, I ask them to write out their class 8 project by hand. The feeling and perception that the teacher has thought carefully about something buoys the self-confidence of the pupils: “I am very important to her, she takes us seriously.”

4. The children directly reflect back to me whether or not my lesson is coherent. If they become restless, it is a sign that a change of method is required. With time we can learn how to sense this in advance without such unrest actually occurring. A perception of the mood in the class is incredibly valuable in this context. That applies just as much in middle school when the soul element becomes more astral in nature. The pupils tell me such a lot about the mistakes I make in  my practice that I can only be grateful if I understand their language and can take in what they communicate to me about my lack of patience or the way I address them.

5. The seating plan can make a lot of difference with regard to how and whether the children feel themselves addressed by me, particularly with the younger ones. Just as recommended by Rudolf Steiner in Discussions with Teachers, I seat the pupils by temperament and cope with the fact that, to begin with, the restlessness among the sanguine types is greater than I would like. It is a great art to recognise the primary temperament in the children and to compose the seating plan in such a way that all of them feel comfortable and can find their way into work. It is well worth trying.

6. For me, the free rendering of stories is also part of cultivating the contact with the class. Because freely rendering a story is quite different from reading it out.

8. If nothing I do has any effect and the class runs riot, I find that a perception of the space behind me is helpful. I imagine a pillar of light behind me into which I step after a while. This allows me to find myself and I  am not caught up in the uproar.

9. Some children ask deeper questions of the teacher. Sometimes it helps me to find the right way of dealing with this if in the evening I place these children before my soul in their ideal nature and perceive in the morning how they conduct themselves as troublemakers. That protects me in a mysterious way and thereby also helps them.

About the author: Dr Susanne Speckenbach is a class and religion teacher at the Freiburg-Wiehre Free Waldorf School.

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