Pegasus help

By Holger Grebe, July 2020

On the southern wall of our living room a surprise lurks in the plaster. Sized about 40 x 27 centimetres, a half-relief is rises above the grainy substrate showing a winged horse.

Photo: @ photocase

Two mighty wings make the slim body of the galloping steed soar. Almost thirty years ago, my artist brother in an unobserved moment conjured the hybrid creature as a half-relief on to the wall with trowel and spatula while our house was being renovated. Since that time the mythological symbol has accompanied me like a genius loci. Pegasus, the child of the sea god Poseidon, has since Greek antiquity been considered the mount on which poets ride, the beat of its hooves giving rise to a spring. All poets have drunk from its waters.

The longing for inspiration from this source and the beat of Pegasus’ wings have accompanied me, too, in my almost thirty years as a Waldorf teacher. When the pile of German and history jotters waiting to be corrected at the weekend was getting me down, a meeting to discuss a child had to be prepared and, on top of everything else, I had to come to grips with the dual nature of the hideous but highly learned messenger of the Grail, Kundrie, from Wolfram’s Parzival epic in order not to expose any gaps in my knowledge to a class 11, I quietly implored: Pegasus help!

Excessive demands, tiredness, lack of time, lack of ideas are, after all, not uncommon in the teaching profession but a firm part of everyday life and can only be borne with tolerant pupils, humility and humour! I obtained great help in this melancholy landscape of the mind from reading Heinz Zimmer­mann’s slim volume Von den Auftriebskräften in der Erziehung (The Buoyant Forces in Education) (Dornach 1997). I discovered that there are not just gravitational forces which pull us downwards and have a “paralysing effect on our own activity” but that there is also a stream of forces which work in precisely the opposite direction: as upward buoyancy. That is what they must be, the Pegasus forces! It is a matter of developing a kind of hygiene of the soul and spirit which keeps focused on the conditions for inner productivity and not the demands of outer norms. How do we progress from “I must” to “I want to”?

First rule: Be fully involved in what you are just doing or observing. So no correcting pupils’ work while dozing through a teachers’ meeting. But increased participation in what is being discussed or considered at the time. Hold on to what “lingers” when you leave the classroom. What happened today? Whom did I consciously perceive? And which questions from pupils particularly linger when I subsequently review what happened in front of my inner eye?

Second rule: Celebrate small successes. A quiet girl had the courage to say something. A boy who likes to conform contradicted someone and in that way initiated a debate in the class. What I wrote on the blackboard was legible and at the end of the main lesson helped in reviewing the work that had been done. But the sovereignty of the I also includes dealing with time in a different way.

Third rule: Don’t hit the future in an uncontrolled skid but act with pre-emptively at leisure. I make a note of initial inner question for an upcoming main lesson before immersing myself in a pile of books. I take a smaller or bigger research question into the new school year when I breathe out in the summer holidays in the company of my populous family. How are the upper four senses (sense of hearing, speech, thought and the I) connected? What does the first sentence say about a novel? What does mindfulness mean as an educational virtue? And how do I learn to silence the judgemental part in me and instead cultivate a form of appreciative perception?

Finally: Pupils are not clients but companions, co-workers, sensitive rebels who appreciate it greatly when we leave the cover of routine and show ourselves to be vulnerable and searching. Lesson times are times of encounter and conversation, not obligatory events for funnelling material into pupils. In good times, the hoof beat of Pegasus can be heard like a spiritual heart beat. Pegasus – steed of poets, steed of teachers.

About the author: Holger Grebe is an upper school teacher of German and history at the Balingen Free Waldorf School.

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