Elena Forrer, Member of the Leadership Group of the Waldorf Spanish Reachers Association.
One of the major difficulties in American Waldorf Schools is the scarcity of language teachers with knowledge of the pedagogy. In recent years in North America it has been a growing population of teachers, demanding more than just a sporadic language conferences. This particular problem has been critical for the Spanish teachers, now that Spanish is taught in all Waldorf schools in the USA.
New ways of communication, as well as changes in our more global societies, have also permeated our schools in need of different demands. An urgent sense of becoming more fluent and acquiring better command of the language has lead many schools to implement an elective language system in the language programs from grade seven onwards. At the same time, many schools feel the pressure from the parents and they resolve to hired untrained Spanish teachers or teachers with no experience in Waldorf education. This situation combined with the practice of two lessons a week in the upper grades, often leaves the students with a sense that language lessons are less important, and the teachers, with the sense that their work is not sufficiently valued. The untrained teacher, even if he or she is truly interested in Anthroposophy, feels helpless in the Waldorf classroom and often resolves to abandon the program because does not have the tools to succeed in the classrooms or the money to acquire a training. This situation leaves the school without a plan and the students with a sense of disappointment.
No doubt that weak salary structures and part time status are additional factors in some schools, but certainly the institutions have not faced this problem maintaining a passive attitude, instead of creating positive strategies such as providing a training, or supporting their language teachers with a mentoring program. Some new teachers have taken upon themselves to personally take up research and visit other experienced teachers, and in some cases, have joined together in a common effort to create an association seeking the opportunity to gain information and support each other. Our Spanish Waldorf Spanish teacher’s Association WSTA was precisely born with the intention to fill this void. Throughout our years of journey, the Spanish Association created a Mentoring and Evaluation program, offered yearly conferences – led by internationally clamed Waldorf teachers– and presented abundant workshops. Currently, WSTA counts not only with more than eighty-four members, but with also a solid commitment to expand their work. However, we cannot do this alone. It is urgent that schools confront this state of affairs by taken responsibility, and by establishing the necessary support to help their teacher acquire a language training that will help to establish languages an essential subject in the Waldorf- Steiner curriculum as it was intended by Rudolf Steiner.
The Waldorf language teacher has a great deal of freedom in developing the lessons, selecting appropriate materials and creating artistic lessons. The child in the language lesson and from early age listens (later reading in the language lesson) and recalls stories. They are told and then retold from previous days, together with the children’s input. Retelling a story allows the children to sequence mental pictures imaginatively, and then express these images in the foreign language. The images from the stories are not taught but are allowed to be “forgotten” and then “remembered.” The rhythm of “forgetting-remembering” creates a healthy balance where the children’s ego is also awakened by developing an inner movement with the story, “participating” in the speech, thus awakening their will.
Rudolf Steiner sees in language formation the necessity of bringing mental images to our speech so that the speech becomes a living reality and speaks of the danger is the speech can become abstract and materialistic (losing its pictorial aspect as a result of an unconscious element of will). If this happens, he explains that we cannot feel the living soul qualities in our spoken words. We remain abstract not only in our way of understanding, but also in our speaking. This problem faces all aspects of Waldorf education, but in particular the language programs, and it is critical that we address it.
Our programs are in need of language teachers of initiative and creativity, with a desire of learning how to relate their ideas on teaching to the human being by creating artistic and rhythmic threefold language lessons of doing, thinking, and feeling, which can lead to intention, clarity and morality; guiding powers through which the child grows into a fully human adult. Every language teacher when entering Waldorf-Steiner education begins a journey of pedagogical discovery. This discovery brings the teachers to wholeness when planning the language lesson, beauty in the choice of images presented and the execution of ideas; practice before understanding a topic, and rhythm of in- and out-breathing in the lesson. For this work we strive to cultivate the imagination as a source of inspiration in teaching through artistic work, we offer beauty and order so the children will attempt to do their work with sensibility, thus acquiring a sense of organization with clarity; we bring joy and humor to our lessons, even when we encounter hardships, striving to remember that we plant seeds for the future.
The urgency to address the impact of globalization in our lessons, changes in the students ways of learning as a result of new technologies, and the obstacles in language training, are urgent concerns for many language teachers, wishing to grow as individuals so they can serve better to our students and also to regain the value as equals in the curriculum.
Learning languages, constitutes a core aspect in the curriculum of Waldorf-Steiner Schools, and is our responsibility not only to deepen our work, but also to address these questions so the right social and spiritual impulses become not just a wish, but also a deed for the future.