Lessons from a Year in Waldorf

“Now I walk in beauty, beauty is before me, beauty is behind me, above and below me.”

This was one of the first songs I had the pleasure of partaking in when I first met Waldorf. It was at the Teacher Training last summer in a room full of teachers and parents. It was the first time in a long while (or ever?) I had experienced being among adults singing in unison. The song was so beautiful it brought tears to my eyes. I have since learned it is a Navajo prayer song.

Having just finished my first year as a Waldorf Main Teacher, this song came to me yesterday. I thought back to the hope I had in the world before the school year started. I had such high (albeit vague) hopes for the year. Now, a year later, after much hardship as well as many rewards, I’m happy to say, the song still rings true for me. I still walk in beauty and among beauty, now knowing, more strongly than ever, that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

How was my year, you might ask, and what have I learned? Reflecting back on the year, there have been so many lessons. Allow me to share a few here.

1. If you come from the heart, you will go far.

When I first entered the school, wow… was I in for a treat. More like a surprise, actually. All the ways I had learned to do things in the past – with a plan, with efficiency, with time for last minute tweaks – I had to throw them all out the window. As the year progressed, I realized more and more that in our school, things were usually pushed to the last minute, and somehow magically all came together at the last second. This caused me plenty of heart attacks. I could not deal with the uncertainty of it all. I was so used to being in control.

Midway through the year, a parent told me, “Don’t worry, things here at the school may not always seem like they will work out, but they always do in the end. We may not do things perfectly here, but we do them from the heart.” As frustrating as that was for me, I slowly learned to see the beauty in this foreign way of doing things, and slowly began to embrace it. I saw the heart in everyone coming together to help a struggling teacher who was at her wit’s end. I saw the heart in being vulnerable and sharing with others that I needed help. As painful as these experiences were, I’ve learned to let go a little and take things more lightly. Does it really matter if a certain activity doesn’t turn out perfectly or as planned? Sometimes better things are waiting beyond perfect planning and execution. Although I admit I still can’t discount the heart ache caused in the process, I’ve come to value the solidarity and kinship that was formed when others rallied around me to help me overcome seemingly insurmountable struggles.

2. Dream big and have faith.

There were so many firsts and new things I did this year that I never imagined I would be able to do. Leading a group of fifteen students to share songs and movement in front of others. Teaching Physics at a middle school level when my own level of Physics education is limited to that of a ninth grader. Selecting, casting, costume and set designing, rehearsing, directing, and performing a class play with less than three weeks of rehearsal time. Less than two weeks even, for me, given I broke down and had to take a break midway through. Planning and leading a five-day class sailing trip. Making, and anxiously encouraging my students, to finish making their puppets on time for a puppet show that all came together, as you guessed it, at the last minute.

So many big projects to accomplish; during each one I would doubt myself continuously, and during each one other teachers and staff would continuously support me, encourage me, believe in me. I’ve learned we are capable of more than we think. It just takes a few loving nudges in the right direction and a lot of faith.

3. Who you are is more important than what you do.

In line with what I shared in my previous post, it has been no easy feat guiding fifteen teenagers through the 7th grade. Experiencing a multitude of changes – be they physical, emotional, or mental; full of questions; full of rebellious tendencies; these kids did not make it easy for me to find a way to work with them harmoniously in the beginning. It was a slow uphill battle to truly understand what other teachers and mentors had been telling me- that who I am is more important than what I do. What does that mean?, I had thought. How do I put that into practice?

I’ve learned that it is only when you let children see who you are – your values, your story, your flaws – that they can begin to trust you and identify with you. Only when you show them that you’ve been through similar challenges, that you had the same questions, and this is how you dealt with them, can they see you as a friend and equal they can talk to. Only when you are able to laugh freely at their corny jokes and participate in their antics, whether that’s their teenage green-mindedness (yes Rosal, if you’re reading this, I said it) or their silly hide and seek games, will they consider letting you in on their lives and innermost feelings.

I’m taking this lesson away to apply to my own life. I need to stop worrying whether I measure up, whether I am good enough at this or that. Just being who I am is good enough. Children see that. They have a wise, intuitive sense for it. And it is the truth.

4. A diamond is formed through lots of pressure and patience.

I’ll share something I wrote during the last week of school:

“My big golden moment this year is that throughout all the heartache, headache, sickness, tears, I’ve triumphed and grown into a better me, and really nurtured loving relationships with my students. It takes all that pressure to create a beautiful, sparkling diamond, right? I never thought (well, I may have dreamed) I would be sitting here today, in our last week of school, feeling the way I feel – vibrant, healthy(er), grateful, with a muted ache in my heart because I know I’ll be leaving all this soon. And there are actually, sincerely, many things and people I’ll miss.”

It’s been one hell of a rollercoaster year. Life may throw you for unexpected loops sometimes, but stay along for the ride. Through all the ups and downs, all the external and (mostly) internal pressure I placed on myself, I’ve emerged from it all with a sparkling diamond; cherished relationships and gems of wisdom I would never have otherwise gained.

A friend once compared my short journey teaching at a Waldorf school to Mary Poppins’ short stay with the Banks family. I am definitely nowhere near as graceful and well-prepared as Ms. Poppins, but there is something about her I identify with.

For now, it’s time for me to seek new horizons. Time to seek, and hopefully bring, magic elsewhere.

If I may channel her light-hearted spirit and swift umbrella-flying ways …


Mary Poppins, out!

One thought on “Lessons from a Year in Waldorf

  1. You can teach Mary Poppins some yoga so she can stretch soar even higher with her umbrella and easily see where she is next needed most 🙂 Congratulations, Joanne! Some need several cycles of Waldorf teaching to learn what you did in a year. You loved the children. And they loved you.

    Liked by 1 person

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