“A Teacher’s Thoughts for His Children”
You who descend out of heaven’s brightness
Now descend to earthly darkness
Thus through life’s resisting forces,
Spirit radiance to unfold
Spirit warmness to enkindle
Spirit forces to call forth-
Be you warmed through by my love
Healing Willing —
That in Spirit’s heights will rooted
And in Earth’s foundations working
You may servants of the world become
Sometimes I get asked about main lessons, blocks, main lessons. If you are new to Waldorf education, some of those terms and explanations can be found in back posts on this blog.
Teaching, in any methodology, should be an art. It should be something living between the teacher and the student in front of that teacher. It cannot be found in the pages of a textbook, nor really can it be found even in a plan made a few months ago in hopes that this particular block will hit the developmental mark.
Instead, I invite you to consider daily the goals of education before you, so beautifully written in this verse by Rudolf Steiner. What are the goals for the student? Radiant thinking, tranquil feeling, healing willing, that the student is an intermediatry between heaven and earth to become love. What are our goals as a teacher? To become that spirit of warmth and love that leads the student to these goals, that helps us all become the Spirit illuminated in the world, where love is sowed amongst humanity.
This is why, to me, Facebook groups about Waldorf Education are so problematic. This is an education of a spiritual degree, which requires artistry and thought on the part of the teacher. You cannot find that in any pages of curriculum. Look at this verse; it has the secrets of what you need to know in order to teach.
That being said, many of the questions of a main lesson do center around the “HOW”? How do I bring this, I need some pure mechanics and form to bring to this spirit. Here are some thoughts about teaching the main lesson.
(Sleep) This can be physical sleep, in meditating upon practice skills and capacities, or it can be a deeper sleep like letting a block with new concepts rest.
For the TEACHER, we need to set our meditation and intentions for the day. What are we going to accomplish today? In physical therapy sessions, we often have a “mini-goal” for that session that contributes to a longer term goal – teaching is much the same way. What is the long-term goal with this block? How is today helping us get there?
The Warm- Up – Usually this is the beautiful verse Steiner left for his students (there is one for grades 1-4 and one for grades 5-8). Sometimes this leads into circle games, poetry, singing, movement. As of note, I dislike turning this time into a music lesson for a breathing instrument (I think that should be a middle lesson), and I dislike turning it into a math lesson (I think that should be a practice session).
Recall – This is perhaps the most neglected part of the main lesson amongst Waldorf homeschoolers. I find the indications in most curriculums wholly lacking – retell the story or act it out and then move on. This is extremely boring, and perhaps more applicable to the stories of the lower grades, but certainly not satisfactory for the upper grades. One must dig into one’s creative well in order to come up with some better ideas for recall. In history, games work well. In science, I find building up an arc of concepts crystallized by not only the experiment we are recalling from yesterday but from several previous day’s experiments to be worthwhile. Recall also takes the form of art – we are recalling as we model or draw or paint something from the story; we are materializing it before our own eyes and in our own ways. Recall can also be things like dictation or working with a math game with movement.
I think this is the part that you should be PLANNING out ahead of time and not just leaving to what strikes you when you are teaching. Come with some innovative plans and creative ideas!
Recall leading into practice/bookwork – What are we doing with the story content as far as the capacities we wish to build? This is not a strict practice session in terms of reviewing all the concepts we have built up over time, but we can work on work that really brings home what we have done in the recall. This is usually what we think of as the “academic part” of the main lesson – the writing, the example math problems in the main lesson book.
Practice often can be made up on the spot (ie, more math problems in a similar vein as the recall, answering questions that lead into writing from the recall, but some teacher-parents may find it easiest to have ideas and examples written down ahead of time. If you are not good at making up math problems or drawing main lesson book pages on the board whilst students watch, then you need to plan this out ahead of time! In this vein, you can keep your own main lesson book that you complete one step ahead of your student!
New content – This is where we further what will become the work tomorrow by introducing a story or biography that the student can sleep on overnight. Sometimes the new content can come after the warm-up as well, or it can be at the end. Again, this is up to the creativity of the teacher and the student in front of the teacher.
In the home environment, other parts of the day might include a rotating middle lesson like in a school (handwork, music, gardening, etc), practice lessons for skills in language arts and math, and time for read-alouds. It is up to you to make the schedule fit your family, not to make your family try to fit a schedule of a Waldorf School.
The last part of the main lesson for the TEACHER only is to ask oneself – did I provide warmth and love? Did we laugh? Did we do something new? Did I promote radiant thinking, tranquil feeling, healing willing? And off we go, bringing our ideas and meditations to the spirit world for a new day of teaching tomorrow.