Is it possible to expect the unexpected

Expect the unexpected. How a class teacher prepares for his class

Photo: © Charlotte Fischer

As a teacher, you first collect a lot of material during preparation. This search, which is both arduous and exciting, is so simplified by today's often quite good textbooks that the temptation is great to use them as the main source of information. This is practical, but not good, because the journey of discovery into uncharted territory is an important part of the preparation.

At the Waldorf school, class teachers have to acquire a great deal of knowledge for each epoch in a relatively short time in order to be able to continue with their class. It alternates between geography and biology, history or algebra, chemistry or physics, German, house building or agriculture. This diversity forces us to act as an example and to find out of all the possible paths the one that is best suited for this class, its questions and its level of development.

A decisive step is to condense the abundance of the material into strong, characteristic images and to shape them in your own imagination in such a way that they breathe lively and begin to speak. If, for example, Alexander is treated in Greek history, the question arises as to which events in his life are suitable to convey a full impression of this hero who, despite his short life, is called "the great" to this day.

A story that class teachers like to tell is that of his horse Bucephalus: Alexander's father Philip II was offered a magnificent stallion for sale. But whenever a rider approached him, he shied, climbed and kicked out. Philipp turned away angrily when his twelve-year-old son pushed forward and said he could tame the horse. Alexander took it by the reins, turned it around, sat up and galloped off to the cheers of the audience. He had observed that the horse had recoiled from the shadows of the riders and placed it in the sun so that it could no longer see any shadows. Philip bought the horse and said the famous words: "Son, find your own kingdom, because Macedonia is too small for you!" Alexander rode Bucephalus from that day and it carried him later on his great journey to the east. When the horse drowned at the age of thirty, he built the city of Alexandreia Bukephalos in his honor, now Jhelam in Punjab, Pakistan.

It is not enough just to read such a story aloud; you have to have imagined the scene to be so colorful and lively that it all becomes an experience when you tell the story: with smells, noises, the heat, the blinding sun, the faces of those involved.

In the beginning it helps to practice this out loud, later it can also be done in your mind, maybe even for a certain child. This process is an imaginative exercise, because the picture becomes transparent, transparent for contexts that extend beyond the concrete situation. In the example these are the powers of observation, the intelligence and the unconditional will of Alexander, which are addressed again in the words of his father.

Asleep from the image to the concept

Then comes sleep, which spreads its cloak of oblivion over all our imaginations. But something happens at night - with us as with the children. Neuroscientists say that the experiences of the day are processed in sleep: the rememberable knowledge is anchored in the "declarative" memory, while in other sleep phases the sum of the experiences is converted into skills in the "procedural" memory. When the children come back to school in the morning, their experiences from the previous day have changed somewhat due to their sleep - provided they were interesting enough to be noticed while they were sleeping.

Now there is another interesting observation: The more intensely I, as a teacher, immersed myself in the design of a picture the evening before, the less I stick to my lesson plan, the "material" or even the picture itself the next morning other: I become curious about what the children bring with them from their night (t) experience in relation to what they have learned the day before. By learning to hear what they say or which unspoken questions linger in them, they inspire me not to just continue with the material, but to explore the context with them and to derive lively terms from them that can later grow further. This listening is a resonance phenomenon that every teacher knows: suddenly the content we are working on takes on a depth, a color or a new dimension that goes far beyond what I had planned or what the curriculum required. In the space created by the increased attention to the how the students' memories are made, intuition becomes possible or, to use a more common term, learning becomes for everyone an experience of presence of mind from which security arises: I can really understand the world!

The epoch lessons offer wonderful opportunities for this type of learning and teaching, because the children go to bed with the expectation that it will continue the next morning. If they can look forward to it with a certain amount of tension, they connect with the content much more intensely than would be possible through cognitive accumulation of knowledge alone. This "forgetting" between epochs and remembering is repeated in a larger arc when the thread is taken up again. One of the astonishing experiences is that at the beginning of a new era, such as arithmetic, a class often digs out more skills from memory than it had available at the end of the last arithmetic era. The methodical trick practiced at Waldorf schools, from the graphic stories that appeal to the children's imagination, from an experiment or from another active perception, first to repetitive description, drawing or design and only then, after a night's sleep, to the conceptual examination begin, creates the space for the deepening described.

The preparation goes from the collection of material to the picture design and from there to an increased attention for the questions and thoughts that come from the children the next morning. This can create an atmosphere where the unexpected happens - presence of mind. This three step leads to a qualitative increase in the formation of knowledge and not to an indefinite emotional drudgery. However, you cannot quickly acquire these methodical levels. They are a practice path that has the advantage that the result is also important, but above all the practice itself. And that starts with the first try. The path from the material to the image to "hearing" to the presence of mind corresponds to the levels of higher knowledge that Rudolf Steiner referred to with the words imagination, inspiration and intuition and which he said are present in every human being as a predisposition when it is Special attention is also required to develop them in a targeted manner. Nevertheless, these three levels of knowledge are much closer than one might initially assume.

The meaning of the word imagination already results from the preparatory path, which is about finding living images that are suitable for guessing something of the spiritual substance of things. In a meditative context this can be a sensation about the relationship between wisdom and love for light and warmth or immersion in the image of a rose as a symbol for a purity achieved on a thorny path. The inspiration is deeper anchored in the feeling, of which the increased attention to the unspoken questions of the children is a preliminary stage. It goes beyond the imagination. When I notice what the children are experiencing or have experienced in the pictures, I no longer (only) feel myself, but the world that speaks to me through the children. The feeling is purified into an organ of perception.

In the case of intuition, the preliminary stage of which is the experience of presence of mind, the subject-object separation that is necessary and customary for our everyday consciousness is abolished; cognition and what is known are no longer opposed to one another. Many mystics describe this. Dostoevsky said succinctly: "Love makes you see" - and so does Steiner. In a religious context this corresponds to communion, to which Rudolf Steiner refers in his Philosophy of Freedom with the words: "Becoming aware of the idea in reality is the true communion of man." If the stages of meditation are summarized as follows the path goes first to a consciously constructed image in which the meditator immerses himself. If he succeeds in feeling this picture inwardly and successively paying more attention to these feelings than to the picture, this can ultimately result in experiencing the essential reality of the spiritual world. What we normally only experience selectively, in art or in meeting a loved one, expands into knowledge of the world.

One morning a fourth grader came to me and said, looking at me challengingly: "The sun is a fusion reactor!" The day before I had told the amazed children how whalers and Jamaican sailors used to go back to their home port with the help of the stars found. When he told his father about it, he showed him a popular science astronomy film. The definition of the sun as a fusion reactor for a ten-year-old child is a mechanistic reduction that not only kills the imagination, but also overburdens it intellectually: When I asked him what a fusion reactor was, I learned that small crumbs were caking up there. So much for the reality of the model ... So what to do? I neither wanted to negate the model nor to shake his father's authority. But you could clearly feel how the boy hoped that I would help him out of an existential mess. Until yesterday the sun was still a great being, now it has become a mechanism. So I looked for a picture that included all of that, and I did it quickly, because the conversation was now taking place. So I asked him where he noticed that he loved someone. He pointed to his heart. We talked about how warm our hearts get when we love someone. Finally I continued: “The sun has so much love that its light and warmth are sufficient for all animals, flowers, fish, birds and for all people. And whenever a person loves someone and is good to them, they bring a little bit of it to earth until it becomes a star itself. «Such a small imagination can grow without contradicting explanatory models which the later awakening analytical thinking can grasp.

Today freedom is often confused with the ability to keep distance. But that is only the prerequisite for a deeper freedom that creates new connections of its own accord. So that the children can use the already existing, finished knowledge of the adults to go their own way to understanding, they need pictures as stimuli to think for themselves. Freedom is a balancing act between arbitrariness and arbitrariness, with which it is often confused. Pedagogy that is committed to freedom would do well to practice balancing, because the ability to constantly find new equilibrium as you step forward is not only the basis of good pedagogy, but also of every art of living.

And it is precisely this art that keeps us from freezing or volatilizing - both in school and in life.

About the author: Henning Kullak-Ublick is a member of the board of directors of the Association of Independent Waldorf Schools and heads its public relations work in Hamburg. He was a class teacher in Flensburg for 27 years and represents the German Waldorf schools in the international conference (Hague Circle). In 2014 his book "Every Child an Expert" was published.