Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

I Am Your Child's Teacher

Last night all the parents of rising first-graders gathered at the school to meet The New Teacher. In the Waldorf pedagogy, a teacher starts with a first-grade class, and then remains the teacher of those students for the rest of their time in the lower school, through the eighth grade. In terms of having a teacher intimately familiar with his students, it's a very useful arrangement; everyone is spared the awkwardness of readjusting to each other from year to year, and so they can stay focused on the curriculum with a minimum of disruption over time. It also means that you've got a lot riding on one person in your child's education. So, when the parents are gathered together to meet The New Teacher for the first time, it's rather like an arranged marriage: "Hi there, we're going to be a major part of each others' lives for the better part of a decade."

It would be gauche to "review" the guy in a blog, so I won't get into details, but suffice it to say that I'm pleased and think he's going to work out fine. I will share a few things that struck me:
  • One parent asked, "What is your goal for the year? How will you know that you've succeeded with these kids?" He answered: "If, at the end of the year, these kids love school, then I've done my job." I thought that was a great answer, and one of the things that sets Waldorf schools apart from so many others. Nobody else gets this part right. Under the regimine of "No Child Left Behind," the public schools teach (if you can call it teaching) to a zombified objective standard; their only concern is to get as many kids over the lowest of bars as possible. Meanwhile, most private schools, nurtured on the overweening ambitions of rich parents for their children, teach at the other end of standardization: what matters most is testing high, high, high on the subject matter, accelerating growth beyond all nature standards. But Waldorf recognizes they have one, and only one, critical job at the beginning of the grades, which is to make the kids love learning. If they get that part right, everything else will fall into place naturally.
  • On several occasions, the teacher emphasized what we've heard before about Waldorf education: "Look, there's a reason we do things a certain way." As far as I can see, it's true: Waldorf education is, if nothing else, extremely self-conscious and deliberate. Every detail is thought out, and done for a specific reason. (It might be a wacky Steinerian reason, but still, an explicit reason.) I was reminded, yet again, of how rare it is to have institutions with real spine to them. The New Teacher was reminding us of this fact because he knows, eventually, he's going to be taking us to task for putting Ho-Hos in the lunch box or not letting the kids get enough rest, or whatever.
  • On the subject of media, especially television, he said: "Look, since you're paying for this education, I would hope that you wouldn't want to undo my work. And television will just blow away anything I might accomplish with these kids." Amen.


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