It was my first year as a teacher. I was teaching kindergarten children in a Waldorf School. The year just flew by and it was time to handover the reports to the children. I was shown a few examples of reports made by teachers in the past in other Waldorf schools. One look at those, my till then confident self, became jittery! I had two left hands and was not at all capable of handcrafting a beautiful report. I could write but could not draw or illustrate. Two days before I had to handover the reports, Shailaja, my colleague, came to me after lunch and handed over a bunch of scrolls made from handmade paper. She asked me, “You can write your reports on this, I have made some nice borders and drawings on each of them. Here you go.” I hugged her tight.
My entire career in a Waldorf school is an exposition of how team work, teacher collaborations made work easier, more effective and provided opportunities for intense learning.
Thursdays are a special day in Waldorf schools world over for that is the day the teachers meet each week. Thursday meetings generally begin with a round of singing seasonal songs; then announcements concerning the entire school; reading from one of Steiner’s works; sensitizing other teachers about a particular age group of students/class; taking up a child for observation for a period of four weeks – all are part of a typical weekly teachers meeting in a Waldorf school.
Child observation, in particular, brought all the teachers together to help one teacher understand one child who a teacher of any class might find challenging to teach. For four weeks all the teachers in the school would observe discreetly that one child taken up for observation. The child’s/student’s own class teacher might be too attached to the child or to the problem of the child and hence to bring objectivity to a sincere attempt to understand the child/student in order to arrive at a solution, other teachers of the school offer their perspectives. Over the years, this has been a very fruitful endeavour which benefits not only that one specific child under study but other children as well since all the teachers gain deeper insight in this process of objective observation.
Peer mentoring of teachers is also an effective way to improve teacher training and equips teachers to perform better. Over the years peers become lifelong friends and well-wishers extending beyond the confines of profession. This leads to community development and sustainable relations which definitely leads to a happy teaching community.
For teachers working in a school or college, their workplace is not like any other. A school is a melting pot of different age groups. Teachers – young and senior, students – of various age groups, administrative and other staff of different ages and genders, thus the group dynamics that play in schools and colleges are so starkly different from, say, a corporate or other offices.
Young students are filled with energy and enthusiasm in general. However, they can also be tricky to handle especially in the adolescent and teenage years. Small tiffs can turn volatile and cause a lot of tensions in schools and colleges. A united body of teachers can achieve so much more for the betterment of students than if they work in isolation.
K was a telugu teacher new to the Waldorf way of teaching. One day, I found her crying in the staff room and on questioning I learnt that the growingly boisterous group of teenagers in the school had behaved in an unruly manner. The soft hearted person that she was, she could not take it. The staff rallied around K but were also sensitive enough not to curtail the new found aggressive spirit of the teenagers which was typical of that age. The very next day their class teacher hung some handkerchiefs on the nails meant to hang paint brushes. She told her students that she had come to realize that her class had suddenly become so heartless that they were rude to a new teacher. But all the teachers in the school were mature enough not to abandon them. However, in case they needed it, because she was unsure of how many teachers would feel heartbroken, she was leaving the handkerchiefs there. The class felt remorse. Ashamed with their behaviour they went on their own and apologized to K. The next Thursday meeting had a session on how to handle teenagers in class, tips on class control in middle and high school. Soon everyone was sensitized and the students too got over this passing phase and were more cooperative.
Collaborations amongst staff is more important in schools than in other areas of work, simply because of the fact that besides being good at the subjects they teach, teachers also need to be able to have command over their class, develop a rapport with students and be liked by them in order to be effective. Feelings matter most for young students. Being a “good” teacher in this sense is not an easy task for everyone. Peer guidance plays an important role in gaining this kind of skill.
Especially while dealing with “difficult parents”, children with special needs, discipline issues, etc., it is always better if, besides the class teacher or the concerned teacher, a senior teacher is present during parent-teacher meetings and there are precedents or guidelines. In such situations teachers should be unified yet willing to change for the benefit of the students and parents. Teaching is an art that becomes more aesthetic through years of practice. It is the combined work of many experiences, impressions, situations and challenges that shape and polish a teacher.
In today’s changing times of online classes, teachers are under the scanner like never before. Every word and deed of theirs is scrutinized under a magnifying lens. At such times, peer unity is of great importance. Techniques of handling transparent classrooms need to evolve. Teamwork and helping each other is the only way forward.
The author works through Ananda Foundation as a Remedial Therapist and as an Early Childhood Teacher Trainer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.