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Agnostic Waldorf Teachers?

post #1 of 19
Thread Starter 

I have been quite active in our local Waldorf school, volunteering in the classroom, etc., and many of the teachers and parents I have worked with are encouraging me to pursue teacher training. I previously had no background in Waldorf whatsoever before coming to the school, but was really interested in teaching in general, and everything I was hearing and observing seemed so wonderful to me, especially the artistic approach to teaching, which really resonated with me. (Of course the reduced tuition for kids of Waldorf teachers was also an exciting plus!)


I started looking into training/foundation study programs, but kept getting confused by this "anthroposophy" thing and realized I needed to read a lot more before applying. Within the last few months, I've read from some of the core lectures/books by Steiner and have come to an understanding of what anthroposophy is, and I realized that I don't agree with anthroposophy at all. I'm an agnostic and believe that anything beyond the physical world is unknown and unknowable, which is basically the opposite of anthroposophy.


When I talked with people enrolled in the teacher training program I was looking at, they all said it was a really valuable experience and that they really got to know themselves. A teacher I know told me that the inner work done during training is a central to being a Waldorf teacher, and it's my understanding that all that inner work is anthroposophical in nature, and that it takes up a large part of the curriculum.




Can I make it through teacher training not agreeing with anthroposophy? How much of the training will require me to reflect on anthroposophical themes and discuss them with others? Will my chances of getting a job after training be affected? Do discussions of pedagogy, students, etc. in faculty meetings, parent conferences, and so forth necessarily take on an anthroposophical tone? Would it be really obvious in the classroom if someone were to observe me?




At the end of it all, I just want to teach handwork and interact with awesome kids, but it's looking like it's going to be far more complicated than that!


Anyone who can help with their experiences would be very much appreciated.





(Thanks in advance - even though this is my first post, I've been reading a lot on the forums here and am quite pleased and impressed with the supportiveness and thoughtfulness of the community.)

post #2 of 19

You will have a tough time. They will be welcoming of you, but anthroposophy will probably drive you more nuts the further you study it. I suggest you find out if you can enroll in the first couple months on a trial basis and then be really honest with yourself about whether it is a healthy environment for you. In the end you can become a handwork teacher and work with awesome kids, but in the end Waldorf teachers teach out of Anthroposophy and Waldorf teacher training is initiation into Anthroposophy. It would be very hard for a rationalist to be happy in that collegial environment.

post #3 of 19
Thread Starter 

Thank you for your honest and very helpful feedback. I will see if there is a way for me to do some sort of initial trial (as inexpensively as I can, since money is definitely an issue). That's a really good idea. Or, at the very least, perhaps I could find a parent group who are all studying together and see if I could join them.


I do have a feeling, though, that you're totally right when you say I will probably have a tough time, because already when I study on my own I feel frustrated with a lot of what I'm reading. This is just a hard thing for me to admit to myself, that the training won't be a good fit, since there is a lot that I really enjoy about Waldorf education and I've wanted to be a teacher for quite some time. It's encouraging that you say that they would be welcoming of me even though I'm not an anthroposophist, so I'm hoping that because I have so many friends in the Waldorf community already that they will be understanding of my decision.


post #4 of 19
I'm in much of the same situation as you. Considering teacher training, unsure about anthroposophy, but love what I see my kids getting at our waldorf school. I'm an assistAnt in the kindergarten class as well.

Here's my thoughts. I think lots of anthroposophical approach and philosophy is interesting. And I do have some vague spiritual beliefs that jive with it. But I don't think I would ever believe it as solidly true. I guess I am quite agnostic myself. And many of my waldorf teacher friends are the same way. I see a lot of what waldorf teachers do that is in some way related to anthroposophy is quite helpful to the child (meditation, child study, incarnating soul, etc.) and so I would be open to learning about it.

Though the first year of teacher training is a lot of studying steiner's works, I would be quite surprised if there were some kind of test you take where they make sure you believe it all, or that only anthroposophists can continue, etc. The purpose of waldorf is to educate free thinking humans. I find it interesting that NONE of the waldorf graduates I've met are anthroposophists.

Anyway, that's kind of rambly. But I'd love to hear what you find out in your research.
post #5 of 19

Augustine, you sound like someone *much* more likely to love W teacher training. What struck me about the OP is that it sounds like the more she learns about Anthroposophy the less she likes it and she made clear that she doesn't think that the sprit world is knowable if it exists at all. This is a lot like me, and after many discussions and a few classes, I learned that Waldorf teacher training would be an unhappy environment for me. You are right that her beliefs won't likely be called into question. I just think she would be unhappy in an anthroposophical environment. 

post #6 of 19
Yeah, there certainly will be those long discussions about anthroposophy that she would have to sit through, and some people that will be totally into it. That could be pretty annoying but also there are teacher training intensives where the first year is basically condensed into 3-4 weeks. You do a month per summer, basically. And most of the other training is other things, not the heavy Steiner reading.

So it wouldn't be too long to spend learning about the philosophy, op, if you are really interested in waldorf education. I guess what I'm saying is to not Necessarily rule out being a waldorf teacher because of that. There are waldorf teachers of all different faiths and agnostic ones, so I don't think believing something different necessarily means you wouldn't like the teacher training. It does mean you might go through that part with less enthusiasm and you would have to have a pretty open attitude. Not that you're going to change what you believe, but I think I'd look at it as studying philosophy, you know?
post #7 of 19

It's more than annoying for a rationalist. A rationalist looks to the sensory world, evidence, the knowable for answers. Without that we can't be grounded. Steiner taught that one can experience the spirit world directly. All his teachings stem from this first principal. If you don't believe this first principal, the rest is impossible to embrace. And it's not just sitting through long conversations, it's walking a spiritual path that it is your job as a Waldorf teacher to walk. Spritual life, for example, is a topic between mentors and new Waldorf teachers. Anthroposophy will never go away as the core of a Waldorf teacher's work and the core of how a faculty works together. It is fundamental to all stages of W teacher training. This surprises many people who expect it to be much more practical than it is.


For you, Augustine, I think it would be fine to sort of pick and choose what you liked and didn't like about Anthroposophy because you find some resonance in it. But for Crowlessly, it wouldn't ring true at its most basic level because she doesn't believe the spirit world is knowable. It's so hard to explain why this is so hard, but believe me it is. It'd be like a staunch feminist writing in to find out if she'd be happy living the next couple of decades in Saudi Arabia. The answer from people who know what Saudi Arabia is like is just no. Other American women are perfectly happy living in Saudi Arabia. I think *most* people would enjoy Waldorf teacher training and many would like being on a Waldorf faculty. I think the OP is in the minority who would be unhappy in both situations.


post #8 of 19

Crowlessly, I feel like I should make clear that my pretty certain response to your question was not because you describe yourself as agnostic. That word seems to encompass so many different things, and I can certainly imagine a Waldorf teacher considering him or herself agnostic (though I think it is rare.)  My certainty is because of how you are responding to learning about Steiner and Anthroposophy. I was stuck on the same thing as you and I have a handful of friends who were as well, two of whom started but didn't finish teacher training. I don't know anyone who suddenly changed their mind after getting stuck on that very important point- whether the spiritual world is knowable. The journey starts from that understanding, and if you don't share it, it is very difficult to get underway.

post #9 of 19
Thread Starter 

Wow, what a great discussion! Thank you so much! My email client filtered out all the update emails I was getting, so I came back today and found a lot more to read and think about! :)


Augustine, it sounds like you will have an interesting time in teacher training. I was considering doing what you mentioned - just looking at the Anthroposophical foundation studies as a course in philosophy, but I realized that I tried my hardest to avoid philosophy classes in college, too. :) It sounds like that may be a really good approach for you, though, especially since you said that although you're unsure about Anthroposophy, a lot of what you see the teachers do at school resonates with you. I think it's really encouraging that you find the core ideas interesting, because it sounds like you'll be able to approach it with an open mind and probably get a lot out of the training. Most of the people I've spoken with said that if you have an open mind, then you really do learn a lot about yourself.


Even though I consider myself open-minded about the physical world and all its delightful variations, I don't see myself changing my mind about my ability to have any personal, direct contact with the spirit world. That's my big concern - I think I could probably walk the walk and talk the talk to get through, but am trying to assess how hard that will be and whether I will find any personal fulfillment or happiness out of something that I will only be echoing and not actually believing.



OrangeWallflower, you're right - agnostic does encompass a lot. I guess I'm not used to having to quantify my thoughts and beliefs because usually it doesn't even matter. It's only been in the past few months that I've really had to consider what I believe about the world and how I actually fit in to the school's community. I really like the term "rationalist" that you used - I think that just about sums it up. :) Your discussion of spiritual life and the mentor-new teacher relationship (and faculty relationships in general) was very helpful. This is very much what I was concerned about, post-training, how I would fit in, and it seems like it would still continue to be a struggle for me. And I certainly was surprised when I found out that the teacher training focused so much on the internal spiritual path: I asked a first-year teacher trainee if she had learned any classroom management techniques and she said not really, but that she'd learned a lot about herself.


OrangeWallflower, if you don't mind, I'm curious to know what you (and/or your friends who shared similar beliefs) did after leaving teacher training. Did you pursue another teaching path?

post #10 of 19
Originally Posted by crowlessly View Post
I asked a first-year teacher trainee if she had learned any classroom management techniques and she said not really, but that she'd learned a lot about herself.




That sums it up really, everything that's good about the Waldorf world and everything that's wrong with it!

post #11 of 19

DimitraDaisy, I have found that some of the best Waldorf teachers are the ones who found Waldorf after teaching in public schools successfully. People who love Waldorf and who are natural teachers (hence don't need the classroom management lessons) do so well. 


Crowlessly, I never did teacher training. I worked in a Waldorf school office, and thought seriously about teacher training, but through many discussions with Waldorf teacher friends learned that it just wouldn't work. Still a full time mother and considering my next move. I might consider a regular teaching credential were I to go into education. 

post #12 of 19


Originally Posted by orangewallflower View Post

DimitraDaisy, I have found that some of the best Waldorf teachers are the ones who found Waldorf after teaching in public schools successfully. People who love Waldorf and who are natural teachers (hence don't need the classroom management lessons) do so well.


I think you're right, actually. Sometimes people can learn from colleagues, as well.


I think it is quite criminal to send young idealistic teachers out into the world without classroom management skills. I mean, I think self-awarness is of immense importance, probably the cornerstone of good practice, but that *alone* will not get you very far. If I ran my own course they'd be a top priority, starting with all the Waldorf stuff (self-awareness, mindfulness, rhythm, etc.) and going all the way to when and how to raise your voice effectively, and what do in the moment when nothing is working.


Crowlessly, although I am a Waldorf teacher, and my experience of the Waldorf world has been different, and more positive, than orangewallflower's, I think your question has been well answered here. If you were willing to see the whole thing as a philosophical exercise, and try and work out how your own world philosophy plays into your teaching, I think you'd be okay with in *open-minded* Waldorf teacher training. But I don't know if such a thing even exists where you are. And of course you might just not want to do that.


Oh, and as far as the post-training stuff and mentor-new teacher stuff, not all schools are the same. Thank goodness for that! I'd have died in a traditional Waldorf school.

post #13 of 19
I agree that the best waldorf teachers are often public school trained. It's actually a fairly common scenario, from what I've seen. I have a masters in teaching, taught public high school for four years but became fairly alienated from the approach, yet have loved what I've seen at waldorf school. I appreciate the education of the "head, heart and hands" and it felt like the heart (soul) was often left out of public.

I don't know if I will get waldorf trained but right now my only hesitation is the cost!
post #14 of 19

I'm a Waldorf teacher... and an atheist.  Just saying.

post #15 of 19

Izzybelly,Please tell us more! I would love to know your story and how you navigate the indications and what is your relationship to anthroposophy. Do you work out of anthroposophy?  Do you believe in a spiritual world and that it is observable? Has it been easy or a struggle? 

post #16 of 19
Originally Posted by orangewallflower View Post

Izzybelly,Please tell us more!

Yes, please do! I'd love to have another teacher to talk to on here... :-)
post #17 of 19

Ha.  Sorry for the delay, I forgot my password.  New to this site and still getting my sea legs.


I love being a Waldorf teacher.  But no, it has NOT been an easy path.  I was raised atheist, and even after 10 years of Waldorf teaching I do not believe in any one higher power.  But that doesn't mean that I am not spiritual.  It's just that my spirituality is no defined by any one religion or philosophy.  I find solace and peace in nature.  For me, that is holy.  I don't fit anyone else's definition of religious, and at this point in my life, that's ok with me.


Being a Waldorf teacher is more than being an anthroposophist.  It's about teaching with the freedom to do what is best for the child in front of you.  I have lots of specific reasons for why I think that Waldorf is a good educational system (which I posted under the thread that is called something like "Steiner education - I need the truth" and made some waves that made me uncomfortable, so I bowed out), but teacher training is a horse of a different color.


When I first started teacher training, it was (thankfully) with a wonderful woman offering foundation studies in a remote area through an arrangement with Antioch NE Graduate School.  If it wasn't for her balanced, rational, SANE interpretation of Steiner, I would never have made it.  She presented it so well that I felt like I was finding my religion for the first time - a flexible way of thinking about the spiritual world that was open to interpretation and discussion. 


On the power of my positive experience with Sarah, I enrolled in Sunbridge College full time in their Foundation Studies year, and it was a disaster.  I was, I think it's fair to say, vilified by many of my classmates who found out that I was a geneticist.  The ignorance and narrow-mindedness of many of the people I encountered stunned me.  One classmate screamed at me that it was my fault that he had diabetes, which he believed he got from drinking milk full of rBGH.  The irony here was that I had nothing to do with making recombinant proteins - I was studying how to cure childhood disease, and spent my first 1.5 professional years trying to find a vaccine for... diabetes. 


Now, I don't care if people choose to vaccinate or not - it's a personal decision, and a hard one for many parents to make.  But I will say this: the scientists that I met while working for 4 years at a genetics lab were among the most idealistic, self-sacrificing, passionate, intelligent people I have ever met in my life.  And many of them are very spiritual.  They deeply believe in the work that they are doing to fight childhood disease.  One may not agree, but it's a good idea to get to know them before judging them.  And it's also VERY important to understand the difference between a scientist working at a nonprofit educational institution and one working in the pharmaceutical industry.  I was in the former, and the general assumption was that I was coming from the latter.  Only one person in my class ever bothered to find out that there is a difference.  And unfortunately the ignorance and assumption also existed among the faculty (though in fairness, only one of them).


I could go on - there were lots of examples of general horribleness, but thankfully I never have to think about it anymore.  I got the job teaching in my lovely wonderful Waldorf school back home, and I transferred to Antioch's summer sequence program.  If I hadn't gotten the job, I wouldn't have kept on with Waldorf.  Antioch was a last ditch effort to follow through with teacher training.  Thank goodness I got that job. Antioch was WONDERFUL.  Balanced, spiritual, amazing, intelligent people, many of whom are still among my best friends on this planet.  I felt like I was coming home.  Torin Finser made me feel very welcome (he knew in detail about my experience at Sunbridge), and I became a valued perspective instead of a person of suspect morals.


I have studied anthroposophy for a long time, and I respect and admire teachers who are full-fledged anthroposophists.  My belief is that all religions on this planet provide a common language for people to understand each other, which is of inestimable value.  Of course, we run into trouble because the different religions can't understand each other, but that's a different issue.  In Waldorf, anthroposophy provides a language by which we can communicate with each other about children, with the goal of educating them in love and letting them go forth in freedom.  And it works.  I love the Waldorf system, and I am SO glad that I persevered past the unhappiness I experienced at Sunbridge.  In Waldorf language, a child that is having trouble focusing and flitting from one thing to another is called sanguine.  In my language, they don't have a high enough level of dopamine in their brain.  The answer in both cases is to allow them to learn in a way where they are highly active for one period, then focused on academics in the next.  Waldorf calls it breathing, and I think that's a lovely image.  The language of anthroposophy is often more lovely than that of science, but for me, the areas of overlap are so strong that I have no trouble reconciling anthroposophy, whose tenants I will never fully espouse, and science, the religion I was raised in.


Teacher training can be rough - find the right fit.  But more importantly, find the right school to teach at afterwards.  I have been in 3 schools at this point (my lovely little island school closed, sadly, and I moved on to another school for a year before finding a better fit closer to home - been at #3 since 2006).  I am valued for my experience in brain development, because it allows me to interface with much of the parent population in a way that helps them understand Why Waldorf (anthroposophists don't always have the be-est track record explaining Why Waldorf to parents - they can sound a tad nuts, I'm afraid).  But I also value their deep dedication to the children from their spiritual beliefs, and since we share a common language (thanks to Antioch), we can work together to do what's best for the children.  I don't trumpet my atheistic beliefs - it would make them uncomfortable, and it would be inappropriate.  Nor do I feel that anthroposophy is forced on me (though it's quite possible that not all of my colleagues know that I am not an anthroposophist).  My beliefs are deeply personal, and I believe, no less spiritual than theirs.  So mostly I live and let live, and we all are joined in our love for the children.


I have agnostic Waldorf teacher friends for whom that synergy has NOT happened - in one case, the school more closely resembled an inquisition than anything else I can think of.  It was similar to my experience at Sunbridge (and I should say, lest I be as guilty as my ex-classmates, that I have also known a lot of people who loved their experience at Sunbridge), and she now works at a bank.  :)


Sorry to be so long - it's hard to put personal beliefs into short blurbs, and I am always worried about being misinterpreted and offending someone.  It's similar to losing tone of voice in an email - these things are just easier to talk about offline (how Waldorf of me).



Edited by Izzybelly - 7/19/11 at 3:09pm
post #18 of 19

Thank you so, so much for telling your story! You sound like an incredible asset to the faculty you are a part of, and it is delightful to hear that you found a program that worked for you. 

post #19 of 19
Izzybelly, that was a lovely post -- as were your posts on the other thread you mentioned. Unfortunately it is very late I've spent three days writing children's end-of-year reports and so I can think of nothing more intelligent to say. But I hope you'll stick around (and I'll remember to come back) so we can talk about Waldorf and brain development a little more.
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