As you may know, I left full time teaching around 2 years ago. It was painful and hard, and in retrospect, the right thing at the time, but my God, it was awful. My story now, is that I left being a class teacher, because I needed to spend more time with my family (true!) and wanted time to pursue storytelling (also true!) and to find my own direction again. However, it is also that I was really, really struggling as a teacher. Being in a lot of other classrooms over the past months as a substitute, I have learned so much about what I was missing.
I spent my first eleven years as a teacher working in one small, developing school. I knew the families I was working with, and they knew me, and had watched me grow from a fresh-out-of-college girl to my full stature as a teacher and leader in the school. My classroom style was tuned to working with small groups of students, 12 at the most, who came to me with a really strong early childhood foundation. They could be left alone in the classroom for a few minutes while I stepped into the office to take a few deep breaths and check my mailbox. I had the freedom to throw out lesson plans and walk to the beach with my class when the weather was fine, and to construct my day-to-day curriculum as each year unfolded. I am proud of my work at that school, and so very proud to have taught the amazing young people who came out of it -- if you know them, you know how fantastic they are. It was hard work, with many, many long meetings. The school brought out the best and worst in all of us, and it was like a big, noisy, argumentative family in many ways.
I stepped into an established school, where I soon learned the school I came from was viewed by some as "not a real Waldorf school", and I tried to make it work. Waldorf teacher training is focused mainly on understanding the development of human consciousness throughout childhood and adulthood; my training as a teacher was heavy on the "why" and intentionally sketchy on the "how." I carried with me an assumption that any classroom issues stemmed from either a lack of proper inner attitude on my part, or on some constitutional characteristic of the child in question. The cultural differences led to a huge number of mistakes on my part, and the larger class and wider range of skills and temperament demanded a very different approach than I knew how to take.
I lacked some key skills in classroom management, planning, and workplace etiquette. On top of this, I had a child who was still nursing, and I slept around 5-6 hours a night. This was a recipe for disaster. My colleagues and I were not working from the same playbook; I was exhausted and ill; there was a disastrous "mentoring" visit from a master teacher. In short, we all could have seen the writing on the wall from the beginning. I needed another 5 hours in my day -- three to sleep, two to plan.
So, here is what I wish I had understood four years ago:
I want to elaborate more on some of these, but I'm tired, and trying to get more than 5-6 hours of sleep a night. My son finally started sleeping through the night 2 years ago, so I'm off to enjoy sleep interrupted only by cats, the dog, and my own ridiculous dreams...
Sara is a storyteller, writer, artist, teacher, wife, mother, and singer living in Minnesota. I write about storytelling, and about living a life with stories.