I had the opportunity to teach a class 9 maths main lesson at a UK Steiner school. This was a chance for me to see if teaching was still for (or against me). This school was very similar to Imhoff Waldorf school, the school I was teaching at in Cape town in that it was partially housed in wooden buildings. In this case the High school was in the temporary/permanent classrooms as opposed to the primary school in Cape Town.
Of course there were things to envy, like the green wood workshop, the light filled art room, the outdoor kitchen and the emphasis on farming, not to mention the new building, which I believe will be housing some upper school activities.
STEINER SCHOOLS NOT WELL REPRESENTED IN BRITAIN
I was quite surprised that UK Steiner schools were not well represented, as they had been going for a lot longer in the UK than in SA. After closer inquiry, I found that one reasons is that State schools are free for British citizens, paid by taxes, and so British parents wanted to use as much as could be provided by their high tax load, and so rarely considered a Steiner school, as they were mostly private and therefore cost a wack. Although, Steiner schools, as is usual, are non-profit and try to accommodate this by varying fees to income, it left many Steiner schools struggling financially and without resources. Also, even although many parents criticized the state education, they did not feel it warranted the financial burden of a Steiner education. They would far rather spend money on other things, like extra music, extra dancing extra… you get the picture.
With recent moves by the government to make schools more independent in their administration, it became possible to establish Steiner academies that were free. However, with this came a whole load of compromises that had to be made, and so this is still in the process of being set up. There are a few Steiner academies, but they seem to be struggling, not only in being set up, as a recent attempt in Leeds gave up trying after a couple of years. This because of all the requirements required by the authorities. One of the requirements are that they have more than one year per grade, the other is that they do not have an exclusion clause. Some academies have taken on the challenge, I am pleased to see. Steiner education, as we know from South Africa, was never meant to be exclusive.
THE INTERNATIONAL STEINER CERTIFICATE
The other thing I found is that Steiner schools rarely completed the Waldorf curriculum, as many left after class 9 to go to colleges to get their GCSE’s and A levels, which is the UK matric equivalent for going to University. However, what is new in some UK and European Steiner schools is the International Steiner Senior Certificate (ISSC) which is offered by New Zealand. This follows the Steiner curriculum with a points based system based on outcomes based education. As the UK has signed education accords with the New Zealand government, who has approved the qualification, the universities in Britain are obligated to accept New Zealand qualifications. This means that UK (and European) Steiner schools would not need to do GCSEs and A levels but can offer the ISSC instead. This makes them more able to go up to class 13 using the ISSC. The school I taught at is attempting to offer this, but thus far have not managed to get to class 11 yet, so students still leave in class 10 to go to college elsewhere. Parents are also not confident enough that the ISSC will allow them unlimited access to Universities. With help from the pressure from Europe, where there are many more Steiner schools, it may become more accepted. Britain has a strongly conservative and authoritarian Education system, under the guise of “protecting the child”, and dissenters usually give up often because they are too polite to rock the boat. Oh for a good revolution! Britain is stuck in class 8 in so many ways.
So what was it like to teach conic sections at this school?
Well, the class was a bit like a Constantia Waldorf class. Mostly white and privileged. There was one slightly shaded child in a class of 25, and a couple of exchange students from Europe. There was one student who had coincidentally been at Imhoff Waldorf school up to class 3, and I must say, she was the nicest to teach. Engaged, good quality of work, interested and just plain sweet. (her teacher had been Annie). Other than that, It was really a typical class 9 class…hormonal and fluctuating from day to day..a smouldering revolution in process.
I think they did the best they could under the circumstances, and so did I. This was where there was a huge compromise made.Their main lessons were only 2 weeks long ..actually only 9 days as one was a bank holiday. and occurred from 11am to 12.45! A bad time to expect focus after a long maths and English running lesson (one hour each and a short 15 minute break). Especially on the theoretical aspects. So I compromised by keeping it practical and had to leave out a lot to get any semblance of coherence. This was my squashed up main lesson: Maths Main Lesson 9
THE STRESS OF TEACHING
I also realized how stressful teaching actually is. This year I have not had to take any responsibility at Ruskin Mill and just follow other peoples instructions, and I have become relaxed and peaceful. After the first day..of only 2 hours, I was exhausted and slept the afternoon away. I have been observing how I react, and realizing all my bad habits surfacing..like worrying incessantly about the outcome. Something I seem unable to stop. Also constantly hating myself for not being perfect as we always do.
Now I sit with work to mark, feeling lazy. The weathers good…finally. Procrastination rears its ugly head. Once the tests and books are marked and reports written, that took an entire weekend, I sent them off and could relax again. Its interesting how you forget the stress, and hanker for it again.