17 February 2015

Interviewing for a Waldorf teaching position

My first grade classroom.

When I interviewed for my Waldorf teaching position, I desperately wanted to stay in Oregon. And I really, really had my sights on Portland. So, I interviewed with a big strike against me. I knew what I wanted and I was blind to the warnings.

About a month ago, I was contacted by a lovely young woman (who I’ll call Nancy) about how to interview for Waldorf. Her inquiry made me wonder if there was much help out there as it appeared the school she was interviewing for didn’t give her much to go on. Her email also gave me this idea to write about it.

Specifically, Nancy wanted to know what the warning signs were. I think this can be difficult if you are anything like the younger/former me, full of enthusiasm, hope and naiveté. So, the best advice I can give is to ask questions.

The funny thing about interviews is we are usually so anxious to be appealing that we forget that the school (or employer) is also on interview. And while I was proud of my questions like, “What’s this school’s biggest challenge?” I should have slowed down and wrote out a list of what I liked and didn’t like and shopped around much longer.

But let’s get back to those questions because I think it’s worth reading what the critics say. After all, if you are truly going to enter the World of Waldorf, I say take those blinders off and visit argumentative territory. In training, we were not encouraged to do this. In fact, when I brought a list of challenging questions from one of my practicum teachers, most of the answers given were shaky and unsatisfactory.

Questions like: Is Waldorf a cult? One of the parents thinks lighting the candle is cultish and is concerned. How do you deal with faculty parents? How do you deal with bullies? and so on. He gave me quite a long list. Please don’t think that there aren’t Waldorf teachers who are aware of the problems and shortcomings of the educational philosophy.

In the end, since teacher training brushed off the questions, so did I.

Another interesting aspect of individual schools is: how much are they into Anthroposophy? When Nancy was sharing her experiences with a couple of schools, we both got the feeling that one school seemed very Anthroposphic and the other not so much. Now, I can’t tell you which is better or worst. Trembling Trees (where I worked) was confused by Steiner’s visions and beliefs - and it showed.

At the end of the day though, I think it comes down to taking a risk. As with any job, you just won’t know until you try. Of course, Waldorf is unlike any job out there…but that’s another story.

Interviewing for a teaching position help: http://waldorfinspirations.com/index.php/grades/6th-grade/16-how-tos

Job board: http://www.waldorftoday.com/

Critics' concerns: http://www.waldorfcritics.org/concerns.html


Have you ever interviewed for a Waldorf teaching position? What was your experience like?

22 January 2015

the missing teacher is published!

I'm proud to announce that my first book {the missing teacher} is published and available for print through Amazon and as an e-book through Kindle. And for a limited time, I'm offering my audiobook for free (just put in "0") or you can pay what you want. Download here at Gumroad.

To be honest, it's been such a long journey that I'm just relieved that it is finished. I hope, however, that you will find it useful, entertaining and interesting. Thank you to my long-time readers and those who have contacted me over the years. You probably have no idea how much your taking the time to reach out and share your story has helped me to realize that what I have to say matters, too. Much love from Thailand...

24 August 2014

What makes Waldorf education, Waldorf education?

BBC’s Chris Cook asks a good question, “Is Waldorf education worth public money?” I can’t speak for England, but I can say for the US, there is a fair amount of Waldorf charter schools receiving public funding. After all, there is an Alliance for Public Waldorf Education.

I remember asking one of my teacher trainers about a Waldorf charter school that was starting up around the time I was graduating. She said she didn’t consider it to be a “real” Waldorf school since charters cannot teach or bring Anthroposophy into the classroom. Essentially, Waldorf-inspired or charters can only focus on the methods, but not the meaning behind them.

So, what makes Waldorf education, Waldorf education?

Is Waldorf a religious school? If it is then they cannot and should not receive public funding. That would be like having a Catholic-inspired or Catholic charter school. Another way to look at this is, if we talk about, say, Shaolin Kung Fu. If you take away the Buddhist aspect to the discipline, is it still Shaolin Kung Fu? I would wager a lot of kung fu that is practiced today in the US lacks any spiritual training or element, but it still looks like kung fu, more or less.

I think if Waldorf-inspired or Waldorf charter schools are completely devoid of Waldorf trained teachers, then I think we can safely say the religious aspect to these schools are absent. But once you start getting teachers or administrators who have studied Steiner and have been through the training, the influence of Anthroposophy can become a real issue - and in the case of public funding, a conflict of interest.

Even for a teacher who is well-aware of the dated, controversial and eccentric material that Steiner presents, I think it would be hard for that teacher to not carry that knowledge into the classroom because we were trained to do so. We were trained to see the children as choleric or phlegmatic. We talked about fairies and gnomes as very real elemental creatures that influence our world. Karma was a complicated topic with lectures on reincarnation and the effects of past lives.

To the everyday person these subject matters seem loony. And this is why so many parents are concerned about Waldorf, and why many are call it a “cult”. Trained teachers are not told to teach the children Anthroposophy, but it inevitably comes in – otherwise, why would they teach us Steiner’s spiritual science at all?

At the time of training, all of this seemed mind-boggling and rather like you are getting a glimpse into the cosmic profound. Now, I think how impressionable and open-minded I was. I wanted to believe in something, and I found it. This is not a bad thing, but ultimately it became a bad thing – for me. I didn’t fit whatever mold they thought I should be. And that shook the foundation of what I was previously taught, and I’ve never been the same since.

If, however, we took away the occult in Waldorf education, we do have a really compelling education. Back to the basics. Creative. Fun. Light. Imaginative. I think Steiner did give us something wonderful in using stories as the framework to the curriculum.

What do you think? Should Waldorf charter schools receive public funds?

24 July 2014

Why Public Education Matters

Public education is the new endangered species of America. The reasons are many: there is the myth of failing public education, the teacher blame game review, the over-testing Common Core regime, and the romance some have with the “take public money but privately run run run” charter/voucher schools.


What struck home (literally) for me about this charter school debate was the fact that low-income, and families with limited English don’t apply for charter schools. Most likely, the poor are dealing with the stresses of paying the bills and providing food and shelter, and those with low English ability simply don’t understand what’s available to them.

I came from such a family. My mother immigrated to these United States from Thailand in the early 70s (legally, thank you), and even though she took English courses, her English has plateaued and is not very good. When I was in grade school, I hated when teachers told me to ask my parents for homework help. My father died unexpectedly when I was 6, and my mother would often ask ME to interpret bank statements and other letters that were way over my head.

Later, when I applied for financial aid for college, I learned how to do it all on my own. I went to the public library and borrowed a book. I worked at Little Caesars Pizza while attending community college. And even though we had a friend help my mom fill out her jury duty form, she was still called in, and it wasn’t until she addressed the judge as “your highness” that she was finally excused.

I love my mom. I wish she had received more education than the equivalent of a 5th grade in rural Thailand.  She values education greatly and drove my younger brother and I crazy over telling us how much it was important. But she was right. (There I said it, mom!)

Despite how much money families have, despite their connections or lack thereof, despite any obstacles, all children deserve to have a solid education. I bristle upon bristle when people act like the educating of their child has greater value than any other kid. Okay, I kind of get the competitive aspect of my child is better than yours at football, art, academics, whatever, but seriously, folks? Seriously?!

Isn’t an educated society preferable to an educated few??? Do we really need or want our educational system to be built on competitiveness? Do we want losers and winners? This isn’t about all of us skipping to ring-around-the-rosy, this is about cultivating a community of critical thinkers to help foster greater understanding and compassion for each another so we can thrive.

We are faced with incredible problems that need all of us to grab a mental shovel and dig in to – I believe we all carry unique and special gifts that we can bring to our societies. I don’t want to live in a world where substandard education is the norm for the greater population because we thought competitive learning was a great idea.

Why do we have to race to the top? Because I can tell you already, children are going to be left behind. You might not care because it’s not your child, but I assure you, one day you will.