Last Wednesday morning I hopped on my bike to head to Portland Waldorf School for an externship opportunity allowing me to job shadow Alynn Nelson, a 7th grade teacher. I have felt a calling to become a teacher and knew this externship would be a great chance to explore an alternative approach to education, as well as help me explore different subject and grade levels to possibly teach. After an initial mishap ( I turned west down the Springwater Corridor and biked nearly all the way out to Gresham before realizing that I was supposed to turn east and head towards Milwaukee) I finally arrived at the school eager to learn about the philosophy and unique teaching styles of Waldorf Education.
One of the first things I noticed when I walked in the school was the absences of the color white. Paintings and art projects covered the blue, purple, and yellow walls creating a stimulating mosaic of color. I soon came to learn that the colorful environment wasn’t the only unique thing about Waldorf schools.
Alynn Nelson explained to me that Waldorf schools were started in the 19th century by Rudolf Steiner because he was worried about everyone becoming a monotonous factory worker so he created a new type of school to ensure children had the opportunity to receive a creative, enlightening, and spiritual education. When I entered the classroom, I saw 17 students dedicatedly writing and drawing pictures about Michelangelo. She explained that what the students were working on was another important feature of Waldorf education; students did not use textbooks but rather created beautiful pages, that captured the essence of their lessons, which were later bound into a book that reflected all they had learned that year.
I spent Wednesday observing Alynn’s 7th grade classroom and the interdisciplinary curriculum she taught where the lessons in science, math, and social studies all complemented each other. I also had the opportunity to observe the students in their handiwork class, a class where they learned to make useful things such as baskets and copper bowls. The following day I observed how the Waldorf education philosophy was modeled at the high school level and attended an art history class and American history class. In all the classes, I noticed how creativity and learning were not separate endeavors, but rather integrated so that lessons were engaging and interacting pursuits.
One of the most powerful moments of my externship was seeing how when Alynn asked a question nearly all her students raised their hand and were eager to share their answer. I know that in my school by the time we were in 7th grade, few students were still engaged in their lessons and willing to participate in class. I feel that one of the most important aspects of education is inspiring a passion for learning in students and the best way to do this is to teach lessons through creative and hands on activities. It is clear this philosophy is very similar to that of Waldorf education.
Upon completing this externship, I know that sharing a curriculum that is not based off memorization, but rather exploration, is important to me as an educator. I am now interested in teaching in a Waldorf or other non-tradition education system after college. This externship showed me the power that teachers can have in exciting their students about education. This reconfirmed my desire to be an educator so that I can spend my life encouraging students to be curious about the world around them and using that curiosity to make discoveries.