by Robert C. Oelhaf
Ernie taught himself to read at age 3. He spent his days reading and giving lectures on what he had most recently read. He soon needed strong reading glasses. He was not athletic, did not participate in the rough and tumble of boys his age. While others played sports, Ernie read.
Ernie’s parents enrolled him in the local Waldorf school, so that his intellect could be balanced with art and movement. One matter concerned them greatly, however. The First Grade curriculum was designed to form a foundation for reading. by artistic experience of the letters of the alphabet. Ernie’s parents were worried that he would be totally bored, as Ernie already could read fluently.
Ernie entered Grade One. The teacher followed the Waldorf First Grade curriculum of stories and drawings of letters of the alphabet. But somehow Ernie wasn’t bored at all. After a few weeks of school, his parents asked him about the content of the classes. Ernie reported that they had already learned several letters, namely, G, B, O… But they had not yet learned… and he reeled off the rest of the alphabet. He had not been bored for a minute, even though he already knew how to read fluently. For he had previously only learned the letters as symbols. Now they became real and alive. Thus it was all new to him as well as the art, movement, classmates.
However one matter deeply disturbed Ernie’s parents about the School. Ernie related that there was much fighting in the classroom. As good parents, they had taught him not to fight. Now he was reporting regular fighting in the classroom! This was most unsettling. “How could you send me to such a bad school where children fight all the time!” he remonstrated. A parent-teacher conference was coming. We agreed to wait for the meeting to register our complaint.
At the meeting with Ernie’s class teacher, she began by showing the main lesson book, the artwork, describing all the good things they were doing. Ernie’s parents waited until she had finished to lodge their protest. “Do you have any questions?” They were ready.
“Yes, we are upset to hear that there is so much fighting going on in the classroom. We don’t think this is good.” Ernie’s teacher began to laugh. “We do not find it funny,” the parents objected. Controlling the chuckling, she explained.
“I had to laugh”, she said, “Because it is your son who starts all the fights!”
This news was not only unexpected but scarcely believable.
“Yes, of course I do not allow fighting in the classroom. When there is pushing and shoving in class, I stop it immediately. But I can see that Ernie has a difficult time relating to his peers. So when he gets into a tussle, I let it develop, so that he can have this experience, too.”
The parents were astounded. How could a class teacher have so much insight and warm feelings for a child in her class as to allow this child to disrupt the class for the sake of the child’s own development?
This is one example of the deep understanding and sympathy a class teacher can develop for the individual child.