Brief history of the Waldorf teacher training in southern New Hampshire. An unofficial transcript of Torin Finser’s speech to Antioch students (Summer 2000).
Torin Finser, Ph.D
It all began in 1980 with a question put to David Sobel, at the Education Department of Antioch New England in Keene, by the faculty of the Pine Hill Waldorf School. That question was: “Would Antioch University be willing to provide a program dedicated to Waldorf teacher training?” David answered by meeting with the interested faculty and a variety of individuals who were soon to assume significant roles in the early years of the program: Danilla Rettig, Ann and Swain Pratt, Craig Giddens, David Mitchell, John Root Sr., Alan Howard and Francis Edmunds. Shortly thereafter, in 1982, the Waldorf Teacher Training Program began, co-sponsored by Antioch New England and Pine Hill. The first Program faculty included many Pine Hill teachers (and three rooms in Pine Hill’s new main building, the present Admissions office, bookeeper’s office, and faculty room, were designed as a teacher training offices and library. –Editors note) When their school suffered the second fire in 1989, they felt unable to carry on with their dual responsibilities.
The enrollment had dwindled and the Program was in danger of closing its door. Out of the emergency meeting of the New England Waldorf schools delegates, called for by the Program co-ordinator Ann Pratt, came a strong impulse to preserve this valuable resource and the New England Waldorf Teacher Training Council was formed. The founding members were James Pewtherer, Sue Demanett, Ann Pratt, Torin Finser, Craig Giddens and Georg Locher.
In 1991, we had a strong class of twenty-two and New England Waldorf Teacher Training was accepted as a full member of the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America. At the end of that year however it became apparent, that many applicants interested in Waldorf teacher training did not have the background necessary to start. Generally they have done very little reading in Anthroposophy, very little work in the arts. In response to this need we have developed with the help of Margaret Chambers, our Foundation Studies program. Today, this program still continues to bring quality anthroposophical adult education to locations around the country. We have also found out that the full time, year round format of teacher training did not suit many working individuals and thus the idea of the Summer Sequence also called three plus two came to life. So we started in 1992 and took a new group in 94, 96, 98 and now again this summer 2000…
A couple of years after we started the summer program…, a major donor to Waldorf School movement decided that Waldorf schools needed more teachers and that summer teaching programs were a good idea, she gave a generous donation to the Association of Waldorf Schools to support the Summer Teacher training. As a result all the institutes started summer teacher training. Then another moment in the history of our program occurred in, I believe 1994 when I had a phone call from Leonore Russell, …the best Eurythmy teacher I have ever known. I have experienced her in classes, I know of her grace, her charm and professionalism and her ways of teaching Eurythmy. So when she called, I said yes, I am open to having a meeting, what do you want to talk about? We met in my living room in Keene at that time and she presented a proposal to have a Pedagogical Eurythmy Program for eurythmists, who we all knew was much needed. It is one thing to do four years of artistic training, it is another, to teach. I was very interested in what was presented, and we had a conversation, I felt there was a lot there to talk with other colleagues to see if there is enough support to start it. Leonore mentioned to me at one point, I don’t remember if she has a same recollection, but rather than trying to tell her what to put in her courses I asked many questions. We took in the 12 eurythmists in the first group and took them through two and a half years of the program, they graduated, taught in Waldorf schools and they are doing very well and last summer we took in our second group.
The history continues… There was a gentleman named Dr. Douglas Gerwin who had taught for years at High Mowing, was well known in the Waldorf School movement for his support of High schools that were starting all over the place, and he had an initiative to help those schools prepare in the really most important way, that is in finding the right teachers. I said that again and again that if you have the right teachers almost everything works. If you make a few mistakes and hire wrong people, no amount of meetings or organization or anything else will make up for it. So the high schools needed teachers and Douglas in his usual way, being well organized and clear and thoughtful set about with the plan. And once again we have met with the colleagues on the council and Douglas even wrote a grant proposal, secured funding to start up and we took our first high school group in 1996 and yesterday we welcomed the fourth group that has joined the high school program. And last year, some of you remember, we graduated a group and they are teaching in Waldorf High Schools all across America. Then some people you know quite well, began to meet and talk about early childhood: Susan Weber, Rena Osmer, Ann Pratt in particular met again and again to look at the needs of not only of Kindergarten teacher preparation but the need of a very young child and how can we help in those crucial years. Day-care issues, parenting issues and really understanding very young child so that the Waldorf schools can begin as early as possible working with parents. Out of that work came a proposal to re-found the Early Childhood Program at Antioch and last summer we took in our first Early Childhood group and in an exception to our usual rotation of new group every other year, we took in the second early childhood group this weekend with the hope of really building the momentum to allow it’s work to flourish. So we have now in our combined programs really a complete picture of a Waldorf School. We have the interest and the intensity of involvement of the very young child, kindergarten, the class teacher training with its summer sequence and year round work and the high school teacher preparation.
And as we work together as a community, we really are that full spectrum with the academic subject area expertise that comes from the high school and the class teacher consciousness in general and early childhood teacher. There is one more story, one more event to narrate and that is the last program founded, very recently started Collaborative leadership Training under the auspices of Antioch. An because we are approaching the seventh inning stretch time I would like to ask simply how many of you have children in a Waldorf school, please stand ………….. I thought so, thank you. There are parents in Waldorf schools working with teachers in Waldorf schools and I am not sure I dare to ask how many of you have served on the Board of trustees of a Waldorf school. Probably a few, I met one last night at the high school barbecue. And we have the challenge of self – administration. The curriculum has been well articulated, much energy and devotion has gone into working with a child but we also have questions and issues that arise from the adult work that surrounds the Waldorf school. How can parents, teachers and board members work together to support the education for the children. So the Collaborative Leadership Program is the whole system’s approach in which we bring those different groups together in one place for Institutes and we work on basic skills that benefit all, such as group dynamics, leadership styles, conflict resolution, communication, study of Anthroposophy and most important of all – movement through Eurythmy in the work place, that has been an integral part of our Leadership Institutes. So we offered those institutes in the Bay area in Maine, in Anchorage both the first and the second and next fall we will have the third institute in all of those locations. Before doing assessment …
So those are all the babies, all the programs, all the major changes. But I would like to end by just characterizing for the moment these two entities you have heard referred to the one that began as The Council of New England Waldorf Teacher Training that then was re-founded, renamed two years ago as the Center for Anthroposophy and the other that is Antioch Graduate school. I use these two hands, because I feel it’s fitting. They work together and they are connected through the common impulse just as in the body the heart and the circulation form that connection. We share faculty, we share common ideals and yet we also have options and possibilities by having two organizations. Through the Center for Anthroposophy we have the possibility of Foundation Studies and working in states and locations that Antioch would not be allowed to serve because of the laws of higher education. Through the Center for Anthroposophy we sponsor the High School Teacher Education Program and the Pedagogical Eurythmy Program. And through the Center for Anthroposophy we are full members of the Waldorf Schools Association of North America, which was not able to accept Antioch University. (What are they going to do with the entire university in the Association of Waldorf Schools?) So that is the Center for Anthroposophy and it’s mission is to support teacher education both within the Center and at Antioch, research, renewal through the arts and we hope that at some point soon also through One Week Intensives to help the graduates of our programs and others to come back for refresher course, for artistic courses and I heard recently even a week of Puppetry. Things such as that could be sponsored by the Center for Anthroposophy without any obligation on credit, degrees and all of that. So there we have the Center for Anthroposophy. On the other hand we have Antioch Graduate School and through the Graduate school we have the possibility of offering the Masters degree in Education, State Certification along with the Waldorf Certification, which is not only the matter of credentials, but those who have gone through that program, and there are some here who are finishing, can speak more. Those who have experienced both the State certification work and the Waldorf work are able to move back and forth and really articulate what it is we are trying to achieve. If one has studied Piaget and Skinner, Sylvia Ashton-Warner and Dewey and Rudolf Steiner and one has been in an environment in which ideas and contents and practices are shared, the hope is that our students who go through the Antioch Program will be more articulate and will be able to speak not only to the chosen few, excuse my editorial there, those who have embraced a certain language and a certain way of working, but will also be able to speak with parents and community members, who themselves often have not gone through the Waldorf school, parents who have been educated in public schools, community members who think that computers and such and such are the way to go with schools. How can one hold one’s ideals and still be able to communicate? That is the essential question behind the Antioch Program. So through Antioch we have those credentials and also that element as David calls it that ecumenical, that cosmopolitan opportunity to really embrace the larger and through the Center for Anthroposophy we have programs that really would not fit so well in University setting. So we work with the two an I ask you to help share that picture, there is some rhyme and reason to what we are doing although if I had written the script, I don’t think I could have predicted the way it has turned out in the past eighteen years.
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