Jump Rope Success – by Mrs. Crandall

The Human Spirit in Education

One of the tasks of the class teacher in the Waldorf School is to have an unshakable belief in a human being’s capacity to learn and transform him/herself. As we practice believing this, we learn to see the amazing leaps students take in their development. After a few years of experience comes the more challenging practice for the class teacher: to be vigilant of our pictures of others, for we know that our thoughts and feelings about others create a kind of mental picture that has an effect. Think about it: we can feel another person’s love and support, and we know that when bathed in that light, we can achieve more than we thought possible. The opposite is also true, that we can feel diminished under the weight of negativity and unsupportive thoughts about us. This does not mean we ignore what needs support, what needs guidance and work. Imagine if we all took up this practice of vigilance with great devotion; miracles would unfold.

It was because of this challenging practice that I found myself growing very angry at the injustice I felt coming towards Sue in her second grade year from the remedial system the public school uses. In my opinion, she did not need these services any more. In fact, to keep her on the services sent her the message that she is indeed handicapped. She needs to practice daily moving her physical body due to weak muscle tone, however she is not handicapped. This perceived injustice was not coming from others out of any malice. They certainly had very good intentions. But I was being asked to support what I felt was a lie. What and who Sue is was being dissected and the parts that needed support were magnified beyond the proportions of her strengths so as to create a distorted picture of who Sue is. It was as if I had to work with this grotesque picture, like the ones you see in the funny mirrors at the carnival, as if this were the reality named “Sue”. Yes, she had areas she needed to work on, and who in this world does not?

At the end of the second grade, Sue found that she could not yet jump rope by herself. Yet she knew all her times tables, which many in her class did not. The challenge was that we were combining individual jump roping with saying the times tables by ourselves as a way to continue to strive in knowing them. Day after day Sue struggled in front of the class. She struggled to integrate gross and fine motor skills as well as a sense of rhythm and balance. She watched and even practiced at recess and she still could not get it, nor did it seem like she was making progress in any way.

During this time, I struggled with my own thoughts and feeling about the remedial assessment of Sue and one day as I watched Sue struggle, my faith diminished. For the first time, doubt entered my heart. Maybe I was asking too much of her; maybe my expectations were too high. This was the day that my picture of Sue weakened and changed and began to resemble more the distorted proportions projected by others. I was not happy with myself for this weakness. I fought to push the distortions out of my mind. Though I continued to support Sue and offer suggestions, doubt heavily squatted in my heart.

Then one day, without any indication, Sue stepped up to the front of the class with her usual equanimity, and she jumped rope to one of the times tables! The class cheered for her with loud shouts and big smiles, for this was their success as well; their job, as I explained earlier to them, was to be supportive in their thoughts, feelings and in their deeds. Some took time at recess to jump rope with her and offer encouraging words.

I was moved beyond words. Under the insistence of my expectations of her, Sue’s spirit never wavered and remained focused throughout this ordeal. She believed, while inwardly, I was being tempted to stray by a maze of mirrors and illusions. Sue was an unshakeable example of the strength of the human spirit that can tackle a seemingly impossible challenge with consistent equanimity and perseverance. In her time, she learned what she needed to learn.

This experience is close to my heart because of my love for Sue and what she has taught us. But this experience is also an example of the importance of striving, wherever we find ourselves in need of that striving. Sue’s striving was within a physical practice and in her belief in herself to accomplish a task. My striving as a Waldorf teacher, in this story, was in the battle to stay faithful to the “knowing” that the human being has capacities that far outshine our imagination and mental limitations of them. We do not control what can unfold in the human being, we can only give opportunity for what is there to unfold. Sometimes the unfolding takes weeks, sometimes months, sometimes years. But when we don’t remain faithful in our thoughts and feelings regarding the strength of the human spirit to learn and grow, we get in the way, we become the hindrances to learning, we cut off time required for the spirit to unfold. For example, who says that I child will suffer in life, or that some unimaginable damage will be done to their growing minds, if a student is not reading by a certain age? Doubt and fear swim all around us and we must do our part to remember what to focus on and when to look away from the illusions and distortions. This is especially true in education.

Respectfully submitted by:

Karen Crandall, Class Teacher WSSS

Summer 2014