A week or more has passed since I left a jam-packed room of eighty-five teachers from around North America, tape recorder strung over my shoulder and armed with several pages of hastily scrawled notes. Time to let the jumble of impressions settle. What emerges is a slight sense of awe at what took place.
The purpose of the convention, held in Denver during the last two weeks of June, was to bring premies working in the field of education together to find out about each other, to be exposed to the Waldorf system of education (which is what Unity School, the school for premie kids in Denver, uses), and to see if some long-term means of working together could be established. All of that happened. But the real "event," I think, was the simple joy of premies recognizing each other.
Nancy Haltman received Knowledge in Peru three years ago, started a center in Bolivia after Millenium and is now setting up a private day-care center funded by premies in New York. Don Robertson is a sixth grade social studies teacher, father of two, from Alberta, Canada. Ron Johnson teaches in Milwaukee, Esther Yassi in Denver, David George in Detroit, Eileen Pascucci in Buffalo, and Carol Smith in Chicago. These seven people and myself met in one of the first day discussion groups to share our life stories and to talk about why we were there at the conference. It soon became apparent what most people were looking for was not only help in learning how to put some of the private experience of Knowledge into classrooms, but even more than that, to just spend some time with premies and experience a reawakening of spirit.
The"business" of the conference took a back seat to a very human need to feel connected with other people and to gain confidence in your own life experience. Where the conference fostered that kind of feeling, it worked, and where it did not, there was obvious tension. Like in the workshop on "Education of a Child." This was concerned with the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner, founder of the Waldorf educational system. Anyone's theories, expecially if they are as complex as Steiner's, are difficult to get into in three hours. And if the people involved are used to a much more experiential way of going about their lives, the problems are multiplied. So the workshops struggled along with talk about etheric bodies, astral bodies, and the Ego, but you got the sense that people were waiting for "something more real" to start taking place. Fortunately, it always did, usually onthe level of people opening up to each other about their day-to-day hassles or breakthroughs as teachers, or about their experiences of Knowledge.
But one of the most inspiring parts of the conference turned out not to be just this kind of personal sharing, but the lectures of Werner Glas. Werner was the featured guest speaker, and is the director of the Waldorf Teacher Training institute in Detroit. The amazing thing about him is that he provides an example of what is possible by bringing an acute spiritual awareness into the academic realm. In his workshop entitled "Biography," which dealt with the lives of Raphael, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci, Werner, with the ease and sophistication of one who is confident in his knowledge, wove a spell of excitement around the process of human discovery which has taken place over centuries, and which, from time to time, culminates in unique personalities. Listening to him speak, I understood for the first time the reaction of the premies at Unity School for having come into contact with the Waldorf people. To some of us there is nothing as wonderful as a real teacher, one who knows something profound, is excited by it, and can pass that excitement and some of that knowledge on to his students.
Werner reminded me of Dr.
LeBoyer, the natural childbirth expert, who happened to be in town the same time as the teachers' convention. Both tried to communicate to us the importance of our relationship to young people and the necessity of becoming very conscious and very loving in the way that we bring them into the world. And both stressed the need for a human being to get completely in touch with his own self first and then use the sensitivity that self-knowledge brings into his relationship with others.
These needs were felt keenly by the group of people who came to the conference. One night, at sunset, I was sitting on a hill in a nearby park talking to Judy Seideman, a fourth grade teacher of six years from Philadelphia and a mother of three teenagers. Her main focus at the conference was in finding new ways of relating to her students, something to break out of the monotony of the normal classroom situation. "I've tried everything," she said. "But I've found out that the biggest problem is the enthusiasm of the teacher. The teacher has to be inspired herself. If she is enjoying what she is doing at that moment, if she's getting off on the lesson herself, the kids will pick up on that." So once again, we're back at the importance of every individual's experience of life. The fact that most people at the conference were very much aware of that importance was what, I think, made the conference so rewarding.
By the final day, the desire on everyone's part to stay in contact with each other and to continue to help each other learn how to teach was obvious. We spent a few hours brainstorming ideas on how to make that possible, and one result was the production of an ongoing newsletter to be sent to all the participants of the conference. Another was the suggestion for future conferences to be held on a regular basis, under the auspices of Shri Hans Educational, the name given to this loose confederation of premie teachers.
In his final lecture, Werner Glas gave some advice that seemed to strike a common note in everyone's heart as a result of the conference: "My advice (to you as teachers) is not to listen too much to the obvious or immediate, but to plumb the depth of the need. Make your work not theory, but a transformation, a metamorphosis of the human spirit."