This is it, the best day of the year. What child doesn't get excited when the last day of school comes and it's time for summer vacation? The heavens have opened their gates and the angels are blowing trumpets, banging on drums, and dancing ecstatically. All the children are smiling and laughing and getting ready to burst out the door and be free at last, free at last, thank God already, we're free at last. For three whole months (or thereabouts) they don't have to think about school... unless one of their parents is a teacher. I can't count the number of times I dragged my kids to the school in the summer, roping them into helping me prepare my classroom.
We first learned about the Waldorf school before our children were born. One of Chris' coworkers had two nieces who attended the Denver Waldorf School and loved it. Their proud aunt gave a brochure to my husband. The curriculum from kindergarten through 8th grade was there for us to see, and we fell in love at first sight. It might surprise people to know it was the stories, the lore which progresses from nature stories to fairy tales, fables, legends, and myths, which drew us to the school in the beginning. We started at the Waldorf school before I even saw the knitted gnomes.
We were determined. This was the school we wanted for our children. Our son's first year of kindergarten was paid for, partly, with puppy money. Fortunately, our basset hound had a large litter. The second year, we sadly checked into other schools, as there were no more puppies to sell. However, after observing a kindergarten where the children were working in math and reading workbooks and studying for a spelling test, we gasped and decided quickly to go back to the Waldorf school, where we re-enrolled on faith. We couldn't imagine sending out children to a kindergarten with no toys and no play time, inside or out.
A week before school started, I got a call from one of the teachers. There was a need for an assistant teacher to help with nap time in one of the classes. Was I interested? Amazingly, I jumped at the chance to be in charge of 17 squirrelly 3 to 6 year olds every afternoon. The job paid tuition, I made it through, and two years later, Alice Jordan called to ask if I would consider being her full time assistant.
It was around this time, I realized I didn't just want Waldorf education for my kids. I wanted it for myself.
For nearly twenty years, I worked in the kindergarten program as an assistant teacher and a lead teacher. Our sons graduated from the Denver Waldorf High School and our oldest, John, received his Master's degree in Waldorf education, coming back to the Denver school in the fall of 2007 to begin teaching English and History in the high school. Patrick has taught an occasional art block in the high school and has illustrated one of my kindergarten stories. I still teach a couple of art blocks in the high school each year, too.
Tomorrow night marks a passage for us. Our youngest, Emma, will graduate from the Denver Waldorf High School. She has been at the school longer than any of her classmates, having gone back to work with me in the kindergarten when she was only two years old. Next year, for the first time in 26 years, I will not be driving in to the school every day.
26 years! That long ago, things were different. Mr. Clark had hair. Mr. Baker taught gym as well as woodwork. Mrs. Hindes taught kindergarten. Dr. Blanning was in 7th grade, and Mrs. Cartwright was in 1st grade. There were a total of three telephones in the entire school building, all attached with cords, and no voice mail.
Other things haven't changed. The teachers were still playing jokes on each other. There were bumper sticker wars between Mr. Baker and one of the kindergarten teachers, who came out one day to find a sticker on her car, proclaiming her to be a “Party Animal”. The next day, Mr. Baker found one on his, saying, “Have a nice day ”.
There are all the obvious things to love about Waldorf education: the consistency of having the same class teacher for eight years, the integration of the arts into the entire curriculum, the natural materials, the creative lessons, the storytelling, learning with the head, heart, and hands, and the teachers who acknowledge that they see only one part of the student's journey and what a priviledge it is to be a part of that journey. There is more, of course, and I could go on and on.
What I really want to say is, thank you. Thank you to all the faculty who taught our children and encouraged and challenged me to be the best teacher and person I could be, the staff who challenged me to be more organized, and parents who also encouraged and challenged me through the years. And thank you to all the children. You have always been my best teachers.
Though I still plan on teaching an art block or two in the high school, I will miss driving in to the school every day. The school has been more than a job for me. It has been my community, and an extension of my family.
It's time for a new adventure. What that will be, I don't know yet. I hope to do some volunteer work, possibly at the Ronald McDonald House here in Denver. They've done a lot for us. I'd like to give back. There will certainly be more gnomes and felted animals, books, brooms, and puppets coming to life in my studio. If anyone wants to join me, you're still welcome. Don't worry about payment. Let me know how your kids are doing at the school.
That'll be payment enough!