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“I’m a Guy who wants to change Things”: Master’s Degree in Waldorf Education at the Alanus University

To become a Waldorf teacher – graduates of the Alanus University can do this at two locations in different ways. The study centre in Mannheim provides the undergraduate bachelor’s degree in Waldorf Education as well as the subsequent master’s degree, which qualifies you to give instruction in another subject as a classroom teacher or subject teacher. The part-time master’s degree in Pedagogy/Waldorf Education at the university in Alfter near Bonn also prepares would-be Waldorf teachers for teaching sixth formers.

We talked to two Alanus students about their experiences. Margot Steinbach (51) is in the third semester of a part-time master’s degree course in Alfter, would like to become a Waldorf class teacher and teach French. Vincent Jüssen (28) is enrolled in Mannheim in his first semester in his Waldorf Education master’s degree with music as his subsidiary subject. He previously completed his bachelor’s degree there.

Margot, what made you choose your course of study?
Margot Steinbach: I originally studied business administration and have been self-employed in marketing for 11 years, but I was always interested in schools and education. This is also why I completed the Montessori diploma several years ago. I got to know Waldorf education through my daughter’s school, where I am also involved in the field of PR. When they were looking for a fill-in for their French teacher at short notice, I stepped in for two classes. As I enjoyed this so much, I looked for a way to continue my training for this profession.

Many career changers opt for a part-time Waldorf teacher seminar. What was so favourable in your opinion about the academic path at the Alanus University?
Margot Steinbach: The academic degree gives me more security – it is universally recognised and it means I will definitely find a job with it. Events at the Kassel teachers’ seminar are also incorporated in the study course at the Alanus University, which I think is an exciting addition. Plus, the part-time course is ideal for me in combining different areas of life.

Vincent, why do you want to become a Waldorf teacher?
Vincent Jüssen: I was a Waldorf student in Freiburg for 12 years and would like to enable my future pupils to achieve what I experienced so positively myself during my school days: these incredibly diverse experiences I was allowed to have and that have shaped my view of society. I’m a guy who wants to change things – with Waldorf education, I have a wonderful tool at hand. Plus, I was interested in finding out more about the background to pedagogy.

How do you perceive the course?
Vincent Jüssen: I enjoy student life. We students spend a lot of time sitting together, having discussions or making music together. I’ve always experienced a lot of openness and acceptance among them. At the same time, I have become familiar with completely new perspectives from others. This is of particular value to me, also when dealing with and discussing things with the lecturers. I started my master’s degree in September 2020, but I already knew the university and its procedures from my time there as a bachelor’s student. Since early November, the course has only been online again due to the coronavirus. Before that, a few weeks of face-to-face lectures were possible, with masks on and social distancing of course. For the students who have recently arrived in Mannheim for their master’s, this is certainly a difficult situation.

Margot Steinbach: Our part-time course is organised in block weeks. Fortunately, these could still take place on site before the November lockdown – including the three weeks at the teachers’ seminar in Kassel. Several weekend seminars are soon to be held too. These also work quite well online. We now know each other well and we’ve mostly set into our regular routine. At the beginning, everyone had their cameras off but now many are turning them on. This results in a bit more interaction. In addition to the eight block weeks, there are as many weekends that only take place in Alfter. Because I also want to become a French teacher, I have another language week and several weekends in Mannheim this semester.

How close is your contact with the other students in your part-time course?
Margot Steinbach: At the beginning, I imagined I could get through the course in a rather detached way – without getting involved very much with others. But after a short time, I realised what a nice group of people they were. The others are between 25 and their mid-50s. At 51, I’m almost the oldest. But I actually perceive us together as ageless. We really are a wonderful, colourful bunch of people thrown together.

At Waldorf schools there is a great deal of freedom, especially in the lower and middle years in comparison with state schools, with regard to the curriculum for example. What’s your assessment of this?
Vincent Jüssen:
I think it’s really up to date and makes sense. Of course, there are curriculum recommendations but these are only suggestions. This is how I can always see where the children are and what they need right now. Sometimes, this freedom also raises some very specific questions. In situations like this, we students would have liked to have a kind of safety line, something we could hang on to. But the main thing is it’s about independent thinking. The professors communicate this very clearly.

Margot Steinbach: I think it’s great how much creative freedom I have as a teacher. I already work as a French teacher in Düsseldorf and I have a lot of fun thinking about how I can get my class involved in the issues that arise. Of course, we also have a great responsibility. We can be much better teachers than others but we can also be much worse.

What do you think: What do you have to learn in order to be a good Waldorf teacher? What role does personal development play?
Vincent Jüssen: I would break that down to a few virtues or skills. We should be open-minded – also to criticism. As a class teacher, for example, I think it’s absolutely crucial that other teachers join me in class and give me their perspective on my work. What is also important is preparing for and following up after a lesson, which means really thinking about every class and what I intend to do and then seeing how things went after that and how they should continue.

Margot Steinbach: For me, love and openness towards other people are crucial. And it’s important to have trust in your own motivation and become a part of the whole process. “Education is self-education” is a Waldorf motto I find very helpful, because I don’t just recognise in the child what works well and what doesn’t but also in myself.

The Alanus University also endeavours to deal critically with Rudolf Steiner against the background of other pedagogical trends. How is this reflected in your studies?
Margot Steinbach: I am always very aware of this. Whenever we discuss texts by Steiner, for example, no-one says “It was like that a hundred years ago so this is how it always has to be done now”. Instead, there is always an open debate. Once a year at Whitsun, there is an event in Alfter to which Waldorf critics are also invited and I really appreciate that. Here once again, it’s all about forming your own distinct opinion.

Vincent Jüssen: I can absolutely confirm that. The focus is clearly on pedagogy and less on Rudolf Steiner as a person. Even controversial issues can be discussed openly in this atmosphere and the professors adopt a very clear position.