I started at Imhoff Waldorf high school during 2010 – in the little goat shed – teaching isiXhosa to class 8. That was our feisty, argumentative, inspiring pioneering class who have since Matriculated, the only class to do so at Imhoff Waldorf high school. In those days it was just Carol, Alexandra, Claret and me. Carol taught basically everything and it was her indomitable spirit that made me believe I was capable too of taking on all the extra things that came my way and I found myself saying yes. To pretty much everything. Like most of our high school teachers do, who have built, dug, cleaned up, packed up, moved, heaved, shunted, grunted and booted our high school through three venue changes, through crisis after crisis – with good humour (mostly) – and then taught on top of it all. It’s been a sheer act of will. And, at the heart of it all, we have seen and loved our teenagers throughout.
I came to Waldorf teaching by way of assisting with the Shakespeare plays at Michael Oak (since 2001). My background is in professional theatre (amongst other things) and I had become weary of the ego-driven world I was trying to inhabit. The Shakespeare process, the community feeling and my awakening to the Waldorf pedagogy were balm to my soul and I moved away from the theatre world and into the creative unfolding of Shakespeare and learning about Waldorf education. I will forever be grateful to Diane and Graham Scannell for opening the door for me, to what I now feel has become my life’s work.
It feels strangely unimaginative, or deeply parochial, to say that the directing of a school play is my life’s work – but this Shakespeare process is so much more than just a school play. It’s an initiation into a phase of adulthood, which, if regarded and handled correctly, produces young adults who know their place in the world, with a readiness to make a positive contribution. What a privilege to be part of that, and, to be part of it through a theatre process. Plus I really get class 9’s, in their inarticulate, monosyllabic, eye rolling way and I would like to believe that they get me. It is equally a privilege for me, the oft misunderstood, to work with this oft misunderstood age group and watch their transformation. In the same vein, Imhoff Waldorf high school is so much more than just a school. It is a place where each individual is seen and appreciated for who their real selves are. This is key in allowing true potential to be reached. This not only applies to the students but to the teachers too. Through the support and respect of our high school faculty, I feel I have been enabled to find one of my places in the world – a home where I can truly be myself. As a faculty, we value and appreciate each other deeply. We allow ourselves and each other to make mistakes, and to learn from them – just as we do with our students. We treat each other with warmth and love. But most of all, we have time for each other. This has become so apparent through my years at this school. People rally to help; to share; to defend; to support. And to give. One just has to look at our Thundafund campaign, our bid to save our high school, to see this love in action.
And sadly this has started to break down as our school is facing closure. Our warm community is still there, but people are starting to think about moving on, moving away, perhaps even giving up. I am still referring to our high school in the present tense; I have to start changing that. But I feel a sense of defeat when I do that. I feel we have let Carol Berry’s dream die – something which was not only a dream, but a strong and living reality. And then I look at my students – my beautiful rainbow class – and I feel their anxiety about the future, but I can only hope that their years at Imhoff will help them to develop into the ambassadors for truth that they are born to be.
We are all grieving, and grief can have an ugly face, which cannot, must not, be covered up. As always, at difficult times like these, I think of Amani and ask him what he would do – and the answer comes back – take strength from your students (I do) and just TRUST (I’m trying).
by Janis Merand