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The Most Important Lesson We Teach

Updated: Apr 28, 2023

I am really excited to have recently completed the "Third Grade Watercolor Painting" course. While I was recording, editing, and adding notes to the lessons in that course, I realized that I was repeating something over and over to whoever might enroll in that course. It was something I had repeated in previous courses as well. At first, I started to apologize, as if I sounded like the "broken record". However, as I have sat with this in my heart and mind, I realize that I should actually highlight it. It is, as the title suggests, the most important lesson that we teach.

When Rudolf Steiner founded the first Waldorf School in Stuttgart, Germany in 1919, he personally trained twelve teachers. Obviously, so much of what he brought to education was revolutionary for the time and remains so still today. One of the things that he said to those early teachers is as follows:

"You have no idea how unimportant is

all that the teacher says or does not

say on the surface, and how important

what he himself is as teacher."

Obviously, I have kept the original translation with the specific gender there, but we can fully understand that this applies to all human beings who would attempt this wonderful endeavor of teaching young people. And the message he gave strikes me more profoundly today, after having worked in a Waldorf school for twenty-two years, than it did when I first heard it. It bears that much more gravity today because I actually know that it is true. I know it from my twenty-three years as a parent and from all that time as a Waldorf teacher. There are many lessons we will teach, but nothing will impact our children and/or students more than who we are.

So, when I consider this today, I see it in the light of what I wrote earlier, the message I have found myself repeating. In the context of watercolor painting, I have urged parent-teachers to remember this. We must always strike the balance between striving with our very best efforts in painting and, at the same time, we must be completely content and at peace with the results. Does that not sound wonderful? Of course it does! And yet, it is not often very easy. How swiftly our minds can begin the critique, the judgment, the analysis. Indeed, many experiments have been carried out to prove how quickly human perception can spot imperfections. We are actually very, very good at it. It is the gift/burden of being so very observant.

What we sometimes fail to realize is that we must be as unconditionally loving to ourselves and our own efforts as we are for our children. If my child makes a "mistake" while painting, I do not criticize. I do not judge. I just love that this little human being is having fun painting. Of course! I am simply full of love for the little on and all the little one does!

So why then do I say that we MUST be just as unconditionally loving to ourselves? Because these wonderful little beings are incredibly imitative and they are far, far more perceptive that we often realize. To put it in the vernacular: they get us. They get us deeply. Who we are, what we think, how we feel, what we say, how we act--these things impress upon their beings at all times.

So, in our context of painting, they will pick up on self-critique, judgment, criticism, frustration, disappointment, etc. Furthermore, to some extent, they will begin to take on those tendencies in their own being. There it is. Who we are--this teaches the child more deeply and more profoundly than anything else. Who we are and how we are--these are the most important lessons we ever teach, despite all the time and energy we may give to creating a great math lesson or a meaningful language arts lesson. In the beginning, middle and in the very end, nothing will ever make more difference in the young person's life than who we are.

If we can constantly strive to do our very best AND be content with how things turn out, then we have given them a precious gift that will benefit them for their whole lives. For what is this but love? We always do our best. We strive. This is love for the world and everyone else in it. We are content with the results, whatever they may be, of our striving. This is love for the self. This is the balance we must always seek. The more we seek it, the more our little ones will seek it as well.

It can start in painting, or math, or modeling--it does not really matter, because this lesson transcends throughout life.

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