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Taryn Harris

I graduated with a matric exemption in 2004 after spending ten fabulous years at Constantia Waldorf. I arrived in Etienne Blomerus’s class in Class 3, having spent my schooling up to that point in two different government primary schools. My mom had always been a huge advocate of Waldorf education, but because of our location (northern suburbs) it was an impractical choice to enroll at Constantia. We then moved to Tokai when I was eight but the school was full so I was enrolled elsewhere until a spot became available during my Class 3 year. The two primary schools in question are both top schools in their respective areas and I think I did reasonably well, but I suffered quite badly from anxiety and the rigid structure and strict rules did little to help the situation, and in fact made it worse.

I can still remember my interview with ‘Mr. B’. He was sitting on his chair sporting a tiny ponytail – shock-horror – a TEACHER with a PONYTAIL! Whatever next! I drew a picture and we walked around the grounds. This is going to sound unbelievably clichéd, but at the tender age of eight and a half I suddenly learned the value of being able to breathe. Yes there were rules – but the rules were set down to teach, encourage and gently mold, not to dominate and control. There were no particular boxes to be forced into. In fact, individuality was encouraged and celebrated. For the first time in my life I felt utterly free and my anxiety all but left me completely.

People, unbelievably, still raise their eyebrows when I tell them I was a ‘Waldorf Baby’. But I invariably win them over with stories of running around barefoot, woodwork, jewellery, handwork and ceramics lessons on top of ‘normal’ lessons, learning about labyrinths and building one on the field with the chalk marker. Our maths and science classes invariably turned into debates about where we all actually come from. During our Class 13 year when we began having hour-long tests three to four times a week we were given a compulsory sports lesson on a Friday. When it comes to sport I am more of a spectator than a participant and even at that stage, there was little inclination to take part. So instead of bunking the lesson, like any self-respecting teenager would be inclined to do, my best friend Carina and I, being the studious souls that we were, went to John (one of our guardians at the time) and asked if we could go for a walk along the cross-country route instead. We would still get the exercise and time away from the classroom that the school was trying to implement. We promised to be back before the 45 minute lesson ended. And lo and behold he said yes. So that is what we did. Every Friday morning during that year we took our leave and solved the problems of the world on our cross-country loop around Constantia, whilst the rest of the class had their weekly sports session. We never once took advantage of our freedom and arrived back late, so there was no reason to stop us. Sometimes it pays to follow to the rules and shun the rebel-type behaviour that occasionally overtook some of our peers. It meant that we were trusted and we got exactly what we wanted. All jokes aside, it is exactly this attitude that has really inspired me. Don’t sweat the small stuff. You don’t necessarily have to enforce every little thing. Learn what is truly important. Learn to be flexible and to adapt to your environment and your situation and you will find things much easier to manage. It is these lessons that have probably been of most value and benefit during my adult years so far.

After school I went to the Cape Academy of Dramatic Art (CADA) in Observatory to study drama and acting. I had big dreams of lighting up the stage and screen. During my second year I was encouraged to take the drama teaching course (offered in conjunction with the acting). I refused at first as I had absolutely no interest in teaching whatsoever. Eventually I gave in and did it anyway, more to keep my parents and the lecturers off my back than anything else. To my surprise I absolutely loved it and took to it like a duck to water. I developed a close bond with my lecturer at the time (Arij) and she is now a valued mentor and friend. After I graduated in 2007 with my Trinity ATCL Diploma in acting and another in teaching, I followed Arij around to her schools each week, assisting her and absorbing every bit of knowledge I could. I also studied part-time through the college to get a higher teaching qualification (LTCL) in drama teaching.

During the next couple of years I continued to shadow Arij and I got a couple of schools of my own through the college teaching extra-mural drama. By this time I had dabbled a bit in the acting with castings and the odd shoot here and there, but I found that my focus was geared far more towards the teaching than anything else. I started dancing in 2008 (Hip Hop, Modern and Jazz) and I performed in a couple of gala events at Artscape. This seemed to feed my performance side sufficiently. I liked the creativity, the variety and the financial security that the teaching gave me. I was teaching every culture of child – from Muslim to affluent Afrikaans to children bused in from the townships. I was also finding more and more that I was unwittingly implementing many of the teaching strategies and techniques I had experienced as a Waldorf child in my own classes.

Arij retired at the beginning of 2014 and this was the beginning of major developments for me. I knew it was coming as she had asked me to help out with the students at the college the year before on a part-time basis – a prospect that positively terrified me at the time. On her departure from the working world she passed most of her schools on to me. I was also hired as a proper employee by the college. It all happened rather quickly and I was literally forced to sink or swim. Initially, I had no cooking clue what I was doing, but it was all tremendously exciting. This was all happening in conjunction with running a retail business that I had also been involved with part-time since I left school. I have since let the retail side go and I am now entirely focused on the schools and the college.

One of my ‘Thursday’ schools is a primary school in the Bo Kaap. I go in with a team of teaching students from the college and we teach extra-mural Speech and Drama to Grades R-7. Most of the children have isiXhosa as a first language but they are taught in English so comprehension is relatively good. The school is quite rough and the children have learnt how to treat each other by the way some of their teachers (and sometimes their parents) treat them.

There are some wonderful forward-thinking teachers there that I have really good relationships with, but I have seen my fair share of teachers telling them to ‘shut-up’ and others grabbing them by the arm and giving them a shove into line. This is the way these teachers have grown up and they are simply going on what they know. Our lessons have become like a haven for those children who take part. I crack jokes with them, I give them the freedom to express themselves in a safe environment without judgement or a fear of being shouted at. Of course there are rules. They are a rowdy bunch and the classes are full so there must be boundaries. But the rules are few. All I ask of them during our time together is that they listen when someone else is speaking, no violence (physical or  verbal) is tolerated and everyone is given a chance to be heard and for their ideas to be taken seriously. I regularly reiterate these ‘rules’, but I also explain why they have implemented and the children respect them a lot more for the reasoning behind them. There is generally a fair amount of shouting – not from me, but between the children. This is often how they are spoken to and so they have learned to communicate with each other in this way, by raising their voices. So I deliberately speak to them in a calm, low voice and more often than not they will listen.

In conclusion, I would just like to say how grateful I am to have had the opportunity to have a Waldorf education. It is not for everyone, but it was everything for me. It has helped to shape me into the person I am today and if I can pass on just an ounce of what I received as a student, I will be happy in the knowledge that I am having some sort of positive effect on future generations.

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