School Begins and Michaelmas Arrives –– Thank Goodness September 02 2016
In some parts of North America, school has already been in session for almost a month. In other regions schools will start after Labor Day. Whatever the beginning, the new school year is always a rush of excitement; new books, new pencils and crayons, new promises about working hard and paying attention, and a few tugs of remorse that the open, free days of summer have come to an end.
The Rose Ceremony in our Waldorf schools holds a picture of all this promise and also the sadness of change. In flowers offered to the first graders by the eighth or twelfth grade students, welcoming the little ones into the elementary school and to learning in a new way, the picture is clear of life cycles, season’s cycles, and the beauty of life. The older students remember the thrill and anticipation they felt when they started first grade. These older students are conscious now of how very far they have traveled in their own development as they see the six and seven-year-old children look up to them to receive their flower.
The first graders feel that an important person has taken them in and given them something beautiful. Many first graders feel for the whole year that the older student who greeted them is “theirs” and finds them to wave in assemblies or on the recess field.
Originally the opening ceremony was intended for the teachers and students. Lately this has become more of a community celebration in many schools. The intimacy of teachers telling their class and the whole student body what the year will hold, or a story with a picture of what the year will bring offers glimpses of the promise of the coming year and gives older students the chance to review the work they have done before this new year. Remembering is fun and underscores a feeling of accomplishment for the youngsters who are climbing up the grades one year at a time.
Students take in what the teachers say in that first day in a deep and accepting way—the younger the children the deeper the reception. First graders, with their open hearts, love their teacher no matter what. Unconditional love is a rare occurrence in our cynical world, but this is what happens. Children give themselves over to their feelings of complete surrender to learn from the one who has been named their class teacher. Other teachers of handwork, foreign languages, after care, and music are important, but the class teacher is the anchor for any class and the children give full authority to their teacher in love.
To guard against envy of such unequivocal acceptance, let it be said that this abandoned receiving of their teacher carries with it an enormous responsibility, one that is many times in a class teacher’s journey, difficult to manage and endure. Mothers and fathers should never feel competitive in this love their child pours out. This is the child’s first real chance to love outside of the circle of the immediate family.
Making the opening ceremony a broader community event is a wonderful thing. Parents feel included and are moved by the richness of the event and the sincerity with which the students do it. There are sacrifices in changing this event, however, in that the intimacy originally intended can be diminished. The solemnity of the event is dissipated some in the happy chattering that communities enjoy and the commenting during the event, the tears of appreciation and joy and sorrow at our children growing up.
The design of the stories, meant to enter deeply into the students’ consciousness, can sometimes miss the mark as the event becomes a bit more like performance art with children conscious of who is watching them. Also, every teacher knows that the adults watching them tell their new-year story holds a different consciousness from that of little ones. Critical thoughts and inner corrections of teachers, so frequent now in our culture, can rattle a teacher who might lose focus as the adults in the room size things up.
In some communities there is preparation done with parents to help in forming the vessel that the ceremony is developed to be. Parents help in inviting into the school and the children’s hearts the beings of charity, collaboration, grace and diligence needed to make a school year successful for everyone. Quiet and open listening is the goal. Awareness of the preparation done by each teacher to make the first day of school a rich and rewarding concentrated experience also helps tremendously.
The first day of first grade is a delicious and exhausting one for first graders. There are so many new things to take in, so many anxieties to suppress, so much hope of being a fine student and of being recognized by the new teacher. The first time the class recites the morning verse, the words resound in their importance. The way that verse is spoken that first time, stays with the children always. This is why the preparation of the teacher is so intensive just before first grade begins.
All around the world in Waldorf schools this ceremony in some form takes place. It is a moving thing to think of parents, teachers and children listening for what the new year will bring in school, singing together to invite harmony into our spaces of learning, and joining as a community around the children to “receive the children in reverence.”
It is not a coincidence that the new school year begins as the meteor showers bring a fresh awakening from summer’s drowsy freedom, raining meteoric iron into all our souls for renewed strength and purpose. Michael, spiritual guide of our times, has a special task that is consciously carried in our Waldorf schools: to imbue human hearts with clear thinking, warmth and light.
Soon after the opening ceremony of the new year is Michaelmas, which will follow and will deepen the commitment to the work of the new year. The full awakening will come to have the will, the determination, and the courage to tackle our own doubts and fears and learn each day. The call to Michael to support and guide is clear from the whole assembled gathering of students in each Waldorf school: Thou, Michael, conqueror of the dragon, be Thou at my back.
As the glory days of summer ebb away and the leaves of the trees begin to turn in reds and golds and the dark hours begin to lengthen, Michael has our backs and gives us courage to face our own shortcomings and the challenges of each day with courage, truth, and love. It is a difficult privilege to work together as human beings, and Michael stands ready to stand behind us in courage as we exercise that challenge, that honor, this life!