A Window on the Eighth Grade, with Cindy Jordan

Posted by: Chris Nelson   -   Posted in: News- Apr 26, 2018 Comments Off on A Window on the Eighth Grade, with Cindy Jordan

 This June another Eighth Grade class graduates from Bright Water. This is always a joyous but bittersweet moment as students spread their wings and enter the next stage in their lives. We took this occasion to sit down with Cindy—aka “Miss”—Jordan, who took up the mantle of Grades Teacher in 2010 and held her class through the long journey from First to Eighth Grade.  Cindy started at Bright Water as an aftercare teacher, but from the moment she arrived at the school it felt, in her words, “like coming home.”

How did you decide to become a Waldorf teacher?

I think Waldorf was always in my blood. I’d always known I wanted to be a teacher, but
I also knew that I needed training to become the kind of teacher I wanted to become. At university I had a teacher who—he wasn’t a Waldorf teacher, but he was very hands on. He taught through experience, and through pulling information out of his students. He developed a relationship with each student. He saw you as an individual, what you were good at, what you struggled with, and he encouraged and inspired you to take up the work. I had never been taught in that way. It was a testament to the nature of what we do in Waldorf, the relationship building, the trust, the understanding, the seeing of the child for who they are—their qualities, their soul. As I researched what he was doing I discovered Waldorf. And as I started studying it, it validated everything I’d been searching for. Soon after that I was moving to Seattle. I was going to homeschool my son, but I searched the web for Waldorf and the aftercare job at BWWS came up. I’d actually made a list of everything I wanted in a job, and this was a perfect fit.

How does it feel to have taken the class through the full eight years?

I can’t believe that I’m here! It’s one of the most incredible things I’ve ever done. To have this opportunity to be a part of the growth of these children is . . . I don’t even know what the word is. It’s just incredible. To be with them through the developmental ages . . . Not only am I learning so much from them, I’m learning so much about myself as well. About trust, about love, about what it means to understand, to accept, to forgive—all of these things. It comes down to: what does it mean to be a human being? I feel so much gratitude. 

How are the kids doing?

They’re excited and a bit nostalgic. I think there are times when they realize that after this year they won’t be together anymore. So there’s a strong sense of family, of togetherness. It’s heartwarming. There are a lot more times when kids will say things like, “Mom—I mean, Miss Jordan!”

What else have those eight years you’ve spent together created?

There’s a lot of trust, a lot of safe space. There’s so much openness to ask each other questions, to share feelings and to be vulnerable. 

Can you share some of what you’ve been up to with them lately?

I love the Eighth Grade, their curiosity in the world and themselves. I love listening to their conversations. I enjoy guiding them, but I’ve also learned so much from them by seeing the world through their eyes. As adults we can inform them about the world, but that’s our information. They’re coming into their own information and their own context in the world. My learning this year has been to take a step back, to offer questions to guide them and then watch them figure things out for themselves and develop their own ideas.

One of the big things we’ve been exploring is, how do we communicate with others even when their opinions are different? How do we invite someone into our opinions? We’ve been spending some time debating current affairs, and sometimes the discussions get heated, but this is often because we don’t see all sides of the story or have enough information.

Teenagers can be quick to judge. So I’ve shared with them that it’s important to do your research, to talk to a number of people and explore different opinions and ideas. This leads to a bigger question: what is truth? Yours may be different from someone else’s but does that mean it’s wrong? We’ve been developing the maturity to see many sides to an argument.

When we study revolutions, we ask, “Why did people rise up?” “Why were others suppressing them?” Human beings have basic needs and if they’re not met there’ll be a reaction. And this also makes us look at our own needs, about finding time to enjoy life and follow our passions. It teaches tolerance and a deeper understanding of what drives the human being.

This journey has showed me how important it is for us to see both sides to truly appreciate everything. The Yin and the Yang. Especially with children. My goal in teaching is to share what’s going to best serve them in the world. And it’s not always specific pieces of information but instead how to experience, how to negotiate, how to navigate and maneuver through anything in life, to be open and understanding

How has the Waldorf approach facilitated the process?

It’s all of what Waldorf stands for. Among other things it’s about truly seeing the human being and what it means to be of service to others. It’s not about me, me, me. Life is not about me, me, me. I think in a public education system I would be more confined to the curriculum, to the tests I had to teach to. In Waldorf it’s a living process. The curriculum is a guide that the teacher studies, connects with and enlivens through their own experiences, strengths and struggles—but even more importantly through who the children are and what they need. So it’s essential that you really know the children in order to be present and bring to them the magic they deserve. You’re not trying to fix or change them but allowing them to grow into the best children they can be. This is why it can be so valuable to stay with the children for so many years because it creates the space and time to develop this deeper relationship.`

When I’m challenged to understand the needs of a child, I research material in books and online. I talk to other people. But the first place I go is within, to spend time thinking about the child. I ask questions. It’s loving inquiry. I try not to form opinions but to be open to something even greater than me. I seek out the answers through meditation. And there have been so many profound moments where I wake up in the morning and the situation is resolved or I have the answer. The process, for me, opens up my understanding of the child further.

I’ve learned to look at any struggle or challenge I have as purposeful and I try to uncover what I have to learn or shift or change in that situation. Those are the times when I do the most work. Because if we don’t embrace these challenges there’s less growth and we really don’t move beyond where we are.

As Waldorf teachers we’re not just with the kids during class and recess. They’re in our thoughts 24/7. There’s so much to this job. It’s almost like a lifestyle! You’re working with what it means to be human: how we breathe, love, move, sleep, work. How we function in the world. As a teacher I’ve been drawn to be aware of that for each child.

Can you share some favorite memories of your time with the students?

There are so many. For example, in fifth grade we were learning about the fact that math is in everything. It’s in a table in the form of mathematical and geometrical relationships. It’ s in a chair and so on. But one student didn’t want to admit it was in everything, and so he wouldn’t agree that it’s in doughnuts. And of course that’s the circle. So all the rest of the students had to come up with the reasons why math is in a doughnut. Even the kids who weren’t as excited about math at the time got engaged in convincing him. To this day we bring it up jokingly. “Is math in a doughnut?” And he’ll say “No!”

In second grade, for Santa Lucia we had to learn five verses to a song, and by the week of Santa Lucia we’d only learned the first verse well. I was stress and panicked that we weren’t going to do a good job, and I didn’t know what to do. One day we were lined up for recess and a student stepped out of the line and said, “What if we just sang one verse to the song?” She didn’t know I’d been  worried about it, so it was like she was reading my mind. I had put that question of what to do out to the universe, and she answered it for me. So we did it that way and it went beautifully. Quality over quantity.

In third grade, there was some drama going on. It was the nine-year change; there were lots of tears at times and people didn’t even know why they were crying. One day one of the girls was crying, and I asked the class, “Does anyone have a joke?” A boy  immediately shouted “poopy pants!” and everyone started laughing. It wasn’t even something he would normally say. It sounds silly but it brought so much joy to the year. It became our happy word. We still laugh about it today. 

There are other things too, not necessarily stories but examples of how tightly knit they are. They will not go out for recess unless they’re all going out for recess. In fourth grade every single student played ultimate frisbee. It changed the dynamics in the class and brought everyone together. For the first seventh/eighth grade dance, they got together in advance, all on their own, and set up who was going to dance with whom, how many times, and so on, so that no one would feel left out. They had such an amazing time that the person who hadn’t wanted to go to the first dance really wanted to go the next one. They did this all on their own. I found myself thinking, “Wow, I wish I was in this class! So sweet.

We do a lot of gratitude circles, where they talk about who and what they’re grateful for. So they’ve gotten to see each other for who they are, but they also know that other people think highly of them.

What’s next for Miss Jordan?

I’ll be staying on at Bright Water as the Pedagogical Administrator. I feel very happy to be continuing my work here. I want to honor this journey, but I also I want to be of even greater service. And I feel like teaching these last eight years has given me a really solid foundation to do that.



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