Our bookstore is now open. Shop today →

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

Discussions with Teachers
GA 295

Discussion One

21 August 1919, Stuttgart

Translated by Helen Fox

My Dear Friends, in these afternoon sessions I shall speak informally about your educational tasks — about the distribution of work in the school, arrangement of lessons, and so on. For the first two or three days we will have to deal mainly with the question of our relationship to the children. When we meet the children we very soon see that they have different dispositions, and despite the necessity of teaching them in classes, even large classes, we must consider their various dispositions. First, aside from everything else, we will try to become conscious of what I would say is ideal necessity. We need not be too anxious about classes being too full, because a good teacher will find the right way to handle this situation. The important thing for us to remember is the diversity of children and indeed of all human beings.

Such diversity can be traced to four fundamental types, and the most important task of the educator and teacher is to know and recognize these four types we call the temperaments. Even in ancient times the four basic types — the sanguine, melancholic, phlegmatic, and choleric temperaments — were differentiated. We will always find that the characteristic constitution of each child belongs to one of these classes of temperament. We must first acquire the capacity to distinguish the different types; with the help of a deeper anthroposophical understanding we must, for example, be able to distinguish clearly between the sanguine and phlegmatic types.

In spiritual science we divide the human being into I-being, astral body, etheric body, and physical body. In an ideal human being the harmony predestined by the cosmic plan would naturally predominate among these four human principles. But in reality this is not so with any individual. Thus it can be seen that the human being, when given over to the physical plane, is not yet really complete; education and teaching, however, should serve to make the human being complete. One of the four elements rules in each child, and education and teaching must harmonize these four principles.

If the I dominates — that is, if the I is already very strongly developed in a child, then we discover the melancholic temperament. It is very easy to err in this, because people sometimes view melancholic children as though they were especially favored. In reality the melancholic temperament in a child is due to the dominance of the I in the very earliest years. If the astral body rules, we have a choleric temperament. If the etheric body dominates, we have the sanguine temperament. If the physical body dominates, we have the phlegmatic temperament.

In later life these things are connected somewhat differently, so you will find a slight variation in a lecture I once gave on the temperaments. 1“The Four Temperaments” in Anthroposophy in Everyday Life, Anthroposophic Press, Hudson, NY, 1995. In that lecture I spoke of the temperaments in relation to the four members of the adult. With children, however, we certainly come to a proper assessment when we view the connection between temperament and the four members of the human being as I just described. This knowledge about the child should be kept in the back of our minds as we try to discover which temperament predominates through studying the whole external bearing and general habits of the child.

If a child is interested in many different things, but only for a short time, quickly losing interest again, we must describe such a child as sanguine. We should make it our business to familiarize ourselves with these things so that, even when we have to deal with a great many children, we can pick out those whose interest in external impressions is quickly aroused and as quickly gone again. Such children have a sanguine temperament.

Then you should know exactly which children lean toward inner reflection and are inclined to brood over things; these are the melancholic children. It is not easy to give them impressions of the outer world. They brood quietly within themselves, but this does not mean that they are unoccupied in their inner being. On the contrary, we have the impression that they are active inwardly.

When we have the opposite impression — that children are not active inwardly and yet show no interest in the outer world, then we are dealing with the phlegmatic children.

And children who express their will strongly in a kind of blustering way are cholerics.

There are of course many other qualities through which these four types of temperament express themselves. The essential thing for us during the first few months of our teaching, however, is to observe the children, watching for these four characteristics so that we learn to recognize the four different types. In this way we can divide a class into four groups, and you should gradually rearrange the seating of the children with this goal in mind. When we have classes of boys and girls, we will have eight groups, four groups of boys and four of girls — a choleric, a sanguine, a phlegmatic, and a melancholic group.

This has a very definite purpose. Imagine that we are giving a lesson; during our teaching we will sometimes talk to the children and at other times show them things. As teachers we must be conscious that when we show something to be looked at, it is different from judging it. When we pass judgment on something we turn to one group, but when we show the children something, we turn to another. If we have something to show that should work particularly on the senses, we turn with particular attention toward the sanguine group. If we want the children to reflect on what has been shown, we turn to the melancholic children. Further details on this matter will be given later. But it is necessary to acquire the art of turning to different groups according to whether we show things or speak about them. In this way what is lacking in one group can be made good by another. Show the melancholic children something that they can express an opinion about, and show the sanguine something they can look at; these two groups will complement each other in this way. One type learns from the other; they are interested in each other, and one supplies what the other lacks.

You will have to be patient with yourselves, because this kind of treatment of children must become habit. Eventually your feeling must tell you which group you have to turn toward, so that you do it involuntarily, as it were. If you did it with fixed purpose you would lose your spontaneity. Thus we must come to think of this way of treating the different tendencies in the temperaments as a kind of habit in our teaching.

Now you should not hurry the preparation of your lessons, but be sure to truly strengthen yourselves for the work. I do not mean that you should spend the limited time at your disposal in a lot of detailed preparation, but nevertheless you can only make these things your own if you ponder over them in your souls. It will thus be our task to concern ourselves in a truly practical way with the teacher’s attitude to the temperamental tendencies of children. So now we will divide the work among you as follows. I will ask one group to concern themselves with the sanguine temperament, a second group with the phlegmatic, a third with the melancholic, and the fourth with the choleric. And then, in our free discussions tomorrow, I would like you to consider the following questions: first, how do you think the child’s own temperament is expressed? Second, how should we deal with each temperament?

With regard to the second question I have something more to say. You can see from the lecture I gave some years ago that, when we want to help a temperament, the worst method is to foster the opposite qualities in a child. Let’s suppose we have a sanguine child; when we try to train such a child by driving out these qualities, we provide a bad treatment. We must work to understand the temperament, to go out to meet it. In the case of the sanguine child, for example, we bring as many things as possible to the attention of the child, who becomes thoroughly occupied, because in this way we can work with the child’s propensities. The result will be that the child’s connection with the sanguine tendency will gradually weaken and the temperaments will harmonize with each other. Similarly, in the case of the choleric child we should not try to prevent ranting and raging, but endeavor to meet the child’s needs properly through some external means. Of course it is often not so easy to allow a child to have a fling in a fit of temper!

You will find a distinct difference between phlegmatic and choleric children. A phlegmatic child is apathetic and is also not very active inwardly. As teachers you must try to arouse a great deal of sympathy within yourselves for a child of this type, and take an interest in every sign of life in such a child; there will always be opportunities for this. If you can only find your way through to the apathy, the phlegmatic child can be very interesting. You should not however express this interest, but try to appear indifferent, thus dividing your own being in two, as it were, so that inwardly you have real sympathy, while outwardly you act so that the child finds a reflection in you. Then you will be able to work on the child in an educational way.

With the choleric child, on the other hand, you must try to be indifferent inwardly, to look on cooly when the child is in a bad temper. For example, if the child flings a paint jar on the floor, be as phlegmatic and calm as possible outwardly during such a fit of temper — imperturbable! On the other hand, you should talk about these things with the child as much as you can, but not immediately afterward. At the time you must be as quiet as possible outwardly and say with the greatest possible calm, “Look, you threw the paint jar.” The next day when the child is calm again, you should talk about the matter with the child sympathetically. Speak about what has been done and offer your sympathy and understanding. In this way you will compel the child to repeat the whole scene in memory. You should then also calmly judge what happened, how the paint jar was thrown on the floor and broke in pieces. By these means very much can be done for children who have a temper. You will not get them to master their temper in any other way.

This will guide you in dealing with the two questions we will consider tomorrow. We will arrange it so that each of you can present what you have to say. Make short notes on what you have thought of and we will talk about what you have prepared. Time must always be allowed for the teaching faculty to discuss these and similar matters. In discussions of this kind, which have a more democratic character, a substitute must be found for a dictatorial leadership like that of a headmaster, so that in reality every individual teacher can always share in the affairs and interests of the others. So tomorrow we will begin with a discussion. As a starting point I would like to give you a kind of diagram to work from.

A circle divided into four quadrants:

Top: Attention not easily aroused, but a very strong quality present in the melancholic temperament.

Left: Least amount of strength, attention least easily aroused in the phlegmatic temperament.

Right: Greatest amount of strength, and attention most easily aroused in the choleric temperament.

Bottom: Attention easily aroused, but little strength in the sanguine temperament

Whenever people express themselves in any way, you can tell from their dispositions whether they perceive things strongly or weakly; and further, whether they perceive and feel more strongly what is outside themselves or within their own inner situation. We must also notice whether such people are changeable or not. People either persevere at something and change very little, or show less perseverance and change greatly. This is how the various temperaments differ.

When you have observed such things you will understand certain indications about the temperaments in this diagram. Sanguine and phlegmatic temperaments are frequently found together, and you will see that they are next to each other in the diagram. You will never find a phlegmatic temperament passing easily into the choleric. They are as different as the North and South Poles. The melancholic and sanguine temperaments are also polar opposites. The temperaments that are next to each other merge into one another and mingle; so it will be good to arrange your groups as follows: if you put the phlegmatics together it is good to have the cholerics on the opposite side, and to let the two others, the melancholies and sanguines, sit between them.

All these things bring us back to what I spoke of this morning. 22. See The Foundations of Human Experience (previously Study of Man), Anthroposophic Press, Hudson, NY, 1996 and Practical Advice to Teachers, Rudolf Steiner Press, London, 1988 (at the end of the first lectures in each). In addition to these lectures and discussions with the teachers, Rudolf Steiner was giving other lectures simultaneously in order to prepare for the opening of the school the following month. See The Spirit of the Waldorf School: Lectures Surrounding the Founding of the First Waldorf School, Stuttgart–1919, Anthroposophic Press, Hudson, NY, 1995 (these lectures began August 24, 1919). The inner life, the life of soul, is the most significant aspect in the child. Teaching and education depend on what passes from the soul of the teacher to the soul of the child.

We cannot overestimate what takes place in the hidden links that pass from one soul to another. There is, for example, a remarkable interplay between souls when you remain calm and indifferent around a choleric child, or when you have inner sympathy toward a phlegmatic child. In this way your education of the child through your own inner soul mood will have a truly supersensible quality. Education occurs because of what you are, or rather, let’s say, what you make of yourself when you are with the children. You must never lose sight of this.

But children also influence each other. And that is the remarkable thing about this division into four groups of similar temperaments; when you put those that are alike together, it does not have the effect of intensifying their temperamental tendencies but of reducing them. For example, when sanguine children are put together in one group, they do not intensify each other’s sanguinity but tone it down. And when in your lessons you turn to the choleric children, the sanguine profit from what you say, and vice versa. As a teacher you must allow your own soul mood to influence the children, while the children of like temperaments are toning down each other’s soul moods. Talking and chattering together signifies an inner desire to subdue each other, even the chattering that goes on during the breaks. The cholerics will chatter less when sitting together than they would when sitting with children of other temperaments. We must avoid viewing and assessing these things externally.

Right from the very beginning I would like to point out the importance of arranging your teaching in the most concentrated way possible. Only in this way can you consider all the things I have spoken of, especially the temperaments. Therefore we shall not have what is ordinarily called the “schedule.” In this sense our method will be directly opposite to the ideal of modern materialistic education. In Bâle, for example, we hear of the forty-minute period. One forty-minute lesson is immediately followed by another, and this simply means that whatever occurred in the first forty minutes is immediately wiped out again, and fearful confusion is created in the minds of the children.

We must consider very carefully what subject is suitable for a particular age, and then we take this subject — perhaps reading — for awhile without interruption. That is, a child will learn reading every morning for six or eight weeks; after that writing will take its place and then arithmetic, so that for a certain period of time the child will concentrate on one subject. Thus, if I wanted to outline a scheme, our education would consist in this: whenever possible, as far as external arrangements will allow, we should begin the morning with reading and continue this for some weeks, then pass on to writing, and finally to arithmetic.

In such “main lessons” we should also include stories. In the first school year these will be mainly fairy tales. In the second year we try to introduce animal life in story form. From the fable we pass on to speaking of how the animals behave toward each other in real life. But in any case, our lessons will be arranged so that the attention of the children will be concentrated for several weeks on the same thing. Then at the end of the school year we allow time to recapitulate so that what was learned at the beginning will be revived. The only thing that will be kept apart and carried continuously is the artistic work. Either in the afternoons or, if there is enough time, in the mornings we should have art lessons, treating them as a special training of the will.

It would be ideal in school education if concentrated teaching, which require the child to exert the head forces, could be limited to an hour and a half a day. Then we could have another half hour for telling fairy tales — and besides that, it would always be possible to add about another hour and a half for artistic work. This would amount to no more than three and a half hours teaching in the day for children up to the age of twelve. Out of these three and a half hours we could then, on any given day, allow the short time necessary for the religion lesson, and in this way we could teach the children in relays. Thus, if we have a large number of children in one class we could arrange for one group of children from 7 A.M. to 10 A.M., and another group from 10:15 A.M. until 1:15 P.M., and in this way we could manage with the available classroom space.

Our ideal would be, therefore, not to occupy any child for longer than three and a half hours. Then the children would always be fresh, and our only other problem would be to think of what we could do with them in the school gardens when there are no lessons. They can play outside during the summer, but during the winter, when they have to be inside, it is difficult to keep them occupied all the time in the gymnasium. One eurythmy lesson and one gymnastics lesson should be arranged each week. But it is good to keep the children at school even when there are no lessons, so they can play and amuse themselves. I do not think it makes much difference if lessons are begun first thing in the morning or later, so that we could very well divide certain classes into two groups.

Now you must realize that there are all kinds of tasks before you. Over time we will have to discuss the whole organization of our work, but first let’s take this question of story-telling lessons. It would be good if you could consider what you really want to foster in the children by means of these lessons. Our study of the general educational principles will give you what you need for the actual class teaching, but for the story-telling lessons you will have to find the material yourselves to be given to the children during all of their school life, from seven to fourteen years of age, in a free narrative style. 33. Seven to fourteen years of age was the original range in the Waldorf school.

To this end, in the initial school years you should have a number of fairy tales available. These must be followed by stories from the animal world in fables; then Bible stories taken as general history, apart from the actual religion lessons; then scenes from ancient, medieval, and modern history. You must also be prepared to tell about the different races and their various characteristics, which are connected with the natural phenomena of their own countries. After that you must move on to how the various races are mutually related to each other — Indians, Chinese, or Americans, and what their peculiarities are: in short, you must give the children information about the different peoples of the Earth. This is particularly necessary for our present age.

These are the special tasks I wanted to give you today. You will then see how discussions can help us. All I wanted to do today was to lay down the general lines for our discussions. During the session Rudolf Steiner had written up the following summary on the blackboard:

1. A fund of fairy tales
2. Stories from the animal realm in fables
3. Bible stories as part of general history (Old Testament)
4. Scenes from ancient history
5. Scenes from medieval history
6. Scenes from modern history
7. Stories of the various races and tribes
8. Knowledge of the races

Questions and Answers

A question concerning the pictures used for sounds and letters — for example, the f in fish, mentioned in the first lecture of Practical Advice to Teachers, which was given in the morning.

RUDOLF STEINER: One must find such things, these pictures for example, for oneself. Don’t rely on what other people have already done. Put your own free, but controlled, imagination to work, and have faith in what you find for yourselves; you can do the same thing for letters that express motion, the letter s for example. Work it out for yourselves.

A question about the treatment of melancholic children.

RUDOLF STEINER: The teacher should view the melancholic child in this way: melancholic tendency arises when the soulspirit of the human being cannot fully control the metabolic system. The nerve-sense human is the least spiritual part of a human being — it is the most physical. The least physical part is the metabolic human. The spiritual human is most firmly rooted in the metabolic organism, but nevertheless, it has realized itself least of all within it. The metabolic organism must be worked on more than any other. Thus, when the metabolic presents too many hindrances, the inner striving toward spirit is revealed in a brooding temperament.

When we deal with a melancholic children, we should try to arouse an interest in what they see around them; we should act, as much as possible, as though we were sanguine, and characterize the world accordingly. With sanguine children, on the other hand, we must be serious, with all inner earnestness, giving them clear strong pictures of the external world, which will leave an impression and remain in their minds.

Spirit has entered most into human beings in the nerve-sense system; 44. That is, as free spirit, not absorbed in physical processes. On this important distinction see The Foundations of Human Experience. and spirit has entered least into the metabolic; spirit has the strongest tendency to penetrate into and to be absorbed by the nerve-sense system.

A question about school books.

RUDOLF STEINER: You will have to look at those commonly used. But the less we need to use books the better. We only need printed books when the children have to take public examinations. We have to be clear about how we want to reach our goal in education. Ideally we should have no examinations at all. The final exams are a compromise with the authorities. Prior to puberty, dread of examinations can become the driving impulse of the whole physiological and psychological constitution of the child. The best thing would be to get rid of all examinations. The children would then become much more quick-witted. The temperament gradually wears down its own corners; as the tenth year approaches the difference in temperaments will gradually be overcome. Boys and girls need not be separated; we only do this for the benefit of public opinion. Liaisons will be formed, which need not worry us, although we will be criticized for it. As long as the teacher has authority the teaching will not suffer.

Specialty teachers will be needed for the art subjects, which work on the will, and also for languages, which are taught apart from the Main Lesson. The subjects that the class teacher brings belong together as a whole, and the class teachers can base their work very largely on this unity. In all teaching they will work especially on the intellect and on the feelings. 5The German word is Gemüt, which has no exact English equivalent. It expresses “the feeling mind” in the medieval sense — the mind coming from the heart, permeated with feeling, as expressed in an old poem: God be in my head, And in my understanding; God be in mine eyes, And in my looking; God be in my mouth, And in my speaking; God be in my heart, And in my thinking God be at mine end, And at my departing. Anon. From a Sarum Primer of 1558. The arts, gymnastics, eurythmy, drawing, and painting, all work on the will. The teacher goes along in the school with the class. The teacher of the highest class (the eighth grade) then begins again with the lowest (the first grade).