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Making Contact: An Exploration of Focused Attention between Teacher and Students

P. Bruce Uhrmacher
Curriculum Inquiry
Vol. 23, No. 4 (Winter, 1993), pp. 433-444
Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
DOI: 10.2307/1180068
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1180068
Page Count: 12
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Making Contact: An Exploration of Focused Attention between Teacher and Students
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Abstract

In a study I conducted on Waldorf education, I found that teachers practiced a number of activities that were seemingly important but nameless. While some may consider the kinds of activities I explore in this paper as time-off-task or as incidental, I suggest that activities like shaking hands with students each morning and afternoon, or singing attendance, have important educational ramifications. I call exercises such as these and others focal activities or conditions, and I suggest that they are used specifically to create occasions where teachers can establish, confirm, or discontinue contact between themselves and students. The implications of focal conditions are several. In this paper I argue that focal conditions provide routine contact between teacher and students, can be used as a diagnostic tool, personalize teacher-student relations, create classroom feelings or moods, and, at times, prepare students for the next activity by capturing in an expressive form its essential character. The term focal condition is foreign to Waldorf education, but I believe the concept captures Waldorf teacher practice. I end this article by encouraging researchers, administrators, and teachers to take these activities seriously and not relegate them to a subordinate educational category. At a glance it looks like most of the other large urban houses. In fact, since the building extends away from the street, it reveals quite little to the passerby. Except for the small wooden sign that says "Waldorf School," one can't be sure what takes place in the building. That is, unless one happens to be there between eight and eighty-thirty a. m., when one cannot escape noticing the numerous cars stopping in front of the building to let out scores of children. Each weekday morning two teachers stand by the curb, opening car doors and escorting toddlers to the front steps of the building. Occasionally one of the teachers directs traffic as Mercedes Benzes, Volkswagens, Jaguars, and an occasional Chevy jockey for position. Parents seem used to this hectic pace; locals must put up with it. The infrequent passersby are apparent by their nervous demeanor. On the school grounds children from kindergarten to eighth grade move about. I go to Miss Bronte's second-grade classroom, where I find a visually rich and carefully ordered environment. Twenty-two wooden chairs rest behind twenty-two wooden desks. They are arranged in four arcs. Three chairs on the left, three chairs on the right, an aisle down the middle, all set on a large orange carpet. The room is not cluttered, although space is at a premium. Everywhere I look something grabs my attention and the more I scan, the more I find. In the front left corner of the room is a table covered with brown leaves, pumpkins, squash, pine cones, and flowers. Before school begins, numerous students usually mill about inside the classroom. When students enter, Miss Bronte greets them with a personal "good morning" and a handshake. Ivan hands her some flowers as he steps into the room. "Oh, these are so beautiful and so fragrant," says Miss Bronte as she bends down to smell them. She takes the flowers and turns to find a vase, while Ivan, like his fellow students, proceeds to the coat rack to hang up his coat and straw lunch basket. Then he talks with several friends as he makes his way to his desk in the front of the classroom.

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