Astrologyin the Classroom
by Alex Trenowth
I became a secondary school teacher because I wanted to pursue my interest in astrology. I seriously thought that all that time off, a hefty salary and the intellectual support of a comprehensive school would provide enough time, money and mental stimulation to allow me to continue studying my passion.
TIt had been made abundantly clear by the teaching profession that my interest in astrology was not welcomed let alone encouraged: if I wanted to be an astrologer, it would have to be in my own time, under a different name and completely separate to my teaching career.
Undeterred, I took stock of what I had to work with: every pupil's date of birth. It would have been an astrologer's dream if only I had the time of births as well. So instead of listing my pupils in alphabetical order, put them in birth order. Of course what I immediately had was a list of Sun signs: I knew who my Virgo babies were and who my Sagittarius babies were. Interestingly, the data also showed that Leo boys get into the most trouble as 11-12 year olds. For a while this kept me entertained and I sort of became the guru for clever seating plans and classroom activities. I'd have the fire signs competing, presenting and creating; the earth signs planning, developing and implementing, the air signs writing, networking and making connections between topics and the water signs working on support structures and using their imaginations to create a sort of transcendence of the classroom experience.
From this basic information, I had a very general idea of what each pupil's strengths and weaknesses were. This never meant I partitioned drama activities from the earth signs or only let the Pisces pupils enjoy musical activities but it did mean that if I was careful to avoid use of astrological jargon, I had a ready made lesson plan that fulfilled national curriculum demands for a bespoke lesson for every pupil (I had one quiet and withdrawn Sun in Capricorn pupil look at with me with all earnestness and say: "Today Miss, I want to challenge myself. I want to do drama!"). That looks good on paper.
This early stage of using astrology in the classroom was an enormous help in developing me as a teacher. I didn't have to copy other teaching models as if I had no other ideas: on the contrary and thanks to the zodiac, I was full of ideas for suitable classroom activities.
Although it was fun and satisfying work and had the bonus of looking good on paper, what I really wanted was to take my teaching-and astrology--to the next level. The "light bulb" moments in teaching were okay but what I really wanted was thunderbolts and lightening. It was then I realized that I had been so focused on Sun signs and giving space for pupils to express themselves as individuals that I hadn't realized the common denominators: in any classroom of 30 pupils, there is a shared Jupiter and Saturn. For example, pupils born in the academic year starting 1997 would have Jupiter in Aquarius or Pisces and all of them would have Saturn in Aries. This is like having a class signature for every lesson and it brought both cohesion and simplicity to my teaching practice. This realisation transformed my teaching: it was my thunderbolt and lightening moment.
This understanding saved me a lot of time on practice and error. If I wanted to draw the points of the lesson to form the cumulative moment of the plenary (the final part), then the best way was to check their understanding through the Jupiter sign. For the Jupiter in Aries sign, this might be done through a competition to see who can answer a question the most accurately using the fewest words; for the Jupiter in Scorpio sign, it might best be done through research done at home (and checked by peers in the next lesson). This created an atmosphere of understanding between pupils in a multiethnic setting and served all of us a reminder of our similarities without isolating anyone due to their differences.
A class' Saturn sign gave me a better indication of how best to hold the boundaries of the classroom. For example, a Saturn in Aries classroom would work well as individuals but struggle with paired groupings. A Saturn in Gemini classroom is usually a polarized one with some pupils being hardcore academics and others being extremely reluctant ones. Through understanding Saturn, I could simplify difficult concepts or at least help the pupils to prepare for the higher ability tasks ahead of them. It gave me a head start to helping a class through the exam process by providing me an awareness of where issues in self- confidence might arise or need to be disentangled from the emotional baggage of past learning experiences.
The biggest revelation came with understanding the timings of the cycles of Jupiter and Saturn. Pupils will have their first Jupiter return around the time they enter secondary school where they will experience a bigger school, more lessons, more classrooms, more teachers and a wider ethnic mix. They are frequently overly enthusiastic and data consistently shows this age group not only receives more reprimands for bad behavior but the reprimands tend to be for disruption. Then a few years later, the pupils encounter their first Saturn opposition. In the UK, this is around the time they begin their GCSEs, when they pare down their choices of subjects to study and begin the exam process in earnest. This age group has far fewer occasions of being reprimanded (and it's usually for not doing enough work!) but the consequences are more to with the longer term effects of failing or not being prepared for an exam. If I have worked with a class when they were younger and already have a greater understanding of their learning needs, of course I am in a better position to help them. However, in modern education, there is rarely this kind of cohesion so it is usually the case that a teacher has to start from scratch. Of course, an understanding of a class' enormously Saturn is an obvious place to start.
The gap between the first Jupiter return and the final Saturn opposition varies from pupil to pupil. Although much more work needs to be done on this data this information may give a greater opportunity to time the better moments for learning and development. In neurological development, around the time of the first Jupiter return, the brain begins a time of rapid growth followed by a paring down process a few years later, roughly corresponding with the first Saturn opposition. For pupils who have not had the best start to life academically, research shows that this period of time is a second chance to catch up on neurological growth. For all pupils, the brain seems to operate on a "use it or lose it" premise. For these reasons, I argue that the optimum time for learning is at Key Stage 3 (when the pupils are 11-13 years of age) rather than Key Stage 4 (when pupils are 14-15 years of age).
As I have the means of doing so, I use a graphic ephemeris to plot the dates of pupils' Jupiter returns and a few years later, all the Saturn oppositions for every pupil in every one of my classes. Although this wasn't so helpful for teaching, it allowed me to have a greater understanding of which of my pupils might need pastoral intervention and when. A child experiencing a series of three Saturn oppositions who had the Moon implicated natally, for example, may have experienced little support and/or plenty of disruption from the home environment. Unfortunately, I simply don't have the time to look at the details of every child's chart but in some cases, I have resorted to asking the parents for the time of birth so I could have a better idea of the astrological factors affecting the child's education. This carries a risk for me however as all it would take is one parental complaint to make a whole lot of mess for both the school and for me.
Generally I have found, on the rare occasions I have been able to squeeze a bit of astrological knowledge into my lessons that pupils are curious about anything not offered on the national curriculum: they want to know more about meditation, astrology, the paranormal and metaphysics. Whilst it is not possible to focus on these issues, there is always a way to point a pupil towards independent study should they express an interest.
Alex is an astrologer, writer and musician currently on a teaching sabbatical to promote "Growing Pains," a book about the astrology of adolescence. This year, she has spoken at the Astrological Association's conference, The International Society of Astrological Research (ISAR) at Phoenix, The Austin Astrology Association in Texas and State the Art Astrology (SOTA) at Niagara Falls. On top of a busy speaking schedule, she is writing several other books (both fiction and astrological) and has managed to squeeze in performing with the South London Jazz Orchestra at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and other gigs.