“I am confident that the education they have received will make them individuals who can and will take the time to think for themselves and inspire and lead others.”
Imagine the first day of first grade. A child enters with such anticipation, eagerness, apprehension, even awe! Slowly, even painstakingly, a relationship is built up between a young child and his teacher: a relationship second only to that a child has with his parents. Receptivity to learning is nurtured by the trust born of this relationship.
The Waldorf Class Teacher has the unique opportunity to build on this relationship throughout multiple years of a child’s schooling. She is the “first among equals” in the child’s constellation of teachers (others include: a foreign language teacher, a games teacher, a music teacher, a strings teacher, a handwork teacher and a woodworking teacher). It is the class teacher who greets the child in the morning and dismisses him in the afternoon, and it is she who leads the “morning lesson blocks” all year long. Thus the class teacher is responsible for teaching reading and writing, arithmetic, history, geography, the sciences, grammar, and so on. Most class teachers serve as their class’ painting teacher, drawing teacher, and modeling teacher as well. The class teacher also leads the younger children in rhythmic games and songs, and guides the older students in discussions about current events and the perils of adolescence.
This teacher comes to know the children, their “learning styles”, and their developmental needs in a comprehensive manner. That which she perceives to be a problem for a given child at the close of first grade will not simply be noted and passed on to a new second grade teacher; on the contrary, the child will often continue his schooling under the careful eye of the same teacher. No time is lost ‘getting to know” a new class each year. Nor is there a need for testing to discover what material has been previously covered. This approach allows for tremendous responsiveness by the teacher for her class. A developmentally older group can move more quickly through the material; a younger group can take the time needed to truly comprehend what is being presented before continuing. Gone is the pressure to ‘push ahead’ in order to cover that year’s material regardless of the long-term consequences.
Many parents express concern over personality conflicts in such a system. “What if the Class Teacher doesn’t like my child?” They may ask. A Waldorf teacher will often respond: “You have a child. What if you don’t like your child?” This reflects the depth of the relationship developed in these years and the commitment a Waldorf Class Teacher makes to her children. The Waldorf School is tantamount to a second family life. In our age, where family is less stable than ever before, often the Class Teacher is one of the most stable features in the child’s life.
Naturally situations arise when a teacher is unable to continue with his or her class, or a particular school may elect to loop teachers in a four rather than eight-year cycle. Thus one teacher carries the class for 1st – 4th grade and another teacher carries them 5th – 8th grade, allowing both to focus more deeply on a specific developmental phase. Keeping in mind the strong educational philosophy Waldorf teachers share, these transitions are as seamless as possible given that a beloved teacher is leaving and a soon to be beloved teacher is coming. In addition, though it may become necessary to welcome another class teacher due to unexpected circumstances, the constellation of subject teachers remains consistent, aiding a smooth transition..
The results of these nurturing relationships developed over time have lasting effects on the child as they grow to adulthood. The young child who entered 1st grade with such anticipation, becomes the confident Middle School student ready and eager to move on to High School.