Long-term teacher-student and teacher-family relationships are a vital way a Waldorf school builds community and delivers education. Just as we see the curriculum on an arc of several years, we also value a growing and ever-evolving relationship between a teacher and a student.
In our early childhood we achieve this with a mixed-age kindergarten where a young child gets to know their teacher (and assistants) over two to three years of time together. We are fortunate here to have an experienced and stable early childhood teaching team, and teachers who are raising their own families in Waldorf education. Our teachers offer a partnership with parents, a wonderful resource through early childhood development; where parents see their own child, our teachers see many children.
In the grade school, class teachers loop up with their students through the grades. While not necessarily unique to Waldorf education, "looping" teachers are relatively rare in American education. A class teacher has been a fixture of the Waldorf grade school since Rudolf Steiner founded the first school; Steiner believed that the strong relationship forged between a teacher and a student was essential to a robust education, and an aid to healthy child development. Our students begin each day and have main lesson with their class teacher, even while they have a chance to learn from other teachers in the specialty classes that follow. When a teacher spends this much time with his or her class, education is truly a child-centered journey, allowing a teacher to know a particular constellation of students and bring and build on developmentally appropriate and emotionally engaging education each year. Both teachers and children are engaged together in a variety of ways, and each one of them is an artist, a scientist, a mathematician, a poet and a musician, experiencing the breadth of human endeavor together; children have a chance to try on a variety of skills and disciplines on their way toward adulthood.
Relationships are fostered over many years, and class communities are built and tended through inevitable ups and downs. It is the necessary work of the teacher to know and see each student and to strive to meet them where they are developmentally. Learning to relate to one another in a constructive and loving way is essential human work, and a long-term, trusting relationship between teacher and student in a Waldorf school is one valued way we can model the importance of this.
Parent-teacher conferences are coming up -- dare we suggest that you hug your child's teacher? Talk with them, take advantage of their skill and deep knowledge of your beloved family members, speak openly about challenges and questions, and ask for what you need! We invite you to strengthen our community by celebrating the blessing of these relationships.
To read more:
- Missi Goss wrote her letter in our weekly newsletter to accompany this article, October 18, 2016.
- Multi-year Teaching in the Grade School, The Waldorf School of Philadelphia blog, October 30, 2015.
- Class Teachers in a Waldorf School, by Christof Wiechert, Pedagogical Section of the Goetheanum Journal, no. 54, 2015.
- Characteristics of a Steiner/Waldorf School, Pedagogical Section of the Goetheanum Journal, no. 53, 2014.
- Looping: Supporting Student Learning Through Long-Term Relationships, the LAB at Brown University, 1997.