THE GIFT OF TIME – MANY YEARS, ONE TEACHER
“Your Teachers Think Day and Night About What Your Future Will Be Like”
— Rudolf Steiner’s Words to the First Waldorf School Graduates
The figure of the class teacher is one of the most distinctive features of Waldorf education. The class teacher will work with the same group of children for a number of years— potentially (but not always) from first through eighth grade, or in loops, for example, from grades 1-5, or 6-8. Each class is also taught by additional teachers who specialize in modern languages and the various arts, who also stay with the students for a number of years. The class teacher, in collaboration with the special subject teachers, closely follows each child’s academic achievement and strives to help the students achieve their full potential.
Adam Grant recently published an article in The New York Times called What Most American Schools Do Wrong The title is inevitably catchy. It prompts readers to know more about what schools are doing wrong. However, Mr. Grant pivots in the opposite direction. He looked for the countries with the top education systems. Remarkably, small countries like Finland and Estonia had shown excellent results in their practices. One of the main reasons, according to different studies, is the presence of the same teacher in more than one grade during the elementary and middle school years.
Although this feature is not intrinsically unique of Waldorf Education, our schools have kept it a priority for more than one hundred years.
What the studies have found was that: “Instead of teaching a new cohort of students each year, teachers who practice ‘looping’ move up a grade or more with their students. It can be a powerful tool. And unlike many other educational reforms, looping doesn’t cost a dime.With more time to get to know each student personally, teachers gain a deeper grasp of the kids’ strengths and challenges. The teachers have more opportunities to tailor their instructional and emotional support to help all the students in the class reach their potential. They’re able to identify growth not only in peaks reached, but also in obstacles overcome. The nuanced knowledge they acquire about each student isn’t lost in the handoff to the next year’s teacher.”
Ms. Kelly, our current Grade 3 teacher, has taught different classes for a number of years:
“Because we spend multiple years teaching our students, we develop an intimate ‘knowing’ of each child; including strengths, challenges, and potential. This trusting and caring bond helps each student feel seen and loved, bringing about real striving on a personal level, artistically, and academically.”
As the Class Teacher’s knowledge of the children deepens, they are in an ideal position to contribute to the healthy intellectual, practical, emotional, and social development of each child. In this time of rapid cultural and technological change, having a class teacher for a number of years brings the child security. The Class Teacher brings unity and continuity to the curriculum, unifying the various disciplines over the years. The teacher is able to select, emphasize, and draw upon those aspects of each subject that best address the needs and interests of the class. Through the challenge of teaching a new curriculum each year, the class teacher brings special interest and enthusiasm to the work; and as students experience their teacher’s ability to make the world of knowledge their own, they grow in confidence that they too can master the many subjects before them.
“Every child has hidden potential. It’s easy to spot the ones who are already sparkling, but many students are uncut gems. When teachers stay with their students longer, they can see beyond the surface and recognize the brilliance beneath.”