The key to education is human connection and in Waldorf education this is uniquely fostered by students typically having one main teacher for a portion, or all, of their elementary school years. While this custom seems strange in modern times, it was common in the past within small communities. Waldorf Educators see many benefits to preserving this once traditional model, which lends itself to a deep human connection, more personalized education for students, a cohesive classroom environment and more focused learning overall.
Each student is unique, with their own special gifts, personalities and learning styles. These traits develop, blossom and change over time and it is difficult for a teacher, who only knows a student for 9 months, to truly understand and appreciate their individual needs.
Waldorf Class teachers are given the gift of time to deeply understand each of their students, which allows them to serve as the child’s true learning advocate. The teacher also discusses the gifts and needs of each child with subject teachers (Spanish, handwork, woodworking, gym, music, gardening) and parents, which further helps them develop techniques that suit individual children and work well for the class as a whole.
This collaborative long view, and individualized relationship, deeply benefits the child in a way that no other approach or method could achieve.
When a teacher knows each individual student, it helps the cohesion of the class as a whole. Just as each child has individual learning styles and needs, they also have very specific social and emotional needs.
Waldorf educators do not diminish the importance of social/emotional learning. Sometimes referred to as “Character Education,” these lessons include development of sense of self, perseverance, resilience, collaborative skills and empathy. Teachers in a classroom that keeps the same students, year over year, can nurture and develop a child’s sense of themselves as social beings.
A teacher in this environment can also come to know each child’s individual temperament works within the classroom. Social problems, value differences, varied work styles or pace must be met head on as the whole class collaborates. Difficulties must be resolved. No child is passed over or passed on. Each child is essential in class.
The students also learn about the contributions and needs of one another. Children who learn together for four, six, or eight years also learn to work together just as they will be required to as adults in their families and the workplace. Each child’s unique personality becomes essential and understood for its value within class.
It is true, a child’s peers may recognize when someone is a slower reader, but if that same child is encouraged to help others struggling in math class, then the entire class comes to value each individual’s excellence and uniqueness. In this way, a classroom can come to feel like a family.
Focus on Learning
This individual attention and social cohesion brings the focus back onto learning. The one teacher model sidelines a myriad of common distractions within other classroom models, such as getting to know a new teacher, new students and assimilating to a new (or multiple) classrooms each year.
While these factors might seem trivial, they are very important to students, and Waldorf students don’t experience any of the anxiety brought forth by these constantly changing environments. The biggest change each year for students is the material they learn.
In addition to bringing the focus back on learning, the one teacher approach helps children learn by respecting and modeling a stable authority figure. Keeping the class teacher (by no means the child’s only teacher) as a steady authority in a child’s life is beneficial to social and intellectual learning.
Although it may be surprising, even older children model their behavior to the adults in their lives more so than their peers. A positive relationship with teachers have been proven to boost children’s esteem and learning.
But, What If . . .
My child and the teacher do not get along? While one could see the long term togetherness of varying personalities a potential disadvantage, the Waldorf approach sees it as an advantage. As with family, if a teacher and a child are struggling to work together, the teacher takes on the responsibility of working with the family as a whole to help develop a strong and positive relationship over time.
Waldorf teachers are specifically trained to both work on their own inner selves and learn to balance their relationships with each student. This includes a study of how to work with different personality types and learning styles, home visits to understand the child’s world, and regular parent teacher conferences and class meetings to better understand the child and his or her family. The positive experience a student can have when the teacher, child, and parents are working together over eight years, through difficult times and joyous times, cannot be matched.