Steiner schools have a different structure to most other schools in that the class stays with the same teacher for eight years.
This is from the age of seven to fourteen.
Sometimes schools try to use this as a selling point. They claim it provides continuity, and is a way of the children and the teacher developing a “special relationship”.
In the handbook, this group as a whole is referred to as a “tribe” (page 23). A section at the end of the Handbook for Waldorf Class Teachers “How to make it difficult for anyone else to teach your class – ever!” also emphasises the importance of this special relationship.
The compiler Kevin Avison says the title of this section is ironic. What about the content? And what about the rest of this almost unbelievably “cosmic” so-called teaching guide? He says some of the points in this section “…may even be indispensable for the bond the class and teacher must form…”
He says that in the event of a new teacher having to take over the class “the immune system of the group rejects the alien presence in its life stream”.
One of the most worrying recommendations in this section is “Make a particular point of cultivating the strongest leaders in the class so that they see you as their special ally, the only adult who understands them”. Remember, this is advice to teachers! How must the rest of the children feel knowing there is a special bond between the “strongest” children and the teacher?
As mentioned in Seduction I see this as a highly suspect way of controlling children’s behaviour. It all seems claustrophobic and unhealthy.
Of course in any class situation, the way the teacher deals with the children is important – class management is a significant part of successful teaching. But as professionals, teachers are trained to do this without the use of the mind control techniques which are apparently used in Steiner schools.
Spending eight years in the same class with the same teacher could be extremely uncomfortable for certain children.
It is clear that relationships between a teacher and individual children will vary somewhat in any school; in general staff behave in a professional manner and it would be a poor teacher who showed favouritism openly or equally a dislike of certain children. But it is evident that some teachers develop better relationships with some children than others, and this is due simply to personalities.
There will always be certain people we relate well to, and others we do not. I remember the feeling of relief at my secondary school when we had a different maths teacher from the previous one, who was difficult to understand.
Even Steiner teachers, I hope, would make an effort to bring out the best in all children, but with the best will in the world, (more so without karma in the equation!) there will be a better rapport with some than with others.
Having a shuffle of classes at the end of each academic year seems highly desirable, or at least after a couple of years, in a small school.
It is easy to imagine the way the “hierarchical system” mentioned by the Hereford Steiner Academy student, could develop among the children, and be maintained in such an environment. The teacher may even be condoning it, in a subconscious way. And of course the instances of bullying we read about can more easily explained once we understand this.
Specialist subject: Anthroposophy
There are academic consequences too for the way classes are structured in Steiner schools.
The Morning Lesson takes place for at least 2 hours each day in the classroom with the class teacher. Whereas in most schools (from the age of 11) children will split into different groups for specific subjects.
This explains why the Head of Science at a Steiner school I wrote about was only part-time; there will be a reduced amount of time for specific subjects with specialist teachers.
Steiner teachers will often not even have a specialist subject – unless the specialism is anthroposophy….
They may only have been trained at a Waldorf Steiner teacher training centre, if at all, and from looking at requirements for Steiner teacher training, may not even have A levels.
The thought of children spending 8 years in the same group with the same teacher who they may or may not feel comfortable with, and who may or may not be professionally trained, is worrying.
It does allow us to understand how some of the problems unique to Steiner can develop. It is a completely different set-up. Whilst this may be one of the attractions for those who seize on anything “alternative” as better, I can imagine it may not seem attractive from a child’s point of view.
It could feel more like a Jail sentence than an attempt at continuity, to the child spending each morning with the same teacher and the same children – especially if they are not one of the “strong” ones.