Are there benefits to the middle school model?

By Ulrich Seifert, February 2014

The middle school concept is a controversial one. Based on an anthroposophical understanding of the human being, eight years as a class teacher or stopping with class 6 are equally plausible.

Photo: © Charlotte Fischer

Towards the end of a lively process in which the parents were involved, our school in Filderstadt reached the decision to conclude the class teacher period at the end of class 6 and to set up a separate middle school for classes 7 and 8.

The crucial points of view included the following:

  • The teacher-pupil relationship began to fray in the critical years of puberty.
  • Increasing disciplinary difficulties.
  • The class teachers lacked subject qualifications, particularly in the science subjects.
  • A growing need of the pupils for greater distance to the teacher.
  • There was a lack of experience and structures capable of advising parents and pupils on the problems of puberty.
  • The subject attainment of classes varied a great deal at the start of upper school.

Once the concept was complete, two colleagues of many years’ standing who had several times taken classes through eight years were appointed as middle school teachers. Since then, basic components of the model have been: one colleague takes a class through grades seven and eight as the reference person. He teaches about 60 percent of the main lessons in his class. The remainder is taught by the second colleague. One of them is responsible full time for all organisational questions, prepares parents’ evenings and is responsible for class plays, year projects and practicals. The new model received strong support in teachers’ meetings and parent bodies.

Initial concerns and doubts turned out to be unfounded. Great support for retaining the model was expressed on several occasions because both parents and teachers observed the following positive developments in comparison with the eight-year class teacher period:

  • The relationship between teacher and pupils appear more relaxed.
  • Pupils appear to value the greater personal distance.
  • The detachment process in puberty takes a smoother course.
  • Difficult teacher-pupil relationships develop positively.
  • As colleagues we experience the annual repetition of the main lessons as a benefit because they can be refined and extended.
  • The concern that paralysing monotony could set in due to annual repetition turned out to be unfounded as each class must be approached in a different way.
  • Projects outside lessons developed into a firm and reliable part of middle school. We were able to extend them and plan them more efficiently.
    Alongside annual projects and the class play, they include project days on drugs and sexuality, catering and business placements, training as school crossing wardens, the senior citizens’ café and a outdoor education school trip at the beginning of class 8.

Tandem model and subject specialisation

The constructive and effective work in our tandem model must be particularly highlighted. Whereas in the previous class teacher period there was often a feeling of being a “solitary ruler” in the land, there is now a constant close exchange of views on lessons, pupils, parent meetings and other events.

Often it is possible to advise and support one another without much ado in difficult educational situations. Furthermore, we can jointly have discussions with parents in a more objective and focused manner. The subject specialisation of both colleagues is an advantage.

It takes account of the need for the much greater subject knowledge which has been demanded in recent years and counters the frequent criticism of a lack of expertise in specific subjects among class teachers – not just in mathematics and the sciences. The college of class teachers experiences it as a relief not to have to teach in the middle school classes. We should also acknowledge that some find it easier to teach older children. It can, of course, be a wonderful task to teach a class for eight years. But the demands this places on the personality keep rising and we should at least reflect that. There should be a consensus in the view that none of the models block the way for Waldorf educational goals. There are no significant indications, either in terms of methodology or our understanding of the human being, which would suggest that one model is more beneficial than the other.

About the author: Ulrich Seifert was a co-founder of the Filderstadt Waldorf School in 1984 and has taught as a class teacher since then, in the last ten years in middle school; he is a lecturer at the Kassel Teacher Training Seminar and a member of the advisory board of the Educational Research Centre

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