Class teachers worldwide. First results of a survey

By Ricarda Kindt, Tomás Zdrazil, February 2016

The International Conference of the Waldorf movement has set itself the topic of the class teacher. Rudolf Steiner considered it particularly important that one class teacher should look after a class for as long as possible.

Photo: © Charlotte Fischer

As we know, Steiner’s suggestions led to the creation of the eight-year class teacher principle: from class 1 to class 8 one class teacher should ideally teach their class for at least two hours each day in main lesson. Now the class teacher principle has been engaged in a process of transformation in many places for some time. Alongside measures which have as their goal to support the class teacher in their many years-long task – this includes assistant teachers, main lesson exchange or team teaching – it can also happen that the period in which a class teacher looks after a class is radically shortened.

In addition, the phenomenon exists in the Netherlands that there is no longer one class teacher but that two class teachers “share” one class and teach on different days of the week.

With the intention of stimulating debate and putting the discussion on a factual footing through a more precise picture of the situation of the class teacher in the various countries, the International Conference decided to undertake a survey. The aim of this worldwide survey was to determine how the first eight years are handled in Waldorf schools with regard to the class teacher principle. How many schools actually shorten the class teacher period? What middle school models follow the shortened class teacher time?

Questionnaires were sent to all country representatives in the International Conference by the Pedagogical Section at the Goetheanum in Dornach in July 2013. The only exception was Germany since a comparable survey had already been undertaken there in 2012. The country representatives in the International Conference were asked to forward the questionnaires to Waldorf schools in their country.

The survey was coordinated as part of a Master’s dissertation. The questionnaire consisted of nine quantitative and two more open questions. There were responses from 25 countries. In many countries the participation of Waldorf schools in the survey was gratifyingly high, in some countries it tended to be low.

In looking at the results, it can be seen that there are countries in which the Waldorf schools are exclusively attempting to realise an eight-year and in some cases even a nine-year class teacher period. To find these countries on the map we have to turn eastwards from Germany. They are Japan, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Ukraine and Hungary.

The opposite pole, countries in which no school any longer proposes the concept of an eight-year class teacher period, can be found to the west, represented by Belgium and the Netherlands. According to the survey, there are no Waldorf schools with an eight-year class teacher period in these countries. In the Netherlands 53 of the 72 Waldorf schools and in Belgium 9 of the 15 Waldorf schools participated in the survey.

In Australia, New Zealand and Switzerland, too, the class teacher period is shorter than eight years in three quarters of Waldorf schools. In Denmark, France, Norway and Austria the eight-year class teacher principle is implemented in about half of Waldorf schools. Although in Italy and Germany the shortened class teacher period plays a part, it is insignificant in percentage terms.

How, then, are the first eight years structured in the Waldorf schools which do not attempt to implement the class teacher principle in the traditional way? In many of these schools the class teacher period is reduced to six years which is followed by a middle school concept with a new “middle school class teacher”, in rare cases with a co-operative leadership.

Some countries practice a seven-year class teacher period. This happens particularly frequently in Norway where there are 16 Waldorf schools. But there are also countries in which the Waldorf schools in part provide for a change of class teacher well before the sixth school year in their concept. Such schools are the exception in most countries except in the Netherlands and Belgium where it happens in more than half of Waldorf schools.

In the Netherlands it is the case that a pupil in the first six years will have a new class teacher in a two-year rhythm – that is, three different class teachers within six years – and that it happens not just in emergencies but because this is what is provided for in the concept of the school. It might well be described as a complete departure from the class teacher principle.

What has induced individual countries to make such changes?

The reasons are different for each country but also for each Waldorf school. The aim of the survey was in the first instance to determine the way things are handled rather than investigate the motives. A study of the results led to a more detailed look at the background in two countries.

We will begin by looking at Australia where the state school system influenced the decision to shorten the class teacher period. Then we will take a look at the Netherlands where – alongside the often greatly reduced class teacher period – there is additionally the phenomenon mentioned above that two people “share” a class.


In Australia there are many Waldorf schools which do not offer an upper school. The pupils change to state schools after their time in the Waldorf school. Now high school in many parts of Australia already starts in class 7 and sometimes in class 8. It is frequently difficult to obtain a place in secondary school which puts pressure on parents to register their children as early as possible.

But the children themselves often have the wish to attend high school from the beginning and not to join at a later time. All of these things mean that many pupils leave the Waldorf school after class 6. Schools which nevertheless aim for an eight-year class teacher period face the problem of a lack of pupils in classes 7 and 8.

Many schools have therefore decided both for financial and educational reasons in favour of a six or seven-year class teacher period. Furthermore, the Waldorf schools without an upper school often lack proper facilities and equipment for the teaching in class 7 and 8 such as chemistry and physics labs. Then there is the absence of specialist advice from upper school colleagues in the science subjects. It is significantly easier to implement an eight-year class teacher period in Waldorf schools with an own upper school.


When we look at the Netherlands, the impression arises that the influence of the state on Waldorf schools is very great. In 1998, the Waldorf schools financed by the state were obliged to establish a “middle school”. Teachers with different qualifications from those in “lower school” were to teach in “middle school”. Schools which only consisted of a lower school were to transfer their pupils to the state “middle school” at the end of class 6.

As a result, the class teacher period in all Dutch Waldorf schools was at that time reduced to six years. It is nevertheless the case that today only 24 of the 52 Waldorf schools which responded are endeavouring to have the class teacher look after a class for six years; in the remaining 29 schools the class teacher changes once or twice in the first six years.

Another fascinating innovation in the Netherlands is that – as mentioned above – there are so-called “duo classes”, that is classes in which two class teachers teach a class together, doing so on different days of the week. Occasional instances of such “duo classes” occur in all 52 of the Waldorf schools participating in the survey. The reason given was that in Holland 95 percent of all class teachers are women of whom many want part-time employment in order better to be able to combine work and family. The so-called duo classes were set up out of the necessity of not being able to find enough class teachers prepared to work full time.

The International Conference will continue to concern itself with these results. The aim of the talks is to strengthen the occupational profile of the class teacher, which is of such central importance for Waldorf education, worldwide.

About the authors: Ricarda Kindt is a former student at the Freie Hochschule Stuttgart and currently teaching at the Aachen Free Waldorf School. Prof. Dr. Tomás Zdrazil was a class teacher in the Czech Republic. He lectures at the Freie Hochschule Stuttgart.


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