Classy teacher

By Mathias Maurer, February 2014

Dear Reader,

The developing child demands a developing teacher. That makes exceptionally high demands of the latter.

Teachers should not educate but bring abilities to light – in themselves and the child.

Against the background of an understanding of the human being based on spiritual science, Rudolf Steiner saw teachers not as simply having educational but also therapeutic and pastoral responsibilities. Furthermore, their task made them responsible for the destiny of each one of their pupils. In other words, class teachers must expect to be challenged as human beings by their pupils. No marks, no having to repeat a year can protect teachers from difficult pupils and times of crisis, particularly if they are in charge of a class community for a number of years. They will quickly notice that if they do not grow and develop with their pupils, they may well fall out of this community.

But the willingness to educate ourselves becomes all the more difficult if the cooperation between parents and teachers leads to too much friction or parents’ evenings turn into a monthly trial. Stonewalling quickly sets in. Teachers hole up in their “kingdom” behind closed classroom doors and the parents talk themselves into simmering discontent in the car park. The teaching profession in this sense is highly risky, but the “rewards” of the job if successful can be immense: pupils, teachers and parents develop and mature through one another – something that can be experienced over and again at monthly festivals, concerts, theatre performances, the presentation of year projects and many other things.  

As satisfying or, indeed, stressful as a long period as a class teacher can be, it is not dogma. When he founded the first Waldorf school in 1919, Rudolf Steiner did not lay out the class teacher period as a rigid eight-year educational concept but kept it flexible – both downwards and upwards.

He was more interested in the class teacher principle as such. The eight years were due more to pragmatic considerations because at that time compulsory schooling ended after seven or eight years; only later, when the school had grown, was the upper school added.

The period which a class teacher can sustain depends on the individual capacities and abilities of the teacher to “change method” – from “child care worker” to “world citizen”. A lack of ability to change not infrequently coincides with burnout, disciplinary difficulties and the loss of “difficult” pupils.

Some schools regulate it on an individual basis, others have turned it into a policy: the middle school models offer “relief” with regard to the critical phases in the class teacher period but also remove possible reciprocal developmental opportunities.

The constancy of a “beloved authority” provides inner support and a reliable relationship for many children today – the fundamental prerequisites for the ability to develop an emotionally stable self.

Mathias Maurer


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