Frequently Asked Questions
What is the benefit of having the same class teacher from 1st through 8th grade?
Meaningful education depends upon a relationship of trust and respect between a pupil and a teacher, and equally important, between the teacher and the parents. Without such relationships, it is difficult to support the healthy growth of a child while encouraging the participation of parents.
Developing these relationships takes commitment from the adults involved and builds over time. When conflicts arise, as they surely may between teachers and children or their parents, the teacher must assess the source of conflict and take steps to resolve it, including accepting the responsibility to make personal changes if needed. In other words, he or she must assume adult responsibility for solving the problem.
Different schools have different problem solving processes, but the goal is to solve the conflict in such a way that the human relationships deepen and, as in a family, everyone grows from the experience. If the problem really cannot be solved, schools have policies in place to determine whether the relationship has been damaged sufficiently that a teacher must be discharged or a student must find another school. This is rarely necessary, for with the good will of the teacher and parents and the help of the school community, relationships can usually be restored to a healthy place.
How do class teachers prepare to teach all eight years of elementary school?
Beginning in first grade, students have not only a class teacher, but also specialist teachers in foreign language, physical education, handwork, fine and practical arts, eurythmy and music. The class teacher is responsible for the main academic content in the two-hour main lesson. A Waldorf teacher must be highly qualified, with a bachelor's degree and specialized Waldorf training. In addition, class teachers attend yearly conferences during summer months with master teachers who help them to prepare curriculum for the next school year.
One must also keep in mind that a successful Waldorf teacher is not only presenting academic knowledge to the students, but is also actively seeking to awaken capacities in the children: to think clearly and critically, to develop empathy and understanding of the world, and to distinguish what is beautiful, good and true in the world. Waldorf teachers are trained to teach children to see cause and effect in the world and perceive meaning in all things, so that they will be able to participate meaningfully in shaping their world as free human beings.
At what point do children learn to read?
Learning to read is an entire process with many contributory facets, and Waldorf education undertakes reading instruction in almost the opposite way that it is introduced in most schools across the nation. Indeed, the foundation for reading instruction is laid in the pre-k and kindergarten.
In the United States, the mainstream approach to reading has been to introduce decoding skills as the first step in the reading process. This entails memorizing the alphabet and its corresponding sounds through repetitive drills and then linking these sounds together to read simple words and sentences. This is the approach that is built into early readers. You probably remember: "See Jane run. Run, Jane, run. Run, run, run," or some similar type of reading material when you were in school. Because the content of these early readers must be very simple to restrict words to those that can be easily sounded out, teachers are forced to wait until the middle and upper elementary years to work on more sophisticated texts. Then teachers must work hard to improve comprehension since the pupils at this age have already moved beyond the phase when imaginative thinking is at its peak.
There is a second concern about teaching reading skills in this sequence. This approach is difficult for many young children because, in many cases, their eye muscles have not matured to the point where they can track properly on a page. Thus, a number of children will be labeled as slow or remedial readers simply because their eyes may not have matured as early as other children.
Waldorf education approaches reading instruction from an almost opposite direction so that instruction is synchronous with the development of children. Reading is much more than recognizing sound/symbol relationships. For true reading to occur, there must be a corresponding inner activity that takes place as the child decodes words; that is, the child must form an inner picture of what he or she is reading so that comprehension develops. The rich life of the imagination is most potent in a child during prek, kindergarten and early elementary years and is present at the same time that the child's sense for the sound and rhythm of language is at its peak.
To capture these capacities at the time that they are most present in the child is the rationale for a foundation of reading that begins first with spoken language. The rich language of fairy tales, the pictorial imagery of songs and poems and the desire of the young child to listen to stories, repeat rhymes and sing songs all become the basis for a language arts curriculum through which a child may come to love "the word." Imagine how much more complex and imaginative are the stories to which a child may be introduced if they are orally presented rather than through the simplistic language of a reader. Imagine how much a child's vocabulary can develop from listening to the content that the teacher brings. Imagine also how much more sophisticated a child's understanding of the world can become through hearing the rich and complex language in the teacher's presentations and stories.
For all of these reasons, Waldorf students will be given a strong foundation in comprehension, vocabulary and the sounds and meanings of their native tongue. Then students will be introduced to writing and spelling the letters and words that are part of their stories. And, as a final step, the students will read from their own texts, describing the stories that they have heard. In this way, students have the proper time to develop all of the skills that are part of the complex skill of reading at the time when it is most appropriate for them to do so. When reading is approached in this way, children become voracious readers who love and understand what they choose to read.
How is technology used in a Waldorf School?
Computers are incredible tools that save adults enormous amounts of work and time. Computers are not, however, the most desirable or effective medium for educating children in the elementary school. Several concerns will be summarized here, but books by Joseph Chilton Pearce, Neil Postman, Jane Healey and The Future Does Not Compute by Steven Talbot explore this topic in much more depth.
The primary reason that Waldorf schools do not use computers is our insistence that young children make contact with real people and real environments in order to build a base of real experience. Language skills, for instance, depend upon a responsive human being who listens, responds, and communicates feelings as well as content.
Children who use word processing are missing the lessons of will and purpose involved in writing out a lesson with their own hand, as well as the spatial sense and aesthetic judgment that are part of the practice of handwriting. We believe children learn better from experience in the real world than from reading information on a computer. Knowing about frogs means smelling the pond, feeling the slipperiness of the frog's skin, listening to the frog's call, and watching the patience of the frog catching his supper. The real world is much more complex and whole than the virtual world of the computer.
Young children who use a computer to write a paper only too quickly depend on down-loading the ideas and thoughts of others and forego the time and effort involved in being original. And for the younger child, sitting in front of a computer, rather than moving and acting in the real world, robs the child of the very activity that "hardwires" his own brain and ultimately assists in the thinking process itself. The controversy over computer technology in the elementary classroom rages amongst educators across the nation, but the reality is that Waldorf students do not suffer deficits from not having computer instruction, but indeed develop important capacities of imagination, thought and will-power by not depending upon computers to do their work at this age.
Waldorf teachers do not believe computers are always inappropriate. They simply believe they are not effective educational tools for young children. In a Waldorf high school you will find students actually building their own computers, thereby developing a more thorough knowledge of computers and technology than most children who grew up with them from the beginning.
Talk to a Waldorf educator or parent for more insight into this subject, or refer to one of the authors mentioned above. You may be surprised at how many people do not automatically accept computer instruction as a necessary or even desirable way to teach elementary--age children.
How do Detroit Waldorf students transition to high school?
The Detroit Waldorf School has graduated over 40 eighth grade classes in its history and has ample evidence that the students not only make successful transitions to their new high schools, but also excel in all areas of school life. Waldorf strives to give students a well-rounded education for many reasons: so that they will be knowledgeable about the world; so that they will have superb academic skills and the ability to think clearly and creatively; so that they will have the practical and artistic skills to build the world of their imaginations; so that they will have the reverence for life and the concern for the future that will motivate them to take up the problems that need to be solved; and so that they will have the compassion and respect for their fellow human beings to act with integrity and brotherhood.
Our students have become valedictorians and leaders in many area high schools, and we invite you to attend one of our alumni evenings to judge for yourself the value a Waldorf education could offer your own child.