The Case for Keeping the Same Teacher

By Thesa Callinicos

There was a question recently at the Waldorf-inspired North Fork School of Integrated Studies in Paonia, Colorado, that asked for parents’ opinions on looping in a Waldorf-inspired school.

Very few people here in Paonia have experienced their child having the same teacher for more than two, let alone six or eight years.

When asked about it,

  • Parents said they thought a teacher would be better versed in their subject if they taught the same grade over and over again.
  • Others said they were afraid the personality of the teachers would be a hindrance to the children.
  • Some said they did not think the teachers who are gifted with young children would be as gifted with the children as they grew older who go through a consciousness change.

Well, why do we do it and what does it mean to the children and the teachers?

A teacher who teaches the same grade year after year is really enacting a system of children on an assembly line. This is a recipe for a good working machine. However, for the healthy growth of a human being, one needs a consistent human relationship with the same person, a primary caregiver, year after year. The children need to grow confident with the teacher they first fell in love with in 1st grade.

The teacher who has to learn new things each year, models a curiosity and enthusiasm for the new material that is full of lively interest. The teachers themselves are learning new things! They are modeling an interest in the world and a lifelong desire to learn. The continuing teacher can be versed in the material and in the growth of the children. Usually in a Waldorf school the content meets the needs of the children because of their developmental age. Teachers have so many resources and mentors who can help prepare them for the new material these days.

Parents have personalities too. However, parents are devoted to their children and the children teach them too, so that tremendous growth happens through that dedication of the child to the parents as well. So, it is with teachers. Every night the teacher considers the needs of the children. Some days they succeed and other days they fall short. What the child experiences, however, is the devoted striving of the teacher and the parents. Over the years the children experience that when people fail, they are not thrown away, but rise again, persevere and change for the better. Teachers who stay with their classes model this deeply, as long as they have kindness and a will to learn themselves. They can have that at home and at school. It is the guru effect for the elementary years.

(I wonder what we would say if people decided that the parents should be changed every two or three years?)

The class teacher is not the only teacher the children experience. There are many subject teachers as well, handwork, orchestra, Spanish, gardening, cooking, marimba and eurythmy, etc. Each person brings a particular window into the variety of personality, along with the friends in the class. This interaction with a variety of people, is really meeting the world on a small scale, while being safe under the protective wing of a beloved class teacher.

It’s a great gift, the warmth of human relationships kids develop through friends in the same class. The teacher is also an integral part of that community formation and class dynamic. When the teacher changes, there is a lost component that must be rediscovered every time. Faithfulness must be renewed. There are qualitative new expectations to sort out. The teacher must be understood again as must the children.

Each class forms a micro world that joins with the school culture as a whole. It’s the consistency of those relationships that last a lifetime. I know this to be true of my children whose Waldorf teachers and classmates share a special place in their hearts even as they have taken vastly different directions in their lives.

Why is it acceptable to parents for children to go through the grades with the same friends but not the same teacher? Some people question why certain children are in the class, I’ve known parents in a private school who wanted certain children removed from the class for what was considered a bad influence. Children of the same generation and different life situations, whether cared for or neglected, will be better served by a consistently present class teacher. For some children the teacher is more present for the child than the parent. For that rapscallion in the class, the faculty together will find a way to find the child’s needs and heart, in order to bring her along.

Colleagues do that for teachers too. Teachers are not left in isolation. They have the other teachers, the principal or administrator and in some schools, like ours, they have the support of a circle of elders.

It is how we help each other along the path that makes all the difference.

Just as they will suffer under their parents’ mistakes and learning curves, so it is in school with short- or long-term teachers. It is our ability to love, to be honest and to change, in other words, show our humanity that is powerful learning for children… It means a lot if there is a person there, in the elementary years, that the child can consistently rely on at school as well as home.

Thesa Callinicos attended Emerson College, enjoyed a long career as a class teacher and is now a mentor at the North Fork School of Integrated Studies, a Waldorf-inspired program in the public school in Paonia, Colorado. She also teaches at the Gradalis Teacher Training.