Discover Waldorf Education: Helping Your Child’s Teacher Communicate

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Although Waldorf schools are unique in “honoring the oral tradition” as a viable means of transmitting knowledge, they are not immune to the “communication problems” that are rampant in virtually every institution in our time. What follows are some suggestions to ameliorate this problem, and to open up the conduits of conversation that must underlie every healthy parent/teacher relationship.

    Although Waldorf schools are unique in “honoring the oral tradition” as a viable means of transmitting knowledge, they are not immune to the “communication problems” that are rampant in virtually every institution in our time.  What follows are some suggestions to ameliorate this problem, and to open up the conduits of conversation that must underlie every healthy parent/teacher relationship.

    Most of your communication will be with your child’s class teacher.  Although, as your child goes up the grades, she will spend a lot of her class time with “specialist teachers,” e.g., in Handwork, Eurythmy, German, Orchestra, etc., it is the responsibility of the class teacher to be aware of your child’s progress in all of her classes, and it is he who will come to know your child and your family best.  Since Waldorf teachers also shoulder a lot of the school’s administrative responsibility, parents are sometimes unclear about whom to address when there are major problems.  Your school should provide you with a clear description of its “channels of communication.”


Parent Conferences

   
1.    Parents and the class teacher should meet at least once a year; twice a year is good in first and second grades; much more frequently if there are difficulties.
   
2.    In the course of the meeting, the class teacher should share with you:
   
•    Main lesson books, form drawings, paintings (and, in later grades, compositions and written math work) done by your child.  She should be able to give you a picture of your child as it manifests in this work.  Make sure that the teacher insists that every child complete his main lesson book, and that specialist teachers follow suit: work left incomplete weakens the children’s will.
•    Samples of other children’s work, so that you can get a sense of your child’s work in the context of the whole class.
•    A clear description of your child’s progress in writing, reading and arithmetic (early grades) and, in later grades, a sense of your child’s progress in cognitive abilities (grasp of science phenomena; grasp of historical concepts, etc.).  Ask for concrete examples.
•    Problems and challenges faced by your child, and steps and you and the teacher can take to remediate them.  A date should be set at this meeting to review your child’s progress.
   
3.    Be direct in your dealings with your child’s class teacher.  Don’t hold back a deep concern or justified criticism just because the teacher looks stressed, or tired, or ill, or overworked — Waldorf teachers are often all of the above!  As in other human interactions, the worst problems grow from those minor misunderstandings that are allowed to fester. 
   
4.    Where there are persistent tensions or misunderstandings between you and the class teacher, request the presence of a senior faculty member (faculty chair, College member, etc.) in the meeting.
   
5.    You should request a short written memorandum of the meeting to be sent promptly to you; if you do not agree with the memo’s content, advise the teacher in writing.
   
6.    Avoid “Parking Lot Meetings” with your child’s class teacher and do not stop to chat with him when you are delivering your child to school or coming to fetch your child at the day’s end!  At such times, the teacher is still responsible for his children, and he is attuned to their level of consciousness, not to the mindset required for an adult conversation.  The best meetings between parents and teachers are those that are scheduled and prepared in advance.

Other Communications

1.    The teacher should provide parents with hours in which she can be reached by phone at home.  Please respect those hours; teachers need a home life, too.
   
2.    In the first three grades, help your child’s teacher create a class newsletter.  Items might include notes about current main lessons, class events, parent gatherings, advice on seasonal activities, poems and songs that the class in learning.
   
3.    Help your school create a handbook with addresses and phone numbers of the whole parent body, school guidelines and policies, etc.

Parent Evenings

1.    In the first three grades, there should be four parent evenings a year; after that, three meetings may be sufficient.
   
2.    Meetings should begin and end promptly — 7:30 to 9:30 is a good time span.  If a parent asks an important question at 9:29 (which is not uncommon), the teacher should invite those who wish to pursue this question to stay on to discuss it, but announce that the scheduled meeting has ended.  If parents experience meetings going overtime again and again, they will stop coming, as well they should!
   
3.    In every meeting, one of the class’s specialist teachers should appear to make a presentation about the subject she is teaching, and to answer questions concerning her classes.
   
4.    Meetings should have three or four segments, which may include:
•    An on-going presentation of the developmental stage at which the class stands — this, after all, is the foundation upon which Waldorf teaching rests.
•    A description of the main lesson blocks covered since the last meeting.
•    An opportunity for parents to have a “hands-on” experience of a subject, e.g., painting, form drawing, eurythmy, Spanish, math etc.
•    A presentation by a specialist teacher.
•    A discussion of the class’s social challenges, and the way in which the teachers are meeting them.
•    At least half an hour for questions.
   
5.    All of the children’s recent class work should be on display.  Parents would do well to circulate around the room, to see their own child’s work in the context of the whole class.  In the absence of letter or numerical grades, this is the only way to judge “where the child stands” in a Waldorf setting.
   
6.    Don’t judge a class teacher’s effectiveness in the classroom on the basis of her parent evenings.  After all, she has chosen to be a teacher of children, not of adults, and the presence of the parent body may be intimidating.  A person who is stiff or forgetful or boring when standing before adults may actually be vital and inspiring when placed before a group of children!
 

Written Reports

1.    Parents should know how many written reports they will receive each year and when they will receive them.  Except in emergency situations, do not tolerate late reports; they are often an indication that the teacher is experiencing difficulties in other areas of life as well.  It is essential that the class teacher is available to discuss the report after you receive it, and not already on vacation; for this reason, reports that arrive in July should be unacceptable.
   
2.    The written report should hold no surprises!  If the teacher tells you something in writing that she has not already conveyed to you orally (in a parent conference, by phone etc.), there has been a serious lapse in communication.  Review the year with the teacher and discuss ways in which such a lapse can be prevented in the future.
       
3.    Beware of the euphemisms and flowery language that can readily creep into a Waldorf report.  Ask the teacher to write in clear English — if your child ever transfers to another school, these reports will be the only records available. 

4.    Before the school year begins, your child’s class teacher should send you an outline of the main lesson blocks that will be taught that year.  At the year’s end, she should include a more detailed description of that material that was actually covered in those blocks.  If any blocks were shortened, lengthened or left out altogether, an explanation should be provided.

5.   At the conclusion of every block, it is helpful if the class teacher sends a short note to the parents telling them what was accomplished, what artistic activities accompanied the block, e.g. main lesson books, clay models, a performance, etc.  Your child’s teacher can also say something about the block that is to come.  Although such a letter may take no more than half an hour for the teacher to compose, it can provide a way for you to stimulate interesting, school-related conversations with your child.

More help is available on lectures by Eugene Schwartz that are available on the Online CD Catalog at www.millennialchild.com.