The trigger for the Engelberg middle school model came from upper school teachers who were frequently dissatisfied with the educational results provided by class teachers – particularly in classes 7 and 8.
They attributed these perceived deficiencies to the lack of scientific knowledge of the class teachers. Teachers who specially prepared for the educational requirements of classes 7 to 9 were intended to improve the teaching situation for middle school pupils as well as providing relief for the class and upper school teachers. The middle school teachers have one major subject which they teach not just in their own class but also in those of their colleagues. Implementation began in 1995 and in 2002 experiences were discussed at two conferences. There were opposing points of view. The middle school teachers experienced class 9 as a gain for middle school, to which it now formed the conclusion. The upper school teachers regretted no longer being able to start with class 9 as those pupils were still more flexible in being able to adapt of the upper school style. The reduced upper school now had a stronger focus on exams, developmental work for the pupils took second place.
While middle school teachers emphasised that pupils in middle school developed a solid eagerness to learn and gratifying independence, the upper school teachers noticed a lack of independent thinking. At the time when pupils still began their period in upper school with class 9, the unstoppable awakening of independent judgement with the start of the third septennium could not be overlooked. I experienced the absence of this awakening like a quantum leap. It came as a surprise when pupils proposed that they could simply adopt my judgement in the process of conscientious learning. The decline in the urge to come to independent judgements raises issues. The developmental period which in accordance with the anthroposophical understanding of the human being is intended to create the foundations for independent judgement is the second septennium which falls within the eight-year class teacher period. It includes important educational provisions for pupils to learn to make their own judgements, for artistic practice and the experience of a supporting social space.
If there is a change of class teacher after class 6, that represent a serious break in a highly sensitive social structure. The pupils are entering a delicate emotional transitional phase in which they require the protective cover for their soul of a teacher who knows them well. They are deprived of that. The change of teacher in the main lesson classes represents a further unsettling factor. Furthermore, the intensive, daily artistic practice suffers in the middle school structure.
The question also arises how one and the same teacher can master main lessons which in class 8 have to be taught in a more pictorial way and then in class 9 in a more scientific, that is intellectual and abstract way – with more or less the same lesson content. Or is the teaching style for class 9 starting to be used to a greater extent in the lower classes, which in turn has detrimental consequences for the emotional development of the pupils?
It was argued in the debate about the class teacher period that the seven-year developmental rhythms do not exist by nature. Rudolf Steiner, in contrast, spoke in the so-called Augsburg lecture of 14 March 1913 (GA 150) about the far-reaching importance of the seven-year periods for the continuing development of the human being. Wolfgang Schad in a conversation characterised the stabilisation of the seven-year developmental periods as a healing influence for the whole of human development.
Regarding particularly the speeding up of physical and delay in emotional development during puberty, Friederun C. Karsch referred in Lehrerrundbrief 25 to the health-giving element of reinforced seven-year periods.
About the author: Dr. Heinrich Kruckelmann was an upper school teacher of biology, chemistry and geography at the Engelberg Free Waldorf School for 33 years.