Teacher and pupils at Waldorf schools are more happy

Erziehungskunst | Why do teachers at Waldorf schools suffer fewer health risks?

Dirk Randoll | Teachers at Waldorf schools are able to distance themselves from their jobs and are able to unwind well in the evenings. The anthroposophical orientation plays a large part in the ability to distance oneself.

EK | The high idealistic aspirations of the teachers make them more satisfied. Do they also make them tougher?

DR | Of course. For teachers at Waldorf schools, Waldorf education is quite simply the anchor with which they identify, both in their choice of job as much as its practice.

EK | Are teachers at Waldorf schools more resistant to innovation?

DR | The older more anthroposophically orientated teachers are not so happy about reform. They fear the loss of the spiritual scientific basis, not so much the loss of their autonomy and individual freedoms.

EK | Why do newly employed teachers stay on average only four years at a Waldorf school?

DR | When young, freshly qualified teachers enthusiastically try to implement everything that they have just learned, it doesn't always meet with approval among the older teachers. At Waldorf schools this generational problem is magnified due to the differing approaches to anthroposophy. For the younger teachers it's obviously a lot less important to their job than for the older ones. Finally, the short amount of time spent in the job can be traced back to the low salary paid to Waldorf teachers.

EK | The study notes that a fifth of the respondents had to take additional jobs.

DR | The low salary is seen by most Waldorf teachers as burdensome. It is unacceptable that over 20 percent have to take additional jobs just to get by. That Waldorf schools have problems in recruiting younger teachers is all too understandable due to this. The Waldorf schools won't be able to rely upon the altruistic attitude of their teachers for very much longer, the time when this was possible is clearly coming to an end.

EK | Apart from money problems, what puts the most stress upon teachers at Waldorf schools?

DR | In comparison to other teachers, class teachers experience the greatest stress from having to write reports. For other groups of teachers, different factors play a role, for example the lack of sufficient teaching and learning equipment.

EK | Why is self-management expensive? After all, Waldorf schools are, as a rule, more economical than state schools.

DR | When every teacher contributes an opinion on every decision that has to be taken, and there is no division of work as there is for example with the mandate model, then this doesn't only lead to things being uneconomical, but can also sometimes lead to stress. The teachers themselves think that self-management is less effective and unprofessional.

EK | Do parents tend to be seen by the teachers as an encumbrance or an enrichment?

DR | Clearly as an enrichment because the underlying point of reference is precisely Waldorf education which is based on a specific image of the human being which guides teachers and parents. In everyday life, however, there can can be conflict. That's also completely normal.

EK | Are teachers at Waldorf schools more satisfied because they predominantly deal with unproblematic pupils?

DR | Without doubt they deal with other, less serious and less stressful problems regarding pupils than teachers at mainstream schools.

EK | Waldorf schools are able to choose their pupils and parents. Do you see a tendency towards rejection of "unsuitable" pupils?

DR | So far there hasn't been a study  of those pupils who have left Waldorf schools due to not fitting in. The question of the "fit" of the school certainly plays a role in choosing a school. You wouldn't send your child to an elite catholic boarding school if you held other values or were of another religion.

EK | What role does anthroposophy play in the satisfaction of teachers.?

DR | The younger teachers are pragmatists. They want to teach well and in a modern style and are generally independent of the spiritual background of Waldorf education. Anthroposophy plays a subordinate role for them. On the other hand, the older teachers are certainly more altruistic and are much more orientated towards the spiritual science of Rudolf Steiner. Both have their advantages and disadvantages.

EK | Your study showed that, of all things, teachers of the artistic subjects, including eurythmy, are less valued.

DR | This result surprised us the most. It has to do with the fact that the artistic subjects are not taught in blocks, that they are the most cost intensive, especially eurythmy, and that subjects more relevant to exams are given higher worth by parents.

EK | The lack of quality of the teacher training poses a further problem.

DR | The Waldorf school movement is the only one in this country to offer its own teacher training courses. But these have been in their own little world for far too long a time and have therefore missed recent advances in teaching and learning research. Reforms seem therefore to be quite urgently necessary, if not, indeed, an entirely new direction in they way they are conceived.

EK | A further current study on "Educational experiences at Waldorf schools" comes to the conclusion that pupils at Waldorf schools are healthier, more motivated to learn and are less stressed by school than pupils at mainstream schools.

DR | From the findings it's become clear that the cultures of learning in mainstream and Waldorf schools are quite different from one another. This has the consequence that pupils of Waldorf schools suffer less pressure to achieve and have less fear of examinations than mainstream students.

EK | How do mainstream and Waldorf pupils differ in terms of the pleasure taken in learning and satisfaction with the school?

DR | The prevailing culture of learning in Waldorf schools means that pupils in Waldorf schools learn because they find the content and the lessons interesting and exciting. With mainstream schools that is significantly more rarely the case. Moreover, the student-teacher relationship in Waldorf schools is defined less through academic achievement and much more through aspects such as empathy, appreciation and respect.

EK | Why do pupils of Waldorf schools require at least as much, if not more, private tutoring than students of regular schools.

DR | One reason for this is the high number of late entries to the school (more than a third). These are pupils who, for what ever reason, didn't get along well with mainstream schooling or whose parents weren't happy with their school placement. It is these pupils who have a great need of private tuition. But we mustn't overlook the fact that, here and there, Waldorf schools have problems with the quality of their education, for example with the internally differentiated classes in upper school.

EK | The New Zealand educational researcher, John Hattie, established in a meta-analysis that the personality of the teacher is vital to success in learning. Are pupils at Waldorf schools better able to learn due to their better relationships with their teachers?

DR | Some of our results show this; also that it is a crucial part of a school culture that promotes learning.

EK | So the class teacher principle, which has been the subject of so much debate, is still relevant after all?

DR | The principle of one class teacher for eight years is appropriate in so far as it offers the pupils a relatively solid relationship over a long period of time. The need for improvement is found in the encouragement of the pupils in each subject. Here there needs to be a stronger collaboration between the class and the subject teachers.

EK | There are problems in the transition from the class teacher period to the upper school (from class 9 onwards). What are the reasons for this?

DR | The eight year period with the class teacher is a protected space. There are no marks, no repeating years, no consequences for doing nothing. That changes at the latest from class 9 onwards. Therefore a lot of pupils find the transition quite a shock. It's then no longer “their Waldorf school”.

EK | The percentage of pupils who no longer live together with both parents is over represented in Waldorf schools. What consequences does this lead to for the schools?

DR | Most single parents are mothers. And because more than two thirds of the class teachers are female, the boys have a much harder time in establishing their identity. But this affects mainstream schools as well.

EK | Are pupils of Waldorf schools less conformist than those of mainstream schools?

DR | Pupils of Waldorf schools think in a different way – more unconventionally, more creatively, less in line with authority and conventional knowledge. They are also materially quite secure and this allows them to try out many different things, for example drugs, nicotine and alchohol. But I doubt whether as a result they are in general less conformist than pupils of mainstream schools. Pupils of mainstream schools also don't always conform to the norm.

EK | Your study shows that Waldorf schools aren't just cuddly feel-good institutions which do not stretch their pupils. Which problems have parents and students particularly highlighted?

DR | Parents and students have expectations of the education; over 70 percent of students of Waldorf schools aspire to the Abitur university entrance exam. This causes problems for the Waldorf schools as this isn't their focus. Problems in the area of achievement are hard wired, especially when parents expect more from Waldorf schools than they're able to deliver.

Interview: Mathias Maurer.