Helping Your Child's Teacher to Communicate

Eugene Schwartz
Sunbridge College

We believe that "Helping Your Child's Teacher to Communicate" is the most important article about Waldorf education on our site. It is our view that if both teachers and parents were accountable to the needs of the children in their charge in the ways these guidelines suggest, Waldorf education would be renewed with a vitality that would carry it far into the future. We are deeply grateful to Eugene Schwartz for his courage in writing this article and for his generosity in allowing us to make it available here. If you have comments or questions, you may contact Eugene at eschwartz1@juno.com e-mail

Bob and Nancy

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Most of your meetings 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 that 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 is 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. What follows is a highly exaggerated version of the euphemistic extremes to which a teacher might go:
    A Guide to the Generic Waldorf Report
    or
    How to Read Between the Lines
    The Report Its Interlinear Translation
    Dear Mrs. Smith, Dear Mrs. Smith,
    Your daughter Lana is a child of unusual depth, one who possesses an almost preternatural sense of the interplay of her own body and soul. Your daughter Lana is a severe hypochondriac.
    On almost any occasion she is able to give a powerful outer expression to her innermost feelings and concerns. She is also a crybaby.
    Yet Lana also evinces a concern for her classmates. She often demonstrates a sensitive awareness of their needs, and doesn't hesitate to share her insights with me. And furthermore, Lana is the class tattle-tale.
    In our fourth grade classwork, Lana's approach keeps us all aware of the essential viability of the oral tradition. Lana steadfastly remains true to the direct and therefore quintessentially human transmission of information. Lana refuses to read or write.
    It is a joy to watch Lana work on her Main Lesson books. Every illustration is allowed to go through a true ripening period, for she will not proceed until she is certain that she has penetrated her creations with the fullness of her being. Lana has never completed a single Main Lesson book.
    It has been an especially satisfying experience to get together with you in our parent-teacher conferences. Your lively interest in all of the children in the class and your insights into their interrelationships with Lana have been stimulating and helpful. As far as you are concerned, Lana's problems are always the other children's fault!
  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 the material that was actually covered in those blocks. If any blocks were shortened, lengthened or left out altogether, an explanation should be provided.

©1998 by Eugene Schwartz
274 Hungry Hollow Road
Spring Valley, NY 10977
Phone/Fax: 914-356-9302
eschwartz1@juno.com