Thoughts about class size in the grades - Mothering Forums
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#1 of 57 Old 05-20-2006, 02:46 AM - Thread Starter
 
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The grades at my kids school are averaging about 25-30 kids for one teacher. I've been told that Waldorf prefers larger classes for "social" reasons but one of the appeals for us of private education was smaller class size. I'm having a hard time envisioning how large classes are a positive.

Any thoughts or experiences are appreciated.
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#2 of 57 Old 05-20-2006, 10:52 AM
 
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Waldorf schools in Europe usually have 40 children in a class. Anyone on the list who has experienced that? I've known a few people who went through waldorf in Europe and they seemed to be well educated, high-functioning people.

My daughter's class started with 28 in first grade and continued to be a large class through 8th grade, although I don't remember the numbers. Dd always seemed to feel quite adequately met and cared for and enjoyed having a substantial social field. She switched to a public school in 8th grade and was disgusted by the way grades worked. In the waldorf school, her work had always been judged against her own abilities and capacities, rather than being compared to the other kids work. In public school, judged against the rest of the class, she discovered she could turn in quite mediocre stuff and get an A on it. She quit after one semester and we started homeschooling.

So, in spite of class size, her teacher was able to observe her, see her strengths and weaknesses, help her grow in both.

The Chicago Waldorf School, where I worked for 3 years, had a maximum class size of roughly 28, not due to problems with larger classes, but to the cramped size of their classrooms. Whether a class did well or not seemed to depend not on class size but on teacher capacities.

Which points to the major problem in waldorf schools, in my opinion. There simply aren't enough good teachers for the number of schools. The teacher training institutes are not graduating enough teachers, not enough of the people who go into waldorf teaching stay in waldorf teaching, and schools will, in desperation, put unqualified and sometimes unsuitable people into the classroom.

The reason I usually tell people to be careful when considering a waldorf school for their children is the teacher shortage. The quality of a school can vary from great to awful and the individual teachers in a school can vary from great to awful. Just because the school says waldorf...

However, I am encouraged by the accreditation process that more and more schools are going through. The process of becoming a member school of AWSNA also can boost the quality of a school. Just find out as much as you can before signing up, please!

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#3 of 57 Old 05-20-2006, 12:27 PM
 
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It totally depends on the mix of personalities of the children in the class (the class itself develops a unique personality), and the strengths of the particular teacher.

I think the main problem that can come with a bigger class is simply discipline and classroom management can be more difficult. In a large class, if there are quite a few high energy, talkative children, that causes difficulties for those students that struggle to concentrate or are easily distractable. Some teachers frankly aren't good at managing this. We have larger classes, and class teachers have left who are ineffective in class room management. The special teachers in our school are the most challenged in many cases. They have a real challenge because they have to teach many grades, and don't have the same luxury of concentrating on solving the class mgmt issues of a single group of children.

In terms of special or individual attention academic wise, I think those needs are best met by bringing in other teachers on an as-needed basis. In reading, for example, the class can divide into smaller groups for a time so that there's more opportunities for 'read aloud' time and individual attention. We're a good sized Waldorf school, and there is more help available from the faculty than is probably possible in a smaller school.

There are a lot of good things from a larger class, especially socially. Especially when you move through the grades, the small classes can be claustrophobic and children resort to socializing more with children in upper or lower classes than is probably ideal. And in a larger class, there tends toward more opportunities for a harmonious balance of children with different temperaments.
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#4 of 57 Old 05-20-2006, 03:18 PM
 
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We have large classes for both our children, mostly due to the popularity of the teachers. Both teachers are able to handle the large classes. One teacher in particular likes the large class because it supports the social atmosphere. One thing to remember, is that most Waldorf schools only have one class per grade and ideally, the teacher goes through all the grades with them. With a large class, a child is more likely to find a good buddy or two and cliques are less likely. My happiest grade for me was 4th grade where we had 40 children in the class. This was a public school.
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#5 of 57 Old 05-20-2006, 03:32 PM - Thread Starter
 
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It seems that the difficulty in finding a teacher (we don't have one yet) can only be exacerbated by having larger classes as the incoming teacher often, having never taken a class through the grades previously, not only has to do the hard work of teaching but manage a large group of children.

I'm just kind of dissappointed because I have to trust that this person, whenver he/she shows up can handle such a heavy burden. I viewed one class of 30 in which I saw kids definitely falling through the cracks. It would really take the "perfect" person to make it work. Seeing as it's slim pickins already, I think it would be wiser to keep it a little more manageable.

I really appreciate all of your candor. I was expecting "it's just great and here's why" and on the contrary I htink you've really given me an honest accurate picture of what our school is dealing with.

I guess I am left to deal with the anxiety of waiting to meet the teacher and hopefully I'll "feel it" at that point.
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#6 of 57 Old 05-20-2006, 04:43 PM
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I have been a student at three different waldorf schools, throughout the years even at the same school our class size varied quite a bit. I have been with 30 keds in calss and i have been with 3 kids in class.
From my experience the only time the large class was not a good situation was when we had a NON waldorf etacher teach a particular subject.
Maybe i am lucky but all the waldorf trained teachers were really awesome! ANd from my experience the worst was when we had about 8-9 people in the class, well no the worst was with 3 people in the class. It was me and two other boys. It was difficult for the teacher, because we were very different and basically could not even work in groups since we did not have similar students to each of us. I think that was the hardest year for all of us. I graduated from Kimberton Waldorf School in PA with 24 people in my class. This was my most valuable experince - three years in high school with these students. We were such a close-knit class, we understood each other perfectly and helped out each other trememdously through hardships, and happy times. My sister is graduating this June from a very large class. I think they have 32? people. And they are a wonderful class as well. I just saw their senior play and was AMAZING. I think there is a difference between a large class in a regular (public or prep-private) school and in a waldorf school. So much is oriented towards community than really it is wonderful to have so many people in your class.
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#7 of 57 Old 05-20-2006, 08:01 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mijumom
I really appreciate all of your candor. I was expecting "it's just great and here's why" and on the contrary I htink you've really given me an honest accurate picture of what our school is dealing with.
Thank Mothering and our moderators for providing a space where I feel safe to be frank and honest about both the good, and the bad.

I think waldorf schools could do a lot to overcome some of the teacher problems.

They could acknowledge the teacher shortage and discourage new schools from starting up--unless the schools are willing to develop long-range plans for growing their own teachers--budgeting money to send teachers to training courses, for example.

They could set up mentoring programs across the country. A retired teacher could mentor new teachers at several schools in an area and be paid by all of the schools based on hours provided. Having an experienced mentor to support, guide and advise would make a huge difference for the first couple of years of teaching.

Schools could suggest that parents donate to teacher training programs, which are always terribly short of money.

There is also a scholarship fund for teacher training at RSF. It needs to reach the $1 million level before it starts dispensing scholarships. I think it needs another $400,000 or so...

Schools need to think at a higher level. Due to the immense challenges of running a waldorf school, the global issues are overlooked, which adds to the immense challenges of running a waldorf school, which makes those same global issues get even worse, which adds to the immense challenges...

I'm quite conscious of these problems at the moment, because the school my granddaughter attends had a real hard time finding a first grade teacher. Both of the teachers they offered the position to decided they would rather teach in Maine at a school on the coast, better established, higher pay level, etc. Luckily, there was an experienced teacher in the community who decided she could take on the first grade, but it was a worrying experience.

I also meet once a year with seven anthroposophic adult education institutions, as part of my work with RSF (Rudolf Steiner Foundation) and each year I hear about their struggles.

Enough.
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#8 of 57 Old 05-20-2006, 08:59 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Originally Posted by Deborah
but it was a worrying experience.
That's where I'm at right now. I'm having a really hard time with the not knowing.

Thanks for your input.
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#9 of 57 Old 05-21-2006, 10:22 AM
 
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This is certainly a question at our school. We now have classes as large as 20 or 21 students, and our teachers are considering what our school should view as a maximum class size. Our school plans have rooms that will fit up to 24 students per grades class.

Part of the issue is space, or course. Small classrooms limit you, and larger classes need still larger spaces to do woodworking or handwork projects, or else you need extra rooms (and teachers) to split classes for special subjects, as I've seen some larger Waldorf school do.

David
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#10 of 57 Old 05-21-2006, 10:42 AM - Thread Starter
 
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That's another issue. Our classrooms are pretty small and gets really tight with 30 kids.

I'm just trying to think how I can approach the school about this. If they have given the spaces, they can't really change courese I suppose.
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#11 of 57 Old 05-21-2006, 12:48 PM
 
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I'm just trying to think how I can approach the school about this
I appreciate that you (and many others) look to private schools for small class sizes, but the fact is that many waldorf schools do tend to look to classes of 25 or higher as ideal. If they have high schools, it probably increases the pressure for large classes.

Did the school misrepresent class size to you?

One good reason for larger classes is because in Waldorf education there are lots of subject teachers (even in first grade, you're probably getting twice-a-week classes in one or two languages, handwork, eurthymy and/or movement, maybe music or painting, and perhaps gardening, with more subject classes as they progress).

Also, frequently schools with large classes have teacher assistants for younger grades.

David
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#12 of 57 Old 05-21-2006, 12:53 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I understand that it is part of the pedagogy but if you have a teacher who can't handle all of thos kids and a small crowded room I think that becomes of more concern. Ideal should be 25 (ours is 30) and a competent teacher who is able to handle such a large group of 6/7 year olds and enough space for everyone to breathe, move around freely and be seen by the teacher.

I don't think we disagree here.
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#13 of 57 Old 05-21-2006, 02:02 PM
 
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Originally Posted by mijumom
I understand that it is part of the pedagogy but if you have a teacher who can't handle all of thos kids and a small crowded room I think that becomes of more concern. Ideal should be 25 (ours is 30) and a competent teacher who is able to handle such a large group of 6/7 year olds and enough space for everyone to breathe, move around freely and be seen by the teacher.

I don't think we disagree here.
I definitely agree with you.
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#14 of 57 Old 05-23-2006, 11:00 AM
 
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Originally Posted by LindaCl
... children resort to socializing more with children in upper or lower classes than is probably ideal.
Um - I don't mean to be obnoxious here, but why would this be a problem? I'd see it as a big positive! I went to a small school my whole life (graduated in a class of 10) and I loved the inter-class interaction. When we were little, the older ones treated us as mascots; when we were the oldest, we helped the younger ones with their work. The friends that I made in school that I still keep in contact with were mostly in other grades. The ability to socialize with people of different ages is an important skill, and one of those big arguments for homeschooling. The only negative I can think of is bullying, and that, in my experience, tends to be worse within a grade than between...
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#15 of 57 Old 05-23-2006, 12:04 PM
 
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Um - I don't mean to be obnoxious here, but why would this be a problem?
This is one example of my son's friends (a girl) who joined a class with 9 boys. Her social life skipped a full grade--'hanging with the older girls' influenced her to dressing like a teen, wearing make-up, and searching for a boyfriend. She made this big transformation okay, but next year the older girls will be graduated and gone, and she'll either be alone or socializing with the girls in the younger grade. This would be about a two year 'social maturity' gap to contend with, in the reverse direction. It's just more challenging to be yourself at 10 if you're trying to fit in with 12 year olds, and vice versa.

Another of my son's friends (a boy) tried to join the class, and he just couldn't find a good social fit. His own class of 8 other boys were tight, and my son's friend couldn't find the right notes to play to be accepted by any of them. With groups of boys in the grade below and above kind of emphasizing the different maturity levels between all three grades, he was very self-conscious about finding a fit in either the younger or older class. He was too small and not as coordinated athletically as the older students, so he felt like a tag-along. And with the younger students, he would see himself as too babyish for his age.

Now these are just two students--the other 8 are by all appearances thriving in the class (my son is good friends with one other of them). These two in particular made social adjustments (or are trying to) that are less than ideal, but the majority are very comfortable there.
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#16 of 57 Old 05-23-2006, 03:05 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I think we're talking about two extremes here. My point is that I really think you can have a nice well-rounded group of 22 kids that's managable and still avoid the pitfalls of too many or too little. I'm not looking for a class of 10 kids...
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#17 of 57 Old 05-23-2006, 03:49 PM
 
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mijumom--

Are you still waiting to hear who's been chosen as the new first grade teacher? It's awfully late in the year to understand how the school can still be giving you no word on that.

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#18 of 57 Old 05-23-2006, 04:17 PM - Thread Starter
 
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They are interviewing to people right now. They keep us aprised but there's no final word yet. And I guess that's the bottom line with regard to class size too, that the teacher they choose must be the right match, not just for Waldorf but for this large group of kids.

I'm trying to not flip out.
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#19 of 57 Old 05-23-2006, 04:28 PM
 
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Mujimom wrote:
Quote:
I'm trying to not flip out.
Breathe in. Breathe out.

If I were you I'd be having an anxiety attack right about now...

Deborah
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#20 of 57 Old 05-23-2006, 04:35 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Thank you so much. They are kind of placating because they want to keep us calm so I really appreciate your understanding.

I'm trying to remember that my kids are and will be fabulous because that's who they are regardless of what happens with school.

Yep, I'm doing lots of yoga.
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#21 of 57 Old 05-23-2006, 06:20 PM
 
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I hope you hear soon! I'd be very frustrated. Maybe I'm wrong, but it seems that the selection process is taking longer every year.

But you have the right attitude--your children are and will be fabulous regardless of how this works out, and if you keep that in mind, you'll cope beautifully in coming to a decision yourself what's best for them.
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#22 of 57 Old 05-23-2006, 09:20 PM
 
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Originally Posted by LindaCl
Are you still waiting to hear who's been chosen as the new first grade teacher? It's awfully late in the year to understand how the school can still be giving you no word on that.
We just announced last week. Many has been the year when we went up to and past the end of school without a first grade teacher. The trust our parents have in our kindergarten teacher (who keeps them updated on our first grade teacher search) is truly amazing.

David
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#23 of 57 Old 05-23-2006, 10:01 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Unfortunately, as a parent who still has questions about Waldorf and realizes how much the teacher matters, it puts me in a terrible position to have to give them a deposit and be looking for backup options simultaneously. I certainly trust our teacher but I have seen grade teachers I like and some that I don't and they were chosen by the same wonderful people. Blind faith is something I'm not good at, I hope that doesn't preclude me from being a "good" waldorf parent. I am also mature enough to know that they aren't going to cancel first grade if they don't find the best person. Rather they will pcik the best of the bunch, hope it works out, and if it doesn't, fire them and hire someone else. It's happened enough times for me to get it and I hope we don't go through that.

I really want to meet this person...
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#24 of 57 Old 05-24-2006, 09:07 AM
 
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Of the schools in Seattle, I understand that 2 have teachers and the last school is deciding between two strong candidates. I know that the last school has lost students to the other classes because the parents couldn't wait any longer. The schools do not start the process until after Christmas which I think is too late especially when you know there is no returning teacher. Ads should go out in December so there are candidates to look at in January. Waiting for the 1st grade teacher is probably the most stressful thing a Waldorf parent has to go through.
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#25 of 57 Old 05-29-2006, 05:02 PM
 
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YEah a school near where i live, are only maybe going to have 3 or 4 mixed grades because there isn't enough in not one grade, maybe not even enough to keep the school open, They hired someone with out any Waldorf training for the kindergarden grade, I'm talking class sizes smaller than 10.

It's frustrating for everyone invovled teachers don't know if they will have work, the kids that go there yikes, and the potential new comers probably think it's "unstable"

I really like the community, but will pobably never have enough money to send my son, But i would like to suggest when the time gets closer the school possibly working with homeschoolers for some classes

hope it survives, although it's such a well kept secret not sure how anyboby could find it anyway

cheers
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#26 of 57 Old 05-29-2006, 06:16 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Still no word here at a very established school.

Homeschooling is becoming more inviting by the minute...
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#27 of 57 Old 05-29-2006, 07:18 PM
 
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mijumom, do you know if they are considering any candidates? I would be really concerned if they didn't have any candidates. The school in Seattle with no 1st grade teacher yet, has narrowed it down to 2 candidates. They really want to hire one, but that one, has a family member with health issues and hasn't accepted yet.
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#28 of 57 Old 05-30-2006, 12:23 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Yes, our school apparently has two candidates but it's been a couple of weeks since they interviewed and no final decision yet. It will be okay. We just want to meet the person because our staying at the school is contingent on our connection with the teacher (unlike some people we know who are commited to this education regardless).

Thanks for holding my hand through this.
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#29 of 57 Old 06-01-2006, 06:10 PM
 
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Regarding class size: I think success depends on many factors. In the first grade, I believe teachers should have an assistant in a big class. Some do, some don't. It's likely a funding issue.

Mijumom, I hope you know soon!

FWIW, the grades curriculum trainings begin in late June on both coasts. If schools want to have time to register and send new teachers, they should certainly be hiring them within the next week or so!
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#30 of 57 Old 06-02-2006, 08:45 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Still no teacher...
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