Monday, November 10, 2008

I Do My Bit

I'm a firm believer in lower class size. I watch my kid in classes that have never exceeded 25, I watch classes I teach, and I see clearly that bigger is not better. I can give more attention to fewer kids, and not only "differentiate instruction," but address individual needs in smaller classes.

Now some folks offer empty talk, meaningless agreements, and nod their heads solemnly about this issue. Teachers like me, though, take action.

For example, in my Regents prep class, I had a student who couldn't write a coherent English sentence. I checked her writing on a daily basis, and she hadn't mastered, for example, the subject-verb agreement I'd have forced down her throat if she'd had the misfortune to have attended one of my boot camp-style beginners' classes. Yet on the final day of our multi-day composing, she'd arrive with a composition written in perfect native English.

I checked on this kid, and she'd received a 95 in level 4 ESL. This was odd since she'd have failed level 2 with me. Her teacher, though, was highly impressed with the kid's homework, as it appeared she'd worked hours over it. It appeared to me she had someone else do it for her, and that particular strategy would earn certain failure in my class. So the kid complained about my unreasonable standards, my mistrustful nature, my miserable attitude, and voila! My class size was reduced by one.

A kid in my literature class complained he didn't understand the reading. I checked his homework and it turned out it was about the previous day's reading. I told the kid this suggested he hadn't done the reading, but he told me to check his quiz, which would prove otherwise. Sure enough, he'd passed the quiz. But when I checked the paper of the guy sitting next to him, he had the same answers, the same mistakes, and even the same misspellings.

I found the kid in the cafeteria, presented him with both papers, and extracted a full confession. Then I called his home. The kid was outraged. He went and complained about me, claiming that I had singled him out, that I was unfair, that I was this, that, and perhaps even the other thing. So they dropped him, and my class size was reduced by another.

Another kid cut my class repeatedly. He came late almost every day. He refused to do work in class. He failed tests. He failed to hand in test papers. I told him that he'd have to change his habits or he'd fail the class. His response was to go to an administrator and demand a new teacher. If he didn't get one, he'd stop attending entirely. The administrator told him that was out of the question, so the kid made good on his threat and didn't show up for a week.

But once the kid made good on his promise, the administrator saw he meant business and changed his class. And my class size was reduced yet again. I've no doubt it will be reduced further as I continue my relentless campaign of rampant injustice.

As you can see, plenty of people talk about reducing class size. But teachers like me, we do something about it.
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