Wednesday, September 24, 2014


You don't really know what will happen when you place kids together. A kid who's troublesome in one group may be a valuable addition to another. Last year, I had one kid moved from my AM class to my PM class, and I knew it would be a disaster. He was kind of the last straw. The PM class was on the edge and I was absolutely sure his presence would push it over. Surely enough, it did just that.

There are only so many trouble spots you can keep your eye on at one time. That's why so many people will tell me, "I don't know what to do with my 6th period class," or something like that. I'm sure John King would simply conclude they were ineffective and move to have them fired. After all, he taught one full year of public school before his two years in charters, and he knows everything. Surely he could control anyone. Except an audience of parents and teachers with real questions. And they're special interests anyway. If they weren't, they'd send their kids to Montessori schools just like Reformy John.

On the other hand, these teachers are doing just fine with their other four or five classes. So maybe they aren't so ineffective after all. If they were, wouldn't all their classes be bedlam? How do you know where the tipping point is? It really depends on who the kids are. Last year I was in the trailer and I placed the seats in a U shape to encourage communication. After they moved that last kid in, I moved the seats back into rows to discourage communication. It was a lot of work teaching that class.

There's really only one solution to the problem of class chemistry, and no, it isn't Common Core. Kids will be kids no matter how awful you make the curriculum. In fact, if you make them analyze things to death until you squeeze any and all potential enjoyment out of it, you'll likely make things even worse. Teenagers have all sorts of things running through their bodies and minds and that 17th reading may be just the thing to push them over the edge.

But you know how to avoid the dreaded miserable chemistry, don't you? I'm not Bill Gates so I can't promise you a silver bullet, and none of his actually work very well anyway. So what we're left with is lower class sizes, which seriously reduce the possibility that you will be stuck with that dreaded chemistry issue. The fewer kids you have, the more each one can express him or herself, and the less likely it is said expression will be a problem.

Of course it's much easier to vilify teachers and say they all need to be replaced. As long as you're firing teachers and pretending to improve things, you don't have to bother hiring more of them. Regular readers of this blog know I was just a little bit disappointed in the latest contract. Things like two-tier due process and waiting ten years for the raises everyone else got in 2009 don't make me jump up and down.

But another thing that neither I nor anyone squawked a whole lot about was the failure to negotiate reasonable class sizes. I've been teaching since 1984 and they haven't changed at all. It's funny, because we hear a lot about how we have to evolve, how we have to accept this or that, of course it's true, and some changes aren't even insane. This notwithstanding, parents have been saying for years in the city survey that their number one issue was class size.

If parents want it, and teachers want it, what on earth is keeping New York City government from moving on it?
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