Tuesday, September 22, 2015

There are No Oversized Apples for Oversized Classes

This Apple Will Probably Never Make it to a Teacher's Desk...
Ed. "reformers" believe that branding teachers as "ineffective" is the single most important way to improve educational outcomes.  Although driving away experienced teachers with seniority and burgeoning pensions may cut costs, it fails to help students.  Cutting class size, however, so teachers can deal more effectively with individuals, would work miracles.  Too bad, the financial costs of such reform make it prohibitive; too bad ed. "reformers" are more concerned about their personal pocketbooks than profiting students.

I teach three of my five classes in a row.  Each class contains about 37 students; the number will hopefully soon be reduced to 34.  Whether 37 or 34, the numbers are overwhelming.  When I return to the workroom after three periods, I have about one-hundred homework papers in hand.  Let me picture an ed. "reformer" grading that many papers on a regular basis.  Ineffective!

When I collect essay papers, I can get as many as 175.  If I fail to grade the old work before the new work comes due, the profusion of papers mounts.  Try keeping one set straight from another.  It is a profound triumph of organizational skill.  It is time-consuming, not to mention, a literally heavy burden.  Now, imagine trying to read each paper carefully and electronically enter grades.  Ineffective, again!

When students write short responses in class, provided the students are well-behaved, I try to circulate around the room and read as many as I can.  I end up skimming papers, trying to find some further question to ask each student or some grammatical suggestion.  I try to fly around the room before most students are done.  Some days, I feel positively superhuman.  Other times, I just recognize that my students know I am mortal.  I try to call on most students during a given lesson, but in the span of 42 minutes, the time spent with any one child can rarely be anything special.  Ineffectiveness writ large!

If students were chatty or poorly behaved, they would be so much harder to control in a big class.  The probabilities of chaos would increase greatly.  Where students' needs are the greatest, and they are not met, the potential for frustration and disorder are profound.  When students need serious assistance, and the teacher cannot be in 37 places at once, or sustain her help, there may be far greater potential for some kind of "explosion"--or at the very least low test scores.  Fifty percent of your formula now spells INEFFECTIVE!

Imagine all the supplies needed for so many students.  Imagine all the handouts.  Imagine trying to secure enough markers for a project.  Imagine the cost of such supplies.  The chance that such supplies will be stocked in a closet somewhere becomes nil.  The supply lines have been cut.  Ineffective teachers reach into their own pockets.

The more people in a room, the more parents to call, the more papers to grade, the more stress AND the greater the chance of burnout.  Any teacher who tries to give extensive meaningful feedback on a daily basis is probably young, unmarried, without children and destined to look for another job soon.  Such a teacher may sacrifice his or her personal life for a year or two, but no longer.  Teachers with oversized classes burnout fast.  Some will leave while the getting is good.  Some may even become ed. "reformers."  We all know that Rhee and Campbell Brown could never have survived forty years in a classroom.  Perhaps they lack sufficient grit--or, perhaps, they care more about themselves than their students!  And, they will never have their effectiveness "scientifically measured."  Teachers, alone, need to be measured...not the size of their classes.  Only teachers are ineffective, not ed. policy!
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