Yes, teachers, size does matter. Size of the class, that is.
I started off teaching in a suburban charter school many years ago. I started off with a homeroom class of 28 students. My students were extremely well behaved, so 28 kiddos seemed like a piece of cake. One year, at the same school, we grouped our math classes and I took on an additional six students. I had students standing in the back of my classroom, sitting at my desk, and crammed in between two bookcases. But, as I said earlier, these students were mild-mannered, exhibited good manners, had strong social skills and above all else, enjoyed being challenged in their math class. No problem.
Fast forward to a few years later and I take on a teaching role at an inner-city school. These kids, as much a I love them to pieces, are the antithesis of the students I worked with a few years earlier. They have no filter on what they randomly (loudly) blurt out at others, exhibit weak social skills – or lack them altogether – and above all else, feel most uncomfortable sitting in a math class. Last year, I witnessed a string of different teachers try to “teach” classes of 20-25 of these pupils. Three teachers came and left throughout the year, leaving these students broken, lost, and unmotivated.
I was approached by the newly appointed principal during my summer break and was asked to take on the role as the new seventh grade math teacher. I hesitated, naturally. Just last year I watched not one, not two, but three teachers be defeated by this cohort of middle schoolers. The job sounded impossible and like a true setup for failure.
The principal recognized my hesitation over the phone and interrupted my stream of ugly thoughts to tell me about the interventions the school would put into place to help teachers and the students. I didn’t hear much of it, to be honest with you, but I did hear the words, “smaller class sizes.”
I was sold!
My class sizes this year range from 10-15 students. And I couldn’t be happier because teaching a class of 15 seventh graders is sometimes twice as challenging as teaching 34 fourth graders (at the other school). These students from inner-city neighborhoods need more patience, direct instruction, redirection, and many more reminders on appropriate social mannerisms. I can’t imagine what my classroom would be like if I was expected to “teach” an additional ten pupils. Probably chaos, to be honest.
So, for anybody who hasn’t taught in an urban, inner-city, Title 1, public school, don’t say “size doesn’t matter” until you walk in the shoes of a teacher who knows better.