Thursday, November 29, 2012

Each One Counts

For a long time now, I have been harping about class size and today, I would like to compare two of the classes I have had this week.  They aren't strictly comparable - they were different grade levels and in different districts, but since I am not going to make a statistical appeal today, it doesn't really matter that they are not as comparable as one might wish.  Both classes were in relatively well-to-do neighborhoods, with fairly privileged children.  One class had around 24 students, the other had around 32.

In the first case, as a sub, I had 24 names to learn and 24 new students to interact with.  Learning 24 new names each day is doable, though difficult.  Learning 32 names is probably not doable for most subs.  How would you feel if your child was one of the ones the teacher couldn't learn the name of?  Probably, most people would let it slide.  But during the course of his/her schooling each child will have nearly a full year of subs.  One year of being nameless?

In the first class, I could spend a couple of minutes talking to a boy who wanted to tell me about his project; I could spend another few minutes with the know-it-all girl, who needed to show me how competent she was as a teacher's helper; I could talk individually to each child during the literacy block.  In the second school, I got to talk individually to some of the students, but not most of them. 

You know what kids remember most about their schooling? - how the teachers made them feel.  I could feel so much better about my interactions with the class of 24 students than with the class of 32 students.  24 is still a bit bigger than I would like, but 32 is definitely past the point where it is possible to have a significant number of personal interactions.  With 32, there is a lot more time spent keeping kids on task, correcting behavior, and take care of administrative tasks.  With 24, there is room in the classroom to move around to different areas for different types of activities.  With 32, the room is so packed with desks and chairs that there is frequently very little room to maneuver.  With 24, it is easier to get to each student to answer a question or to point out a problem.  With 32, it is much harder.

Each child counts.  Each interaction counts.  When people say that class size doesn't matter, according to research, they are looking at test scores.  Maybe there, it doesn't matter.  I don't really believe that, but that isn't my point today.  Children are much more than test scores.  They are real people who need personal interactions, even the surly kid who doesn't want to talk to the teacher.  Each one needs to know that the teacher cares.  Even if that teacher is "just a sub".

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