Enough with the pretending. We all know class size matters more than we give it credit for and the LA Teachers Strike makes that point loud and clear.
When I was a division head, the highest compliment parents would give about a teacher was, “she really knew my child.” Whenever I’d hear that, I’d relay that message to the teacher because it’s so rare that positive news comes across their desk.
By supporting smaller class sizes, we also support the teachers who spend time working with their students outside class. The teachers who spend lunch at their desk holding a pen in one hand and a sandwich in the other. The teachers who grade an essay/test/assessment with the student. The teachers who carefully choose their words in giving precise and clear feedback.
Rob Crawford, a 20-year teacher from outside Boston, MA, speaks of his most memorable teacher, Ms. Metzger. “Her comments would go above and beyond what I wrote—they would reveal parts of herself as well. I felt connected to Ms. Metzger. This connection affected my engagement in her class. She was a real person whom I trusted. I worked hard for her.”
I am back in Los Angeles, a city currently under siege by the LAUSD Teachers Strike. It’s the first teachers strike in nearly 30 years. Its focus is on increased salaries, better classroom resources, a cap on charter schools, and a significant reduction in class size.
Yes, reducing class size is an expensive proposition. But so is the impact of school dropouts. So is the impact of releasing graduates armed with fewer learned skills. So is the impact of inequality based on underfunded versus overfunded schools. When you don’t have a reasonable student-to-teacher ratio, students become disengaged and teachers become script-readers and disciplinarians…and less respected.
Imagine attending a cocktail party of 40 invitees and being told that you have 45 minutes to make a meaningful connection with each person—and to teach a lesson in the process. Then do another cocktail party right afterwards. Then another. Rinse, lather, repeat until you’ve “taught” to five cocktail parties. When you get home, you read their 200 napkin-paragraphs on the lesson, assess and grade. It would be a challenge to accomplish this with half the number of students.
The moral of this lesson is that even the most relational teachers cannot connect, build trust, and encourage exploration when teaching to five sections of 40 students. Do the math. Break down the instructional minutes, the correcting time, the lesson planning and the time spent with students outside of class. We must focus on this as a society, and we must find ways to quantify the value of small class sizes in learning.
Yet reducing class size is not the sole solution. When given a smaller class, teachers must recalibrate their teaching toward the smaller numbers. They must work at establishing deeper connections and building trust on a more individual level. This relational approach takes time to craft. Yet the payoff, deeper learning, makes the effort worthwhile. Students learn best from teachers with whom they have trustworthy and authentic relationships.
Washington Post Education reporter Valerie Strauss makes the point, “The research is there. Class size matters. Even the finest teachers are limited in what they can do when they have large classes. So can we stop pretending that class size doesn’t matter?”
The LA Teachers Strike demands that we stop pretending. So let’s follow their lead and trust the experts. Let’s allow for reallocation of funds to go toward smaller class sizes for all K-12 teachers in LAUSD and across our nation.