Class Size Warfare

by blametheteacher

Lesson 5

No one can say that larger class sizes improves education. As a result of the “great recession”, teaching jobs have been cut and class sizes have grown. This will have a detrimental effect on the education of the children in this country.  Such unnecessary governmental austerity will hurt the future economy of this country.

I have taught many science classes with more than forty students. There were only 36 lab stations in the room. It isn’t easy doing a lab with 44 students and 14 microscopes. Every time I adjusted someone’s microscope, I worried what was going on behind my back. Yet no one but me seemed concerned about the students’ safety: I had a fire inspector ignore me when I pointed out that the fire code did not allow that many desks and students in that room. Instead, the inspector told me I had boxes stacked too high in my prep room.

The larger a class is, the more I feel as if I’m talking at them instead of talking with them. With disabled and special education students the teacher needs to spend more time with each individual. Many students will not do an assignment unless it is explained to them one on one. Every student over the number of thirty feels like two more instead of one.

I used to start the school year with 180 students. Then students would be transferred in or out of my class, and whole classes might be switched with other teachers. When the second semester rolled around, it brought more new students. Most of my students were tenth graders, which meant that I would see them around for two more years. I usually knew about a thousand students in the school.

Within two weeks I had memorized the names and faces of my 180 students. A student’s name was more than just their identity; it was often the only thing he or she owned. It was important to address them by name to show them I respected them as individuals. Another advantage of knowing their names was that if a student did something wrong, I could identify him or her — a good deterrent to misbehavior when I was around.

More students means more papers for the teacher to grade, with less time to devote to  each. While grading papers I learned each student’s handwriting. I also gained an understanding of the way they expressed themselves and was able to give them valuable feedback. I could tell when someone else had written something for them and who had copied from whom. But with larger class sizes, establishing a teacher-student relationship is much more difficult.

The economic stimulus of 2009 helped states hang on to some teaching jobs, but within a year, most school districts were laying off teachers. Many cried that mounting debt would destroy our children’s future. Which is more important for the future, debt reduction or providing our students with a good education? It would be better for the economy if the federal government borrowed money at near-zero interest to keep teachers, firefighters, and policemen on the job, recirculating that money. There is a huge multiplier effect of money spent in education. It cycles back through the economy and back to the government through taxes. I don’t know of any teachers with offshore tax shelters or huge yachts.

Where were these deficit scolds ten years ago when the deficit was blown sky high by tax cuts mostly for the rich, two unfunded wars, and the destruction of the economy by  unregulated corporations and Wall Street? The austerity crowd blames teachers’ pensions for state budget problems, but the reason for these problems is that state politicians didn’t pay in to the funds when they were required to, then Wall Street gambled away part of these pension funds. Those people who complain that the deficit is too high when interest rates are near zero have another agenda. They just want to do away with most government functions. And certainly, with less funding for education, there will be fewer people who can see through their lies.

This brings me back to my original point. It’s obvious that the smaller the class size, the better the education. A good stimulus to the economy is preventing teacher layoffs. So why hasn’t the federal government allocated funding to retain teachers and keep class sizes manageable? The future of the country would be brighter if we invested money in education instead of pursuing the insane politics of debt reduction.

1/30/13

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