Size matters when it comes to class size and student learning.
Another school year, and another year with at least 28 students at the upper elementary 5th grade level. This has become commonplace for the past ten years. Whether it be 28, 29, 30 or even 31, we have seen class sizes balloon with no end in sight.
As school budgets continue to get cut, there is less and less money to hire teachers to keep class sizes down. This has become an epidemic in school districts across the nation.
Below are the issues with large class sizes, and why class size affects student learning.
Most classrooms are designed to hold a maximum of 25 students. When 3, 4, 5, or even 6 extra desks are added to a classroom, space becomes extremely limited. Teachers with this class size are forced to figure out a way to fit all the desks in the room in a way that works for them to teach. It is difficult to arrange the room when desks are bumped up to cupboards or have to be by doors. These are not ideal learning situations for students, but sometimes are the only choices. Having this many desks in one classroom also lends itself to the problem of working in cooperative groups, finding space on the floor to sit, and even simply lining up to go to another class. When space becomes so cramped that your line to go to lunch snakes around your room and overlaps, you know your class size is too big. Class size does matter in regard to space in a classroom.
Every child deserves the teacher’s attention every day. When class sizes near that 30 pupil mark, the chances of spending quality time each day with a student starts to vanish. Just five minutes a day with each child to connect should not be a big deal right? Well that is 150 minutes, or 2 1/2 hours out of the school day that this would have to happen. That is next to impossible to accomplish while trying to teach content as well. Those five extra bodies that take you to a class size of 30 are five extra stories that are wanting to be shared with you. Lost in this class size explosion are those students who cannot get a word in, but who desperately want to talk to you. It is heart-wrenching to not be able to connect with each student every day. That is why class size matters when making connections with students.
When a student is added to a class, that is one extra of everything the student will need. This includes assignments. When you look at a manageable class size of 25 students, but then add 6 more students, that amplifies the amount of paperwork a teacher has to create, hand out, and assess. This can result in 30 minutes to an extra hour of grading per assessment at least depending on the length of assignment/quiz/project/writing assignment/test. Multiply that by 180 days of school and you can see that a classroom teacher could be spending up to 180 extra hours a year on grading papers. Class size matters when it comes to paperwork.
If a teacher has a class size of 29, which is already too big, and one student is added that has behavior issues, it can make all the difference. We have been in this situation before where we have established classroom routines, are cruising along with our large class sizes, and then a student moves into the district. Accompanying this student is a folder with records from previous schools. As we read through the files, we realize that the student has had behavioral issues at other schools. We make it a goal to connect with the student right away. Day one goes smoothly, even most of day two, but eventually the behaviors that we have read about start to come through. Our now class size of 30, feels like 60 because this student is taking learning time away from the other 29 students who all have their own educational needs that we want to meet. When class sizes balloon to 30 and there are behavior issues, it is virtually impossible to meet all of your students needs. You focus on the low-functioning students, the students with behavior issues, and even the students who want to be challenged. But there is often very little left in the tank for those middle of the road students. Class size is a detriment to learning when there are serious behavior issues in your room.
You have been sending newsletters and notes home about how students are doing in class. Conferences are approaching and you want to be prepared. With a large number of students in your classroom, you can sure bet that most, if not all, of your conference slots will be filled up. While other teachers in the building have one even two hours without conferences due to lower class sizes, you will be trying not to ramble through your last few. You feel like you are doing a disservice to those parents because you are basically burned out by the end. Conference prep is also another thing to consider. The filing, grading, and preparation it takes for 30 conferences does a toll on you. Class size impacts the quality of conferences with parents.
So what can you, the teacher, do about this? Easy, continue to be the rock star teacher that you are. You went into the profession to teach children and now you have been given a gift of more students! You have to maintain a positive attitude and remember that you get to help mold and shape each child’s future that walks through your door.
You can not change educational policy on your own. You can not change government funding of education by yourself. Continue to teach, but also look for ways to be involved in the political process outside of your teaching job, and if we all band together, changes can be made in class size that benefit all.
One thing that we have created that we like to give out to teachers with large class sizes are motivational and inspirational quote cards that they can refer to during the school year. There is something to be said for having a positive attitude every day. You can find them by clicking here or on the picture below.
If you have experienced high class sizes as well, we would love to hear your stories too.