Before the first day of school, I always feel a sense of nervous anticipation that stems from excitement. I am usually excited to meet my students, excited to see the new class dynamics, excited to start learning and growing as individuals.
This year, however, all I felt was overwhelmed.
My school takes a six of eight schedule, which means there are eight periods, and we teach six of those, as a way to keep class sizes down. In the past, my classes ranged from 23-25 students. This year, however, as I opened my rosters, I saw some much larger numbers: 33, 28, 30, 28, 29, 30…
Some research suggests that, in terms of instruction, class sizes do not actually matter, but rather the quality of the instructor. Perhaps this is true, but as I scanned my first class of 30 seniors, all I could feel was overwhelmed. Perhaps it really comes down to the instructor, but large class sizes induces some psychological trauma.
For three periods a day, six and a half hours a day, I have at any given time, 30 students in my classroom. For one, 30 bodies produce an immense amount of heat, which means, by the end of the day, my classroom is hot and we are all sweating. The amount of space 30 students takes up, especially seniors, is a little overwhelming as well. In a classroom designed to host 20, maybe 25 students, so there is not much room to breathe, let alone move around. At one point, my students were sharing stories. The noise volume got very high, and as I was about to tell them to stop yelling at each other out of concern for the other teachers, I realized that they were actually talking at normal volumes; the fact of 30 students in one space allots for a lot of noise.
But perhaps the most daunting task is learning all 178 of their names. Not only am I responsible to learn their names, but also their last names, their parents’ names, their siblings, their friends, their boyfriends/girlfriends, who their case manager might be, what other classes they are taking. I will learn their interests and extracurricular activities, their career aspirations, what kind of house they grow up in, and whatever else they decide to divulge to me. As a teacher, being in charge of 178 students scares me, because I am afraid I will not be able to give them the kind of attention they need. And, not just instructional attention, but personal attention. Last year, our school experienced three suicides and I would bet that every single teacher who had one of those students wondered what they could have done to save those students. With a 178, and 30 in a class, I fear I will not be able to make those vital personal connections and that I will let kids slip through the cracks.
Teaching larger class sizes definitely requires me to re-evaluate my teaching methods. I know that I will not be able to individually conference with each student for each essay, so that means I must rely upon better, more explicit direction instruction and spend more time teaching effective peer editing strategies. It means that I must figure out new assignments that will allow me to get to know my students as well as teach them how to write, and institute other practices to ensure I talk to each student everyday, such as greeting each one at the door when they walk in (which might mean I need to sacrifice my bathroom break during passing periods). Larger class sizes requires me to be strategic about what types of assignments I assign, so that I am not also overwhelmed by grading, but can also offer the most quality feedback.
This will definitely be a challenge I hope to triumph.