Monday, August 18, 2014

How to teach effectively in an overcrowded classroom

Well, darn it. I was not planning any future posts this year -- or, quite possibly, in the years to come -- because I felt I had already told the world everything there is to know about teaching. What else could I say?

With the dawn of the 2014-2015 academic year, however, a new topic has surfaced. Many of my colleagues in the Seminole County Public School system, due to an unwonted spike in enrollment, find their classes overflowing with students. Many of them have over 30 young scholars in a class -- and that includes courses for "standard" kids, AP kids and kids required to do labs.

So, as you can imagine, after being stunned by Class-List Shock (CLS), many young teachers have flocked to me in the halls of my beloved school, on the streets of my beloved town, and in this little community's many fine mom-and-pop coffee shops and just bombarded me with questions.

Here are some of them:

Where do I put all the new desks being brought into my room? How do I arrange them in order to achieve feng shui, instilling my young charges with energy and inspiration to learn in densely crowded spaces? How do I leave enough room for students and teacher to walk between the rows?

How can I make it more difficult for the few dishonest students to cheat? How can I keep texters from hiding amongst a huddle of their classmates? How easy will it be to find that one, reclusive, lost student who needs a little more individual attention to find her groove?

How can I memorize their names in a timely fashion? How much instruction time will I lose while I'm trying to actually get to know my many students so they don't look like so many identical (but identity-less) faces one sees packed into massive corporate work spaces?

Where will I find the courage or faith to assign anything to that many students, knowing I'll have to grade that assignment? How will I get even the simplest quiz back in a timely fashion? How will I give essays the attention they deserve when I have roughly 30 students in a class? When am I supposed to mow my lawn or walk my dog or speak to my wife and/or kids or have a social life? How will spending most of my weekends grading affect my existence -- socially, emotionally, spiritually, physically?

How much will my pay increase due to this new influx of students? And if I do get a pay increase, will the extra money make this situation any better? Or will there still be too many students?

How will I do effective group work? Will the groups need to be larger, and therefore no longer really groups, but mini-classes, offering the unmotivated or easily distracted students a chance to coast? Or will the groups be smaller, so there will be so many of them they can't all give meaningful input?

Have pedagogical gurus such as Marzano and Kagan written helpful books explaining how to remain a domain-savvy, effective and responsive teacher when there are just too many students?

For AP teachers, will the nice people at College Board be informed of our overpopulated classes so they can adjust their grading accordingly? Will pass rates be prorated for teachers who have 25 or more students in a class or who have a total of over 150?

For the rest, will special consideration be given by our multi-layered, slippery, protean evaluation system, e.g., "Some of your test scores were a little low, but you had a truckload of students, so we're gonna let that go."

Is it okay to complain about this and if so, to whom do I complain? Who is responsible for this mess? Who tipped the first domino that resulted in this avalanche? Where would I start to find who is to blame? Should I just work my way up the high-school echelon, starting with colleagues, administrators, SCPS supervisor-type people, school board members, superintendent? And who will listen to me, one high-school teacher, with just one stinking little vote?

Will the candidates now seeking election to the school board do anything to keep this from happening again? Will they come forward and promise to do so in good faith?

Why was the cutoff for the maximum number of students per teacher set at 150 for so long? Had someone done research to show that 150 is the maximum number of fellow human beings one can establish any sort of relationship with (except on Facebook, of course, where our friends can soar into the thousands!)? Is 172 students too many for a writing teacher (to take just one example at random)?

What form of Machiavellian mathematics was used in which 172 students could indicate compliance with even the most far-fetched class-size restrictions? Is allowing a teacher to have that many students an example of adhering to the letter of the law while ignoring the spirit? When a teacher is given too much to do, does this show faith in the teacher or just a lack of concern for her?

Since there are no strong arguments that very large classes increase student learning and raise faculty morale, is it okay for me to object to this practice? Or will it make me seem like a selfish, whiny malcontent trying to foist my workload onto my colleagues?

If my school as a whole values its students as people and learners, and if overloaded classes make them more likely to be unattended to as both people and learners, and if I object on the students' behalf, am I going against my high school or simply reminding it that we are one body, and our students are the most important part of that body, and to cry out against their mistreatment is to plead for a stronger, more sensible body? Can a person object to error or folly in the person's country or school and still love that country or school?

Or is it better just to be a good sport and do the best we can with this rough hand we've been dealt in order to maintain a more civil esprit de corps? Should we all just lay low and take our medicine, with the confidence that this loathsome burden will blow over like, for example, the 7-period day?

Wow, that was a lot of good questions! Thanks to all of you who asked them. Sadly, answering any of them is beyond my simple powers, but I'd like to welcome this blog's many readers to provide some solutions, if possible.

No comments:

Post a Comment