This is a long overdue THANK YOU to teachers.
I began my journey as an educator 33 years ago. I taught in a high school in Dekalb County, worked full time for the University of Georgia, part time for the University of Alabama-Birmingham, taught at Collins Hill, served as a department chair, and I have worked as an assistant principal for the past ten years. During my entire tenure at CHHS, I have also taught part-time at the university level — either at UGA or at Piedmont College. So, it is fair to say that I have stayed connected.
As an administrator, I’ve worn many hats. I have worked with some defiant and troubled students when doing discipline related tasks. I’ve invested in our student leaders. I have stayed abreast of the latest research and trends. I have worked with many teachers both as a staff development coordinator, mentor, and evaluator. I’ve never felt that I “lost touch” with the classroom.
This year, while maintaining my administrative duties, I added teaching a class into my schedule. It has been fun, exhausting, and enlightening. What I’ve learned most is that it IS different teaching now. Technology has certainly brought new challenges, but that is not the most significant factor that I feel impacts teaching. Of most significance to me is that having 36 kids in a class DOES matter. And, it matters A LOT. Regardless of what the “research” says (that larger classes don’t negatively impact learning), burgeoning class sizes negatively impacts the teacher. Here are some observations I’ve made about overcrowding our classrooms:
1. I cannot move freely throughout the room. The addition of 6 to 8 desks and 6 to 8 adult-sized bodies makes it almost impossible to move around to everyone to check progress. I am stepping over book bags, legs, and feet and tripping over desks. I am honestly bruised because I hit my thigh, shins, and hips on a daily basis.
2. I cannot easily rearrange the room for various activities. Setting up for small groups (especially if I want to make them different sizes for different activities) or Socratic Seminars is cumbersome. And, because it is SO overcrowded once the kids arrive, I certainly cannot have them rearrange for me upon arrival.
3. It is very EASY to forget to take attendance. If we try to do all that we are supposed to do — greet at the door, have an icebreaker/warm-up posted, collect work as they walk in, hand items back during the warm-up so as not to waste class time, transition smoothly to the next activity, and have a closing activity — ding — the bell rings…I know that it is essential that we do it, but I also see how easy it is to let it slip away.
4. Adding 6 – 8 students per class makes assessment far more difficult at a time when we need to increase our use of formative assessments. Aside from not being able to even move around the room efficiently, adding upwards of 40 extra students to the grading load is almost unbearable. And, if your average class size has grown from 28-30 to 36 over the past decade, that IS the end result. Factor in 5 classes, and you have 30 to 40 additional papers, projects, tests, and quizzes to grade. A simple discussion post at one minute of reading per post adds 30 -40 minutes. Essays, research papers, projects, and tests — we are looking at HOURS of additional time. Let’s say it is a short, fairly easy paper to grade — 2 minutes per paper — you add another 80 minutes to each grading load. Suppose it is an essay at a speedy 5 minutes. Wow — that is 200 minutes. Let’s translate that folks — that is 3 hours and 20 minutes of extra grading time for just that one assignment. A research paper at 30 minutes per paper adds an overwhelming 20 hours. And, a new teacher, who may not be as adept at grading essays quickly, can feel literally buried under a mountain of papers.
There is much, much more that I have learned that I haven’t fully processed yet, but at this point, I just want to say THANK A TEACHER. Unless you’ve done the job, you have no idea. Don’t EVER say, “Well, at least you get the week of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and summers off.” If you do make a blunder and say that, don’t be surprised by the look of disdain that you get in return. My dear teacher friends put in enough extra time on nights and weekends during the school year that it obliterates any time “off.” And, I assure you, many use that time “off” at Thanksgiving to catch up on grading and the time off at Christmas to plan for next semester. And, if they decide to use that time to spend with their families, they feel the pressure of unfinished piles of papers…Summers are filled with conferences, planning, and second jobs.
So, I would like to thank some of the most underappreciated people I know — the educators who invest their time, talent, and hearts in the lives of our children.