Yet again, I was reminded this September of how much class size matters.
Last year, the second grade classes I taught each week all had 27-30 students and it felt like every class had numerous children with disruptive behavior challenges- fighting, calling out, pushing, extreme anger and frustration, lack of impulse control, distraction- there were a lot of kids who were neither motivated, nor engaged. I felt like I was constantly redirecting, problem solving and disciplining and it was impossible to make time to meaningfully resolve every issue or address every need.
This August, when I looked at a 3rd grade teacher’s class list, I thought oh man- this is going to be a rough class, because I saw so many of the kids who I had struggled with as second graders.
And then school started. And things were different- with those very same kids that I used to fall asleep worrying about. Suddenly, the behavior problems were gone. Why?
Now that class only has 16 kids in it. 16. 16 kids who are focused and calm, respectful and excited to learn and share their ideas. No, they are not suddenly perfect kid-bots, thank goodness. They still are quirky, and wiggly but the behavior problems, the serious ones that I devoted huge amounts of time and energy to managing- those are gone. And its the very same kids. 3 months later. The same teacher. Smaller class. Hand wringing, constant redirecting gone. It is dreamy.
Well, in a class of 16 every child is getting what they need. No one needs to compete for attention. No one is forgotten. Conflicts get fully resolved. Parents build close relationships with teachers. Every voice is heard. Students have physical and emotional space- more freedom to be independent and explore. The room itself is quieter, safer and calmer. Most important, in a small class teachers can quickly build relationships that lay the foundation for meaningful learning and growth.
Imagine if all classes in public schools were this small. Certainly there would still be students who struggle. But imagine how many of the misbehaviors that we address every day would disappear. How many suspensions and disciplinary actions we might avoid.
We need to ask ourselves- by having large classes in early childhood are we the ones creating so called “behavior problem kids”? How often do people say of misbehavior- oh he is just trying to get attention. She just wants attention. As if that is not a valid need for a child to have. All children want and need attention! And love! And recognition! And a sense of significance! And it is really hard to get those things in a class of thirty other 7 year olds.
This is why my friends who teach in private schools have 15 students and 2 teachers in a class. Because class size really does matter and everyone who has ever tried to teach a roomful of 32 children understands that beyond a doubt.
If only the DOE and powers above would invest in teachers instead of blowing money on testing, consultants and developmentally inappropriate and soon to be obsolete technology. If only this one small class wasn’t a fluke and classes of 32 became a thing of the past- especially in early childhood. Because every year as my classes shrink or expand, I see how much class size really does matter.