Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Me --- Second Grade --- A Rant

I was back in second grade today --- different school, different group of students but still I got hugs and sweet comments. I love second grade. They already know how to read, do math and write. You just have to hone those skills; open more doors and pour in more knowledge. But I don't regret having spent only one year as a second grade teacher. That was a long year with thirty-six student (and no aide). Plus I've had the priviledge of teaching students of all ages and although I have my favorites I really feel like teaching is teaching and when done right student will learn. It is just easier to do it right in some situations than in others. That situation being class size. I'm glad Texas realized after I had my thirty-six that in primary grades that is too many students for one teacher and reduced the class size to twenty-two, but I'm here to say that even that is too many.

Most of my career was spent teaching language arts in third, fourth, and fifth grades. I actually spent ten years in third grade with class sizes of fifteen to twenty students before husbands job change created a job change necessity for me. [ Come to think if it all my job changes have been because of his job changes. ] When we moved to Texline, a huge metropolis of 400 people, I was the language arts teacher for fourth, fifth, and sixth grades. I had one class at each grade level with 10 to 15 students each and taught them in 90 minute blocks. I also had the fourth grade science class for those who do the math and don't come with enough hours of work. I really enjoyed that teaching situation. I basically had the same students for three years and in that length of time I could pretty well get across to them what I felt the state of Texas wanted them to know. I taught there for about 10 years. The other ten years were spent in various schools doing various jobs. I was the Title I teacher for about 5 years at Fort Elliot, a school with a total population of about 100 student. Yes, all the classes were small. During that time I also taught seventh or eighth grade English, a speech class to high school freshmen, and was an axillary teacher. In other words I taught whatever class I was needed to teach in high school when a single student moved in and needed a class that wouldn't work into the schedule any other way. I taught a biology class, an economics class and a junior English class. Those other five years is when I taught first grade, second grade and even music one semester (which counted as a year for retirement).

You can tell from my experiences that I am, at least in my mind, a bit of an expert. I've had classes of all sizes. I didn't like extremely small classes. One fourth grade only had five students and it was hard to make independent workers out of them. I was too easily accessible and discussion were a little weak, too. But thirty-six even twenty-two is too many. The best class size is from 10 to 15. You can do group work and then share the results so that everyone benefits from the work of others. You have time to get to each student when they need help, but there are enough students that they have to do somethings on their own, becoming that independent worker/thinker.

When I subbed for second grade last week there were thirteen students in the class. That thirteen was a mixed group; some high achievers, some low and some in the middle plus those sturggling with English as a second language and some native speakers who never hear it spoken correctly, ect. But I got around to every student --- in one day I knew something about each one. Today's class had the same sort of mix; the difference was that in today's classroom there were twenty-two students. I found it was hard to get around to every student in the short time we had to do each assignment. I found it hard to learn all their names or even call them by name. I'm sad to admit it, but there is probably some student that didn't even get called on. They were well behaved for me, they wanted to please and again I put smiley faces on their papers for their efforts, but it took so much longer to get around that by the time you got to the last student it had lost part of its effectiveness. To the teacher of that class my heart goes out. She gets the same pay and the same amount of prep time but has nearly twice the student. Yet I know that at the end of the year both groups will be going to third grade, both groups will still have high and low achievers, both groups will still have students struggling with English as a second language, and both classes will still have students who parents aren't really helping.

Knowing all this, I understand a little better the desire of many parents to home school their children. I've never been a huge proponent of home schooling, but I have always said it was the parents' responsibly to make sure their child is getting the best education possible. My only request as a public school teacher (and I still consider myself a public school teacher even though I'm retired) is that you get a good curriculum and follow it. Set a high standard for your child, put them in groups so they have to interact and exchange ideas, get them involved socially. All those things matter. Learning is so much more than just book facts.

For all those who can't home school or afford to send your child to a private school with small class enrollments then I say start talking it up to the powers who be --- classes sizes need to be smaller even now. Yes, the twenty-two is better, but we need them smaller, and not just in primary grades but at least through junior high. Whine, complain, gripe, be heard at school meetings --- remember it is the squeaky wheel that gets some grease.

I think I just preached to the choir.


Brooke said...

I am a fourth grade teacher in Kentucky and have 30 in my class this year! It is extremely hard and not fair to the students :( At points it is chaos!

Losing Myself said...

I've always admired that you were, and are, such an excellent teacher. I remember when you planned on being a nurse. I know that there are many children who are glad that you didn't. And probably a few who wished you had.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Yep, choir here. My kids have 21 and 24 in their classes, respectively. I understand the struggle our local school board goes through about class size, so I try to shut up and help out as much as I can.

Carrie said...

We have big classes this year at school. Not sure why but some are close to 30.

But one of the best classes I ever taught had 28 students--it was just a great mix of students and the high achievers pulled the lower learners up. That same year I had another class of 15 and it was not so good. They weren't "bad" just didn't care.