Thursday, March 26, 2015

size matters...

From an administrative point of view, an effective teacher can manage a classroom of 30-35 children. The New York Public school system will allow 35 children in a class, but some classes have 36 due to the expectation that any given day, at least one student will be absent. Yesterday I was telling a friend about my daughter's teaching in New York, and that she has over 30 students in each of her 6th grade math and seventh grade science classes. My friend has a daughter who teaches in a Montessori school and has 25 students in the primary grades.

The point here is not that a good teacher can manage a large class but that managing a class and teaching a class are two different things. In fact the idea of a "class" as an effective grouping for student learning is erroneous in the first place.

Anyone who has paid attention to the workings of his own mind, and has made some efforts to note its wanderings will admit that the attention necessary to learn in a classroom is fleeting at best. The teacher may call the class to attention and introduce a bit of new material, which will be taken up by individual students at varying levels of comprehension, based not only on the students'  intelligence but also on the students' experience and interests. Not all students will have the same level of interest and attention at the same time. Fortunately some students have the ability to assemble discrete packets of  information into a holistic comprehension of the subject matter as the mind's attention moves in and out of range of materials being presented in a classroom setting. But within a "class," consisting of students with varying levels of intelligence and diverse prior experience, and in which students are burdened with circumstances outside the school that none-the-less have real impact on ability to be present and attentive, the range is too great for even the best teachers to overcome.

Nearly every good teacher in the world will describe the challenges that arise when they have too little time to give individualized attention to each student. And yet, in administrations and in the halls of Congress, nothing is done to reduce class size. The idea in American education seems to be that by crowding students into a room and "teaching" them, they will conform to "standards," but the first standard that should be set would be for teachers to have no more than 20 students in a class.

If you were put in a situation in which you felt you were simply wasting your time, how long would you linger? Children and teachers face that situation each and every day.

Clear Spring School is out this week for Spring Break, so I am attempting to make products to fill an order for Appalachian Spring. The box design at the top of the page is one I worked out in my waking hours of the night. It is a small box in which the wooden hinges is integrated in the lid and back. I am about to sign a contract with Taunton Press for another box book, this one about making tiny boxes. So, in teaching and in other things, size matters.

Make, fix and create...


  1. Hi Doug,
    I taught middle school science for 15 years and can vouch for what you have said about "managing" vs "teaching." I put a great deal of effort into learning how to give worthwhile experiences to 30-32 students, 6 classes per day. My fifteenth year I was given a hodge-podge class of 12 students and we were put in a regular classroom with no facilities for science. It turned out to be the best science class ever! After that experience I realized what the problem was and that there was no solution to the problem in the public school system. I abandoned ship that June, never to teach public school science again. I think 15 is about the max if there is no one to help (teacher aide, lab tech, parent helper, etc). J

  2. You bring up a good point. If there is a qualified teacher's aide, more students can be successful in a class. With 30 students in a class and the class period being 45 minutes, that means very little opportunity for checking in on the needs of each student. A teacher's aide can help.