“Teaching and learning should be personalized to the maximum feasible extent. Efforts should be directed toward a goal that no teacher have direct responsibility for more than 80 students in the high school and middle school and no more than 20 in the elementary school.To capitalize on this personalization, decisions about the details of the course of study, the use of students’ and teachers’ time and the choice of teaching materials and specific pedagogies must be unreservedly placed in the hands of the principal and staff.”
If you have 45 students per class, and you teach four sections a day, you have 180 kids on your academic roster. There’s no way to authentically give feedback on student work or drill down into student passion and interest. And it’s even hard to keep all 180 names right at the forefront of mind, and you certainly cannot remember the faces of 180 parents when they come in two or three times a year. And by the way, four courses a day is probably a low estimate for many teachers. In many urban high schools, teachers have five and sometimes six full courses to teach a day.
This creates a crushing workload outside of class, especially if you try to do any kind of authentic assessment or project-based learning. Let’s take a typical English classroom, for example. If you assign that most classic of English assignments, the five paragraph essay, and you spend 10 minutes grading each one (and English teachers everywhere just laughed at the idea that they can give meaningful feedback on an essay in 10 minutes) that’s 30 hours of grading for *one* assignment – and that’s not counting when teachers give feedback on rough drafts or thesis statements or any of the other scaffolding techniques teachers use to build student facility in the writing process.
(Full Disclosure – the Philly budget means I can’t get to 80 kids for teachers at SLA either. Most core academic teachers have 120-125 kids on their caseload (plus 20 Advisees, which is a TON of work, too), and even that is much lower than many SDP schools.)
It’s important that class size at the high school level isn’t just about the singular class – it’s about how that contributes to the overall teacher load. At 180 kids or more on an academic load, teachers are making Faustian bargains about how to do the job, and they know it, and so do the kids. Even the most deeply caring, efficient teacher has kids are falling through the cracks in that model, and what that does to the psyche of kids and teachers in those schools is absolutely toxic.
When society creates systems like that and then tells students that school is the societal mechanism to economic independence and fully actualized citizenship, we lie to them because kids can see for themselves how under-resourced that mechanism – their school – really is, and teachers are on the front-line of the anger that results. When we starve our schools, we set teachers and students up to fail. And that’s cruel for every reason you can think, and cynically, it forces teachers – who went into the work to make a difference – to engage in martyrdom to even try to mitigate the system-level failure.
I guarantee you that there is not a teacher in LA who – if you cut their student caseload in half – would suddenly work half as long.
Teachers put in the hours. They just want the right to feel like those hours are making a difference for the kids they teach. That’s what #UTLAStrong is about.
P.S. – I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out how the CES definition of personalization is so much more humane and powerful and real than any technocratic, Khan Academy “playlist” vision of personalization can ever be. But that’s a post for another time.