When I was President of the Board of Trustees of our local school district, keeping class sizes small was the bait we used to pass tax increases. No one wanted her child to be one of 26 first timers; 15 was a big enough class for one teacher to handle.
And, we had aides for several of the hours the kids were with the teachers.
And, we had students who had been to pre-school. They were socialized to stand quietly in a straight line, to sit still at their desks with their hands folded and their heads upright, instead of lying on the desks. They understood 3 Fingers in the Air was the signal for silence.
And, we had families who understood the need for a good night's sleep before sending a 5 year old to a full day of learning.
And, we had families who understood the importance of returning the homework envelope every Monday morning.
And, we had parents who were able and willing to volunteer as helpers. In fact, most classrooms had waiting lists for those jobs.
I spent this morning in a class of 26 5 year olds. Their teacher and I were the only adults. The students were broken up into of groups of 4 or 5; they moved with their group from station to station. There are iPads and desktops and library books. There were foam letters to be placed on the corresponding shape on the laminated worksheet. There were pages with monkeys at the table beneath the M words - mouse, mud, moon, moose all joined the monkey as prompts for copying and drawing.
The little ones tried their best. Those with older siblings (I asked) were further along than their classmates; the letters were already familiar to them. The task of supervising the writing center, that table with the M's, was given to me. I was enthusiastic about the paper the little one to my left showed me. She'd drawn a monkey and a mouse and written all the words, stacking them one beneath the other on her unwrinkled page. We were very busy being pleased with her work.
The young man to my right, however, was a different story entirely. He didn't know how to hold the pencil. I put one between my fingers, and watched quietly as he mimicked my motions. "I don't know how," was his response to my prompt to write a lower case m.
I drew one myself. His pencil hovered over the paper but made nary a mark. "I don't know what to do," he whispered. I took his hand in mine, and, together, we drew an m. Down and then up again and make a hump, then up and another hump and voila! Could he do one on his own? He tried, but the humps were disconnected and the whole thing was askew. I drew the outline of an m with dots, and asked him to follow it around. TaDah! An m appeared.
His smile lasted a brief moment; the task was to write the entire word, and the o was confounding him, too. He had tails all over the place, o's resembling a's and p's and q's. Again, I made dots and again he followed them. Trying on his own, he managed to connect a circle without extraneous marks. Genius! Wonderful! I drew a smiley face next to the perfect o and, just as we were moving on to the u it was time to change stations.
I had no time to examine the work of the other two students at our station. I had no time to think of something more advanced for the little one on my left. It was controlled chaos, as the teacher strode across the classroom, helping with frozen desktops and reminding her charges that quiet was the order of the day, all the while running her own reading center.
One recalcitrant learner managed to disrupt the entire room. She was escorted to the next classroom for a time out, but returned when her running around that classroom disturbed them as it had disturbed us. Back in our room, she sat at a desk in an quiet corner, alone, rocking back and forth on her chair, doing her work but watching for an opportunity for mischief.
It was exhausting.
Last year, there were aides and translators and specialists to deal with the various levels of readiness in the room. This year, those support staff have been deployed to the upper grades. The teacher is a veteran, a kind and thoughtful and bright young woman whose voice had always been firm but steady.... until this year. This year, I've heard her loud and upset. I've heard her chastise instead of taking the extra time to reason things out. There is no time for reasoning; while she's involved with the troublemakers the rest of the room devolves into chaos.
It's crowd control. It's not education. She has no time to develop the individual. She can only move them around from station to station, hopeful that they can figure things out on their own.
How does a little boy who's afraid to hold a pencil learn to make an m without adult supervision? If you have an answer, let us know. For now, I'll try to volunteer a few mornings a week to ease the strain. I'll look for GRIN volunteers as well. And I'll worry about my friend whose classroom is nothing like the wonderful room with 16 kids at her feet - the room she had on the first day of school.
More students arrive. Class sizes mount. Learning suffers.
Our kids deserve better.