By Vicki Little
A while back, a friend mentioned that her son was in a class with 32 students. At first, I thought I had heard her wrong. Twenty-three kids is pretty typical, so I figured she meant that. But no. There are actually 32 kids in her child’s class. With one teacher.
I did some math in my head. Reading centers last for about an hour and a half at her school, not including the time it takes to shuffle around. That means the teacher gets about 2.8 minutes to focus on each child. Depending on the child’s reading level, it can take about that long for them to read one page. Then I start adding in other factors — like the active, talkative, sensitive, or special-needs children who need extra attention. I volunteer in my daughter’s classroom every week, and her teacher is amazing at keeping the class under control. But kids are kids — and a whole bunch of children together is a temptation bigger than candy.
While I was spending 10 minutes reading with one child, she had to walk away from the group she was with to gently talk to a boy who was causing a distraction – twice. It took her about 30 seconds to handle the situation each time, so now she is down to about 2.7 minutes per child. Then, she had to ask the class to quiet down at least three times…. See where I am going with this?
While it is true that teachers are getting creative in their groups and some teach quite well within the time limits they are given, our children still aren’t getting enough teacher time in bigger classes. This restricted time means that it is harder for teachers to get to know our children — including their personalities and the ways in which they learn. This is particularly true if your student is shy or well-behaved. But whether our children will be successful in a large learning environment has too many variables to make an accurate prediction. You have to factor in the teacher’s abilities and personalities, the student’s strengths and weaknesses, the other class members, the school’s socio-economic status, and the parental involvement. However, a study by Spyros Konstantopoulos and Vicki Chung on the long-term effects of small class sizes on the achievement gap, showed that smaller class sizes lessened the gap between high-level and low-level achievers of a particular group.
So as parents what can we do to help our children avoid getting lost in large classes? Well, we can always write to Congress and educate ourselves on the issues before we vote, but for the more immediate time-frame there are other things we can do:
- Set up your child for success. Work with your child at home on finding how they learn best. Is your child able to focus better if he or she has a spin ring to keep their hands busy? Does your child need to ask the teacher to sit closer to the front to be less distracted? Does he or she need extra protein in their lunch or to go to bed earlier to stay focused throughout the day?
- Help them with their homework. Even if they can do it on their own, check it over with them to make sure it is correct, be available to answer questions or to listen to them read their essay, and ask how they completed a certain math problem. It shows them that you are a resource they can go to if needed. You also will keep up to date with what they are learning so you can ask the teacher for guidance. If their work suddenly takes a drastic nosedive, it may be an indicator that something is wrong — either academically or socially.
- Stay involved. The thought of attending another school carnival or auction may make you a bit nauseous, but these events are actually important for your child. You will get to know other parents and teachers and create connections that will be useful. Seeing your child outside of school will also help the teacher get to know him or her better than in the large classroom setting. Talking with the other parents will help you understand what is happening in the classroom (i.e. if everyone is lost or if your child just needs extra help). It is also vital that you attend every teacher conference that’s offered, and that you reach out to the teacher when you need to. Talk to the teacher about your concerns and ask for ways to help your child succeed.
- Volunteer. If you want to help your child get more personal attention in school, the best way to do that is to open up time for that to happen. Many teachers use volunteers for one-on-one time during reading and math — so the students can focus and ask questions. Some teachers may ask you to help administer spelling tests or simple assessments so their time can be opened up for students. Any bit of time is helpful.
Vicki Little is a work-at-home mom with two young kids. A Colorado native, she is the Publisher and Editor of Macaroni Kid Aurora and Downtown Denver. In her free time, she enjoys volunteering, reading, camping, or enjoying a bottle of wine with friends.
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