I built up the Latin program to where this year I started the first year class with 30 students. Next year I have 35 but that will be divided into 2 sections of 17-18 each (probably a few more will dribble in during the summer). The parents pay big bucks for these small classes but since 30 doesn’t quite hit the breaking point, I had to deal with 30 kids this year.
Let me tell you, give you an example of, the effects of this. I am looking at a worksheet provided by the textbook company. It’s a common sense worksheet, asking students to find the matching past tense of a present tense verb. In Latin, that can be a trifle tricky as in capio vs cepi, but with only a handful of verbs to work with, it’s not rocket science. And yet……..
Most of the students just jotted the numbers down, no problem. But a handful obviously wrote numbers at random or perhaps tried to match first letters or overall sound similarities e.g. sensi and amisi. Anyway, a few of them are just a mess. What happened?
With 15-20 students, #1, they can ask me even as they diddle and fiddle around with all the nonsense kids fiddle-faddle with. There’s a reason many of my colleagues keep total silence in their classrooms (although that is more a spoken principle than a reality if you have a chance to observe their classrooms). Where you have total silence, you have kids working by themselves. I know that’s an ideal for certain ideologues in our society who hate “collectivism”, but I think most people appreciate the synergy of students working together (that’s a topic for another blog entry).
Therefore, I like having my students work on activities, assignments, readings, worksheets, etc. together. But when the class is big, those who struggle with the basics, having learned to hide their disabilities from others, tend to drift away from the activity. You, the teacher, meanwhile, not being able to monitor such a large group, accept papers some of which turn out to be junk.
The instructions on this were clear. But not to these kids. There are perhaps 4 or 5 of them who, no matter that they came through Catholic schools and so forth, never learned how to process. Often, these same children have penship that is indicative of learning disabilities. Do we begin to get a picture of parents who have sacrificed so much b/c their children were not getting educated in public schools? Could be.
However, in my school, there are still plenty of teachers who think you are challenging a kid by giving him something he simply cannot do with help. We call this help scaffolding in some instances. And, of course, we’ll get kickback from the social Darwinists among us. They believe we are weakening society by not giving these kids low or failing grades so they will be unable to attend good schools. It’s like putting low-performing students in huge remedial classes with the most boring, uninticing work handed out by teachers lowest on the totem pole. We are supposed to show the world and especially the student just how inept this kid is.
Instead, many of us believe our job is to teach. So tomorrow, I will hand this work back and have the students who had problems read out the instructions and have “anyone” go to the board (volunteers will be those who grasped the instructions) and show what is to be done. Then I’ll give time to “everyone”, obviously just the few who need it, to correct the sheet. Others can be reading the current story we are working with.
Balancing this is hard on the teacher. Dealing with low-performing students who cannot even form letters legibly requires sensitivity. Sussing out the reason a few did not understand the instructions (inattentiveness? poor reading skills? information processing problems? lack of motivation?) puts demands on our patience and capacity for valuing each individual. Sometimes you want to say “How in the hell did you ever get into a prep school?” And then you picture yourself as a parent and pull back from that reaction and go help the kid.
But how do we let kids get to high school without being able to write legibly? How do we let teachers stand at the board rattling off facts without comprehension checks (remember the teacher who said she doesn’t like activities; she just presents the information?)? How do we…., how do we….., how do we…..?