Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The First Step to Saving Our Schools

As of this year my younger brother is no longer a public school student. Like me, he attended public elementary and middle schools, however, when it came to choose a high school, he and my parents decided that he would do better at a private school. Fortunately, they made a good decision for my brother. He is now at a school that he loves, he really succeeds in and he feels does a good job in educating the students.

Out of curiosity, I asked him what the difference was between the public school he had attended and his current school in terms of educational value. His answer was quick and simple: the adults in the building have time to care about the students.

In the NYC education system, the first step to improving schools is creating a situation in which educators have time to care about the students. This can only come for significant reductions in class size and teacher load.

One problem with my brother's public school experience, he said, was the feeling that whenever he approached a teacher for extra help or just general academic support, he felt as though he was burdening them, like they didn't have the time to help their student. This is a major problem and it is not the teachers' fault.

Through my high school experience so far, I can count on one hand how many of my classes were below the union cap of 34 (even though the City claims the average is 25). As a member of the NYC Student Union, I know students from every corner of the City, and over and over I have heard the same sentiment when it comes to class size. Just as problematic is the problem of teacher load, the total number of students a teacher teaches at any given time. This number is often around 170 in high schools.

Education is based on relationships, the most basic and important being that between a teacher and a student. Large class sizes and teacher loads, prevents many teachers and students from developing the relationships necessary to make education happen. Furthermore, while classes of 34 are extremely difficult to manage and teach effectively in, it should be noted that they are equally difficult to learn in. When I entered ninth grade, when confronted with larger classes, I came to an academic standstill. I tried to do the work and do well on tests, but inside I knew that I was just not learning as effectively as I had in previous schools.

Because these factors make teaching and learning just so impossible, they also prevent the clear evaluation of new academic strategies, as even the best programs are doomed to fail under these conditions. Thus, as the title reads, class size and teacher load reduction is the requisite first step to saving our schools.

What we need in New York City, is an education system that makes education possible. When educators are so overburdened that they don't have time to care about the needs of individual students, this is not the case. When the classroom is completely unmanageable and knowledge can not pass through the barrier between teacher and student because of population overload, this is not the case. And when students feel as though they are just another "problem" for the all-to-busy adults in the building, this is not the case.

It is time to cut class sizes and trim teacher loads. If we really want to save our schools, that is the first step.


Patrick Sullivan said...

Great post. I sent it to all my colleagues on the Panel for Educational Policy.

Pissed Off said...

I'm a NYC HS teacher and couldn't have said what you said any better. Although many of my students know I care about them, there are just too many and I know that each year there are fewer and fewer that I can actually reach. When I am assigned to the library to tutor, I can only answer one question per student, as it is me and 10 of you. The sad thing is no one cares. To the mayor, you are not important. You don't vote. Your parents are not important either, if they mattered they would have the money to send you to private school. Unfortunately I don't see any help in sight. And, teachers like me, are retiring in groves. It is just too hard to watch kids being mistreated while there is nothing we can do to prevent it.

Seth Pearce said...

thanks a lot mr. sullivan.

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