Kids don’t go in the trunk: Plan for good teaching by reducing class sizes!

Spring Break is upon us! We're planning how to fit 12 people and lots of luggage into the automobiles and the discussion of the trunk monkey came up. We all want to ride together, but I proclaimed,

“But the kids aren't trunk monkeys! They all need seatbelts.”

What is a Trunk Monkey?

The hilarious Trunk Monkey videos were originally cut for the Superbowl in 2003 and 2004 for the Suburban auto group. (I love the Trunk monkey bridge video.)

So, the monkey sits in the trunk just waiting to protect the car from robbers and vandals!

But kids don't belong there!

Seatbelts limit the number of passengers in cars

Planning to put children in vehicles is easy. There are a set number of seatbelts and you cannot legally put any more in the car than that.

The old days of stuff the VW bug just don't apply any more, we can only fit a certain number of kids in a vehicle.

Classrooms don't have seatbelts…but they should

Then we have the classroom.

I have two computer science classes with practically the same content. Until December I had 20 in one class and 14 in the other.

The class average using the same tests and material was about 4 points higher in the class with less students. The smaller class was learning the material better.

I also found myself looking forward to the smaller class but sometimes dreading the larger one. I chastized myself and got angry at myself, but that nagging feeling in the back of my mind was still there. I liked the smaller class better.

Then, I had several students drop out of the larger class as they moved to other towns and I now have 17 in one class and 14 in the other. The grades are now relatively even. That nagging feeling is gone. I look forward equally to both classes!

Classrooms should have “sanity” belts

Now, I can handle more kids and have taught 21 kids in my computer classroom with 21 computers (including mine and the demonstration computer.) I've taught adult classes with 50 adults and an aid. A good teacher can deal with larger classes, but don't think that something isn't sacrificed in the process!

I have friends who teach 30 kids per class day in and day out. Some teach more. They are much better paid than I, but struggle with the quality of their teaching and time in the classroom. They live with that nagging feeling of dread.

When the class is overfull, who gets put in the trunk?

I say all of this to state that when you fill a car to past capacity, some child is going to have to ride on the floorboard or even worse .. in the trunk. Some child will be unprotected and uncared for.

Some child in the overfull classroom, usually the one with a learning disability or the introvert, is going to be left out!

Smaller Class Sizes are Important!

The easiest way to have an excellent education for kids is to have a smaller class size with a good teacher and a good curriculum. We've pinched pennies in the wrong places in many schools.

There are great teachers out there. Many of them are just hidden by the exhaustion and fatigue of classes that are too large.

There are real children behind the numbers!

There is a great quality and richness that emerges from a class where you can have quality time with each student.

With a history in business, I know that there are cost factors to consider and overhead and ….

However, as one writes financial models and looks at budgets and what will happen to the bottom line if class sizes go from “18.3 children per teacher” to “21.6” you must not forget that there are very real children and very real teachers behind those numbers. The secret to a good education also lies behind those numbers.

I believe that every child deserves a good education with engaged, excited teachers. If you want to zap the excitement out of somebody, put them in a classroom with too many kids!

In conclusion

Class size is so important and cannot be underestimated.
One reason I think the school where I work has had such phenomenal success with average every day kids is that we have a student to teacher ratio of 15:1. No class is more than 20 students at this time and that is the way we've determined it will stay.

We've played with numbers in the past and have learned that the best educations happen in smaller class sizes…

Likewise, my children will be snug and safe in their seatbelts this weekend. It would be wrong beyond measure to put them in the trunk!

Perhaps I've oversimplified. However, I feel very strongly about the importance of a smaller class size in education. I do not know the “magic number,” I do know from experience that I am a better teacher when my circumstances help me be a better teacher. I am fortunate in that my current administration knows this.

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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Jim Dornberg March 29, 2006 - 3:18 am

Our language arts consultant has often said that instead of spending millions of dollars on high stakes standardized testing we should be using that money to hire more teachers and reduce class size. Then we’d see improvement in student achievement!

Karyn Romeis March 29, 2006 - 8:05 am

I couldn’t agree with your more, and I have a story for you:

In the city where I live, the school system is changing. Previously, we had first schools (Foundation year to Year 2) middle schools (Years 3-7) and secondary schools (Years 8-13). Last year, the city switched to a system being used in most of the rest of the country: primary schools (Foundation to Year 6) and secondary (Years 7 and up).

Except that two of the largest secondary schools in the city opted to hold back a year before making the switch.

Caught in the middle of this is my younger son, who is in Year 7. At the end of the last academic year, some of the children from his year left to go to high school. Most of the children, however, were due to go to one of the schools that was delaying the changeover. Thirty six Year 7s are caught in this limbo, attending what is essentially a primary school, while other children of their age all over the city have moved up to secondary school.

To make it worse, they decided to put all these kids together IN ONE CLASS! The classroom is too small to hold 36 kids and all their materials, so the “easy” ones sit outside in the common area, my son being one of them.

Why oh why, if it was only to be for one year, could they not have created two small classes? This is one of the most difficult years – when some kids hit puberty while others are still children, it’s the year when some kids have a growth spurt and suddenly shoot up taller than their peers. Hormones are all over the place and mood swings are common. How these children can possibly be nurtured with a ratio of 36:1 is beyond me – particularly those with learning disabilities.

I don’t know what the national average class size is, but neither of my children has ever been in a class smaller than 26. That’s tough enough, but 36 is ludicrous.

Mr. Casperson March 29, 2006 - 11:34 am

(I was going to post this on my own blog but it doesn’t fit in with where I want it to go right now.)

This is a great metaphor Vicki. Sure we can pile more people in a car that it has seatbelts for. Most likely they will be fine but it does add to discomfort of occupants and there is a chance some will get hurt more than others.

The same goes for the classroom. I had just had a conversation about this with my wife about this early yesterday. States and the public need to realize that we cannot pile more than 20 students into a classroom and not expect the quality of the educational ride to remain high for all. We’ve gone into economies of scale and practicality that say its ok if we lose a few students–most will be fine. Sure I’ve taught classes with 30 students and did a good job. Most of the students will be ok for it, but some I’m sure did not get all they deserved. They needed some extra attention and as long as they weren’t flunking or didn’t disrupt class, they more than likely didn’t get it. There are some teachers that really go the extra mile and devote all their spare planning/prep time, before and after school with kids and then take all their work home–losing time with their own families if they have one, not doing any exercise or hobbies. We also have one of the highest burn out rate of any profession with anywhere between a third and a half of new teachers quitting within 5 years.

This is not the school districts fault. They only have so much money and must make it go around the best they can. But we need parents and teachers to let the states know we need adequate funding. Education cannot become more and more test focused, which tends to lead to more drill and rote memory types of learning since these tests are becoming more and more knowledge recall and basic application-not looking for higher thinking skills.

I suppose if we do more drill and kill we can fit more students in the classroom rather than do more messy learning where students learn how to experiment, fail, converse, and negotiate meaning. Drill and kill will not prepare our students, our children for the future where everything is changing and the students need skills of adaptability, experimentation, informational analysis and meaning making/publishing. Teachers have too often tried to plug the dam and its definitely not in my nature to whine, but we really need to stand up for smaller classroom sizes, more opportunities for meaniful learning and repel this ever increasing drudgery of testing, testing, testing.

Besides talking to our representatives in congress and trying to get the message out to the public, what else can we do to encourage the funding that’s needed to really improve education for students–not this smoke and mirrors game that has more testing improving education.

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