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by Peter Huidekoper, Jr.
Peter Huidekoper Jr. has been writing an education newsletter, Another View, for over 20 years. Peter has authored a number of opinion pieces in newspapers and magazines. He is the Coordinator for the Colorado Education Policy Cohort. For 18 years he taught and coached in middle and high schools in Massachusetts, Vermont, New York, and Colorado.
This is a guest submitted opinion piece, and does not necessarily reflect the views of A+ Colorado.
School leadership, time constraints, and class size
What issue speaks to teacher satisfaction, retention, and burnout, that also speaks to a healthy school climate and strong teacher-student relationships, that also speaks to social-emotional learning and personalization, that also speaks to students being engaged in the classroom and feeling that their voice can be heard? And that for those students, their teacher knows them well?
Class size, and the number of students a teacher is asked to teach.
I raise this issue with some folks and they tell me, “I don’t hear much about this issue.” (Almost as if resigned to a – well, it-is-what-it-is.) Exactly why I write this. And because in Colorado, class size is a greater problem than it is in most states.
The Denver teachers’ strike in the winter of 2018-19 focused on money. We heard little about the conditions that make a huge difference in the nature of a teacher’s job: school leadership, time constraints, and class size. I am not sure why the teachers association in Colorado feels it is best to focus on teacher pay. In my newsletter Another View #214, Two key factors affecting recruitment, retention, and how teachers feel about the profession: Time and Class Size.
More important than the pay check? I show that the union’s agenda is often much broader in other states. Note especially last year’s teachers’ strikes in Los Angeles, Oakland, and Chicago. Is it because compensation is the one issue teachers can rally around in order for a strike to succeed? Or maybe it is because, on those “secondary” matters, there are simply too many perspectives: different views on accountability and testing; on autonomy and choice; on safety, school resource officers, and police—and much more.
Whatever the reason, the focus in 2018-19 was all about better pay.
I wonder if this almost exclusive attention to the compensation package and salary demands negotiated in the teachers’ contract does not diminish the importance of those other vital areas, those falling under the umbrella of “the conditions of teaching.”
What if such “other” areas are actually the most powerful reasons teachers choose to stay, or leave, the profession? When teachers speak of burnout and exhaustion, there is something more fundamental happening than worries about one’s pay check.
Two enormously troubling issues, for me, about a teacher’s job were time and class size/the number of students assigned to my classes. Another View #214 looks at this year’s Teacher and Learning Conditions in Colorado, where the state’s teachers stressed their gravest concern around a lack of time. I then show how a survey of over 700 Colorado teachers by the National Education Association makes a clear connection between a lack of time and our large classes. According to that survey: “74% of educators need smaller class sizes; 63% of educators need more time for planning and professional collaboration.”
All of us worry about a teacher shortage and what we can do to make the profession more attractive to our young people exploring careers. For too many, the simple answer seems to be: a better salary.
What am I suggesting? That money is not the chief reason teachers feel proud of and rewarded in their chosen career—or as some see it, their calling?
Another View #214 has an Addenda on related issues to class size—including the contrast between what we know of the average class size in our public schools versus what private schools are quick to reveal See Addendum D: “What the Colorado Department of Education tells us on class size. (It doesn’t. Teacher-student ratio ≠ class size.)“ See also Addendum E, “What Denver Public Schools tells us on average class size. (Nothing.),” and an article from Westword, “Gentrification Leading to Overcrowded DPS Classrooms.”
“Information we’ve received from local teachers reveal that class sizes of more than thirty students are commonplace at elementary schools throughout multiple sections of the DPS system.”
If parents were more aware that their student would be put in a class of 30-35 students class, isn’t it likely that will be an important factor in where they choose to send their child to school?
I ask public schools to be transparent in telling parents what the average class size of classes look like, and how many students a teacher in grades 7-12 are asked to teach.
Above all, I ask for more attention to reducing class size. I believe it is critical if we want to help more teachers to avoid burnout, to stay in the classroom knowing they can carry out their responsibilities in a way they believe they should, and to do the best they can by their students.
AV#214 – Two key factors affecting recruitment, retention, and how teachers feel about the profession: Time and Class Size. More important than the pay check?