Dad of first-year teacher: Why 50 kids in the class?

Any words of advice for new teachers confronting impossible class sizes besides run for your life?

Any words of advice for new teachers confronting impossible class sizes besides run for your life?

I received an e-mail from a parent of a first-year teacher that I thought I would share. I’ve eliminated any identifying information.

The teacher has been getting good evaluations thus far but the father has been surprised at the unnecessary challenges she has faced. First, she arrived at her new classroom to find no supplies. Nothing. So, she bought her own. Money eventually became available for supplies, but it was well into the school year.

But the father says supplies aren’t his first chief concern:

“It is the number of students that are in the classes.  Our General Assembly had the brilliant idea to balance the budget on the backs of students and teachers.  Not only did they not fund the entire school year, they removed the caps on class sizes.  My child has between 50 to 60 students in each class.

It is impossible to teach in those circumstances, especially when you consider the k-5 ages. This is a microcosm of a tragic situation.  Students are losing a year (at least) of their education foundation.  How are we ever going to improve test scores, drop-out rates and the full gamut of the likely outcome of this is if we keep using our children this way?

The education budget should be like an entitlement or the defense department at the federal level: Fund them fully up front and then take care of everything else.

I think this dad — and the rest of us — will be even more shocked next year as Georgia confronts a continuing budget crisis and a new governor who made clear during the campaign that he did not intend to send schools more money. Nathan Deal said he can offer flexibility, but not cash.

The father asked what I thought about this. I think it is a tragedy that we have yet to realize that an early investment in education will deliver far greater returns to the state later.

And before anybody tells me that more money doesn’t matter, we are spending on average about $8,000 a year per student in Georgia. (The per pupil spending climbs in districts that have opted to maintain smaller school sizes than the state funds and in districts with large numbers of hard-to-educate children and special education students. And those districts pay for a lot of those added costs through their local tax contribution to their schools.)

When you drill down and look at the money being spent on the Georgia student who receives no special services of any kind, the spending probably drops closer to $7,000 or so a year per pupil.

The top privates in metro Atlanta charge between $14,000 and $18,000 a year. And their students are not special needs. The top private schools that specialize in students with special needs charge even more per year.  (I just talked to someone whose high school student with special needs attends a residential program out of state that charges $450 per day. But the teen is showing remarkable progress. )

I don’t maintain that money is the only factor in getting results in education, but it is a factor. Yes, there are those teacher-proof kids ( a description once given to me by a Gwinnett principal) who can learn in most any circumstances, reduced or otherwise, but there aren’t too many of them. Most kids need good teachers, a supportive and safe learning environment and opportunities for enrichment across disciplines — and that all costs money.

But even in these hard economic times, I was surprised to read that any Georgia teacher has so many students in her classes. Fifty or 60 kids? Wow.

Anybody else seeing class sizes that high?

Anybody have any words of reassurance for this dad about his daughter’s chosen career besides run for your life?

Two pieces of info from readers:

Here is a link to DOE requested class size waivers. This report details the system requests for class size exemptions.

Also, class size collection is part of the “FTE” student enrollment collection. The data from the October collection should be ready in a few weeks. I will ask DOE to share with us

78 comments Add your comment

Dr. Proud Black Man

November 23rd, 2010
8:43 am

“Dad of first-year teacher: Why 50 kids in the class?”

Because the tea (insert the name that cannot be mentioned) are hypocrites when it comes to taxes and we elected a man who can’t handle money. But hey, he offers “flexibility.”

Please!

November 23rd, 2010
8:57 am

What were Georgians sniffing when they elected Deal?

Samau

November 23rd, 2010
9:02 am

This is obviously a Connections/Exploratory Class. These are typically large, but 50 is a great deal of kids. Thank goodness this young teacher is not responsible for a state-mandated test. I have many friends that are teaching upwards to 35 students in each class, which wouldn’t be such a big deal, but they are in trailers. In a time where teachers are being forced to not lecture, but rather allow for flexible groups, etc. it is ALMOST impossible to arrange your desks for this, and allow for the teacher to float around the room. Likewise, while everyone states that larger classes are fine when you differentiate (I find that everyone can use this word, but it is VERY difficult to do this correctly), it is nearly impossible to effectively gauge your students’ level of mastery with such a large number of students. I am very anxious to see what the budget will look like next year, especially when teachers are on the brinks of a new evaluation system that requires far more work…

William Casey

November 23rd, 2010
9:07 am

Let’s face it. Education has not been a priority in Georgia going back at least to my first year teaching in 1975 and probably a lot longer than that. The attitude has always been “they’ll (teachers & students) muddle through.”

Please!

November 23rd, 2010
9:09 am

I am so glad (sarcasm) that the current and future administration in the Gold Dome will find the money to pay their cronies/staff. SICKENING.

schlmarm

November 23rd, 2010
9:10 am

My advice for this young teacher is if teaching is her true calling, to move to a different state where there is a strong teachers’ union. If she stays here, her spirit will be broken.

oldtimer

November 23rd, 2010
9:18 am

I had 47 in a reading class in Dekalb C. in 1976…difference is nearly all of them behaved or mamas took care of it and all but one learned and the one…he was being taken care of by an uncle after mom taught him how to use heroin and it took a couple of years of lots of love to get him back on track. Tell your daughter to do her best, love her kids and next year will be better.

Maureen Downey

November 23rd, 2010
9:18 am

@William Casey, You are right.I have heard lawmakers say at budget hearings that despite cuts, “Our dedicated teachers will find a way.”
At some point, that is no longer a compliment. It is a cop-out of the Legislature’s responsibility to adequately fund schools.
I also think that if schools manage to do well under these escalating fiscal restraints, we may not see funding restored under the argument that schools obviously can do with less.
Maureen

Jordan Kohanim

November 23rd, 2010
9:19 am

My 10th grade 8th period class (last class of the day) has 38. It is not exploratory. It is an on-level college preparatory Language Arts class.

Thank goodness I have a group of amazing kids. As many teachers will tell you, the dynamics of a large class can determine how well they work together.

What's best for kids?

November 23rd, 2010
9:21 am

Where was this father before his child was a teacher? Did he care as much as he does now? For whom did he vote? Education only comes to the forefront when we are personally affected by it. The teacher needs to either go private or go to another state.

ScienceTeacher671

November 23rd, 2010
9:28 am

Maureen, thank you for dissecting costs per student at public and private schools. Those are very relevant points that frequently aren’t made in education articles.

I agree with Samau that this is either exploratory or maybe art or PE class – note that the teacher has multiple classes of K-5 students. Sounds as if she has classes from 2 or more classroom teachers during each of her class periods.

One point and one question:

Point: Our newest teachers are frequently thrown into classrooms with no supplies provided, and frequently given the “worst” classes and/or the most challenging schedules. Is it any wonder that so many leave the profession?

Question: I’ve been hearing for the past couple of months that state revenues are way up over last year. At what point does this get back to state employees? Where’s the extra money going?

northatlantateacher

November 23rd, 2010
9:30 am

All of my classes have over 30 students, and we’re expected to have possibly 180 or so total students next year. Ironically, it’s my smallest class that’s the lowest performing overall.
In my experience, it isn’t about the actual size of one class, but the overall number of students that can be overwhelming.
If we really do have that many extra students next year, I will be forced to scale back on what I assign and grade. At some point, it becomes impossible to get it all done and done well.

teacher&mom

November 23rd, 2010
9:32 am

@Maureen D and William Casey…well said. Until the parents put pressure on their local representatives, nothing will change at the Gold Dome. If parents would flood the Dome with emails, phone calls, and letters, you can bet our legislators would take notice. They don’t fear teachers. We are continually written off as whiners. They know they can basically do whatever they want to education in this state and barely a whimper is raised from the voters. I firmly believe the move to take away the NBC teacher stipend was a move to “test the waters,” When they realized they had the support and the outcry was limited, they knew they could make even deeper cuts without any worry of losing votes.

My district re-elected a representative who sends his children to a small private school. He supports vouchers (imagine that), and votes the party line. Our public schools aren’t good enough for his own children and he has absolutely no problem making sure we “do more with less” because he is a “fiscally” responsible politician.

And no PBM….I didn’t vote for him or any others who vote like him.

Hey Teacher

November 23rd, 2010
9:33 am

One of the more practical concerns with these class sizes is that the rooms were not designed for 40 or 50 students. Teacher-friends of mine have high school students sitting on carpet squares because there aren’t enough desks. If something were to happen in these overstuffed classrooms (fire, flood, or more likely, a fight) then you’ve got a big problem.

ScienceTeacher671

November 23rd, 2010
9:37 am

Hey Teacher, maybe we ought to be talking to the local fire marshalls….

ga

November 23rd, 2010
9:39 am

50 kids in a class?! That’s way over the top. There is no doubt that teachers must get so frustrated trying to teach an overcrowded class. And it also will probably contribute to the number of students who will receive ‘paddlings’, my guess is that number is going to continue to rise as we continue to shove more kids in the classroom. Shameful. I would like to see the data on that

Tony

November 23rd, 2010
9:51 am

After meeting with legislators last year during the session, it was crystal clear to me that they are not interested in any factual information about school spending. They prefer to operate in the perceptions arena. That way they are able to perpetuate the myths about how bad schools are without actually having to admit the rise in student achievement. They are able to make broad statements about how much money is spent on central office fat cats without actually admitting the huge cuts most districts have had to make at that level. They are able to talk about all the money they have poured into public education with no results coming from their investment instead of admitting they have grossly underfunded education. We have elected another group of demons to run our government because we like their song and dance. Too bad for Georgia’s kids.

Peachtree Corners

November 23rd, 2010
9:58 am

Are “helocopter” parents following their offspring into the work force now?

Michael

November 23rd, 2010
9:59 am

Yes, the citizens of Georgia elected our new governor. Now, the state gets what it deserves. The choice this year was clearly “pro-education” or “I don’t give a flip about education”. The choice has been made, and all parents will face the music. Once again, the blame will fall on the teachers. Everyone needs to understand that even teachers have a limit to what they can afford to do. Teachers have lost two years of income from furlough days, plus no step raises this year. In my situation, I have lost over $5,000 in REAL income. I have met my limit. I think the author of this article is right on target. What do we do now?

HS Math Teacher

November 23rd, 2010
10:09 am

I’ve had over 30 in a class several times over the past 20 years; however, it’s really a problem when they’re 9th graders taking this Math 1. Kids seem to be promoted from 8th to 9th grades without so much of a hurdle to encounter. No, they don’t have to pass the CRCT….no, they don’t have to pass the math class…no, they don’t have to pass any class at all – no joke. The teachers in middle school are teaching, and do recommend several to fail; however, if Mama will come to the SST meeting with an firm conviction, the kids get a green light from administration. About 95 to 100% each year slip through by this process. Welcome to Math 1, where EACH class averages just over 30, and ALL kids must take college prep math, and kids have been taught & reinforced that you don’t have to worry about passing. What a train wreck.

Tucker Guy

November 23rd, 2010
10:20 am

You touched on something very important that Dekalb County is trying to hide under the rug; funding for special needs programs. In all the talk of redistricting special education is being avoided as if it doesn’t exist and has no bearing on decision making

Hey Teacher

November 23rd, 2010
10:23 am

@Scienceteacher671 — unfortunately the fire marshal has been furloughed this month LOL.

I feel very fortunate to work in a system that has kept class sizes to a reasonable level (if you think 30 kids a class is reasonable for high school), but we’ve been warned not to expect the same for next year if the cuts continue. We can’t expect to attract and keep high quality teachers to our state with deteriorating working conditions with no hope for improvement if and when the economy gets better.

high school teacher

November 23rd, 2010
10:44 am

Hey, but we should all be thankful that we have a job, right?

I voted for Monds…

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ScienceTeacher671

November 23rd, 2010
10:45 am

HS Math Teacher – “kids have been taught & reinforced that you don’t have to worry about passing.”

Yes, that’s our world too, except ours get passed on even if they have that rare parent who asks for them to be held back.

And if kids can’t pass the math CRCT, they are also going to have a really hard time with the math in Physical Science, and if they can’t pass the reading part, they aren’t reading well enough to read and comprehend a high school science textbook or the high school EOCTs. (And if they fail, it will be ALL MY FAULT, according to the state, which fortunately only requires students to get 43% of the answers correct to pass – just a little more than they could get with random chance answers.)

Then let’s speak about doing labs with a class of 32 students, in a classroom designed for 24….

Pedro

November 23rd, 2010
10:47 am

When did Roy Barnes earn the moniker of “pro education”? I did not vote for Deal and I railed at the Georgia Republican Party over his nomination but, if my memory serves me correctly, former Governor Barnes was not pro education. The fault lies with the system, not the man.

Mike the Original

November 23rd, 2010
10:50 am

You haven’t seen anything yet. Just wait until the Hall County way spreads over the rest of the State.

irishmafia

November 23rd, 2010
10:54 am

Late 1960’s Catholic school -7th grade–one nun –56 students –no discipline problems –30 year reunion -all 56 graduated from college –Yeah things have changed but most of it it total BS. Concentrating on Self esteem , reaching out to embrace diversity, lowest common denominator teaching ruined teaching and our education system years ago

Tommy Gunn

November 23rd, 2010
10:55 am

First of all, Deal is not even on th ejob yet. Second, Barnes was far from “pro education” based on his last term.
Our children are being deprived in the area of education. I will say that BOE’s and others have wasted money, so the blame is enopugh to spread around.

old teacher

November 23rd, 2010
11:03 am

I’m really appalled at the new jobs and pay raises for the staff of the outgoing politicians! One secretary gets a $90,000/year salary–and the excuse was–she makes less than the last person who had this job! This is not limited to republicans, people. Democrat Tommy Irvin did the same thing for his staff. Education is not a priority of our politicians.

Just wondering

November 23rd, 2010
11:16 am

Maureen, can you find out how much of the $7-8000 is spent on standardized testing? Having the tests written and published , materials to administer printed and shipped to the school systems, graded and results sent to systems. Also, how much are systems using for materials to practice for the tests? Even if the money doesn’t come from the $7-8000, I think taxpayers should know how much tax money is spent on these items. If this money was returned to the classrooms our students would do so much better and we could have smaller classes which would cut down on discipline problems and improve learning!

don the cpa

November 23rd, 2010
11:16 am

irishmafia hit the nail on the head. The problem is not money, class size or the politicians. The problem is the total lack of discipline in our schools. Students have zero respect for teachers and the administrators will not back teachers on disciplinary matters. I went through school in the 60’s and you behaved or you went home.

HS Public Teacher

November 23rd, 2010
11:19 am

Increasing class sizes to whatever will not be a problem. Why? Because the State of GA has begun to eliminate standardized testing (see the GHSGT)!

Who cares about the sizes of class? No one will ever know the implications on the children’s education because there will be no way to measure it!!! Simply get rid of the CRCT, EOCT, and GHSGT!

Hey! If we can also get rid of the SAT and the ACT, then 100% of our kids will be eligible to attend even the most difficult of colleges!!!!!!

CD

November 23rd, 2010
11:22 am

But, hey, at least the general assembly is making sure Mr. Blank’s Falcons will ge their new stadium.

HS Public Teacher

November 23rd, 2010
11:25 am

@Don the cpa….

While you are correct for the most part, there are few administrators out there that still the right things. They are few and far between, but they do exist. The problem is the majority of them simply follow the path of least resistance and that is to bow to parent pressure and to blame the teacher.

After all, Georgia teachers have no real teacher union to support them, so the administrators have free reign to run right over them anytime and anyplace.

SonnyFab

November 23rd, 2010
11:33 am

I understand that having 50 screaming 1st graders would drive anyone batty, let along seriously disrupt teaching. But there are a lot of comments here about “large” high school classes. I hate to have to mention this EVERY TIME the class sizes are brought up, but why is it that high schoolers can’t possible learn with more than 30 students in a class, but 1 year out of high school, students are expected to go to UGA and be in lectures with 300+ students to learn math or science. What magical thing is it that happens when they become college students that makes 300 in a class okay that is so different from being a high school senior, where 31 is detrimental?

Lynn43

November 23rd, 2010
11:35 am

There are several of us who have been trying to tell everyone that the agenda of the Republican Party is to destroy public schools. We are well on our way. At least in Mr. Barnes campaign, he talked about education. Deal never pretended that he cared. Don’t tell me I deserve what I get. I didn’t vote to go down this “destroy public education” route.

TheWad

November 23rd, 2010
11:36 am

The education problem lies first with the family. We`ve poured money into facilities, curriculum, teacher training and everything else one can thing of only to have the results continue to fall. The one constant in all of this is the failure of the family in embracing and enforcing the importance of education in the home. The one place that can`t be changed from the school house is the family environment these students come from. That is the main problem and it will continue to be until people decide to put the Father/Mother family nucleus back at the forefront of societal structure. Our society has decided years ago that any household structure will work only to find the statistical facts to prove us wrong. Start at the base of the problem……..the family structure.

catlady

November 23rd, 2010
11:36 am

In 1982 I had 34 Kindergarteners in a room the state said would hold 17. We were constantly tripping over each other. BUT we had very limited behavior problems (no room for it), no ESOL (until 1986), and only a couple of kids who would eventually qualify for sped. Complete parental support, also. 80% of them graduated from high school on time. (I know because this is a very small community)

Our 4th and 5th grades have over 30 each. It is a horror story. If my children were still school age, they would not go to my school. Sad to say.

And, as has been said before, 30 5th graders in 2010 is quite a different class from the average 30 5th graders in 1973, when I stated teaching, or in 1998, which is the last time I had a 5th grade homeroom. Let’s REQUIRE the legislators to substitute for a week in classes chosen by teachers before they can vote on educational spending. It ain’t what they remember school was like!

The legislature wants to offer us “flexibility?” Then allow us to “flex” the students unable to do grade level work into the correct grade. Allow us to “flex” the habitual, serious behavior violators into an alternative setting (yes, for elementary aged kids). Allow us to “flex” the kids with serious home problems to DFACS AND HAVE DFACS ACTUALLY SERIOUSLY INTERVENE. Allow us to “flex” severely sped kids into separate classes taught by teachers with an expertise in the area. Our new motto: FLEX you can believe in!

Ms. Downey, how much of that money goes for instruction vs. bus service vs. administration (anyone who does not work daily with students)? I am guessing when we look JUST at instruction, we would be talking about $3000 per child.

Maureen Downey

November 23rd, 2010
11:40 am

@Sonnyfab, I think large classes in high school are problematic in two areas: Writing and science labs. I taught basic news reporting classes at two colleges. It was far easier to work on writing with 20 students than it was with 30. I could teach the same material but I could not give individual pieces of writing as much attention with the larger enrollments.
As for science labs, I think there are safety considerations. I also think that a lab teacher needs to walk around and talk to students about their experiments. Not sure how easy that is with large numbers of kids.
Maureen

HS Public Teacher

November 23rd, 2010
11:47 am

@SonnyFab -

You compare apples to oranges.

At UGA (or any college), students are there because they want to be there. They are paying big tuition bucks. They are trying to get a diploma to help with a specific career. They know that in order to get their diploma, they must get class credits. And, to get class credits they must do whatever is necessary to pass the class – and that includes paying close attention to the professor even if there are 300 students in the room.

At a high school, it is very unlike a college. Most teenagers prefer to be ANYWHERE else besides inside a room to learn academic content. Most are forced by their parents or guardians to attend. Few see the value or need to make a good grade or to even put forth a modicum of effort. They don’t even see the money spent to provide them this opportunity. Because of this, it is important to keep class sizes manageable – this means to provide the adult in the room the opportunity to redirect that individual child as needed to optimize learning.

Does this clear things up for you?

Yankee

November 23rd, 2010
11:51 am

Enter your comments here

catlady

November 23rd, 2010
11:55 am

SonnyFab: 2 things–These are the cream of the crop college freshmen (mostly), and 2) they are there at college voluntarily, signed up for the class voluntarily.

One further note: My daughter taught entry level physics at GSU for 2 years recently and was HORRIFIED not only at the poor writing and lack of skills, but at the incredible rudeness of the students. So maybe it isn’t as hunky-dory as you remember it.

Lynn43

November 23rd, 2010
12:00 pm

This first year teacher with so many students is probably an art, music, or p.e. teacher. The trend is to put all students of one grade level into a “specials” (I despise this term.) class at the same time so that all the teachers of that grade level will have their “break” at the same time. The objective is to encourage the teachers to “plan” together. In my situation, this rarely happened. I’m not familiar with p.e., but in music or art, almost nothing can be accomplished in 30-45 minutes with 50 to 60 students in a room designed for 30 or less. These teachers are just being “dumped” upon.

GA Republican

November 23rd, 2010
12:05 pm

I voted for Deal cause he was republican. I didn’t care if he was a crook or run out of Congress or even if he was a murderer. I am a blind idiot and simply looked for candidates with an (R) beside their name.

Blame me.

Walking Dead

November 23rd, 2010
12:06 pm

Large classes are nothing new. The bright students with cognitive capacity are going to learn and advance regardless of class size. The hopelessly stupid and unmotivated ones wouldn’t even learn in a class of one; just socially promote them through the system toward their ultimate careers as WalMart workers or prison inmates.

ADent

November 23rd, 2010
12:07 pm

If you send your children to public (government) schools for an education, you deserve what you get. The government can’t run the postal service effectively and you turn to the government to educate your kids? Don’t say you can’t afford private schools. It is a matter of priorities. Our family doesn’t have cable/satellite TV. I drive a 15 year old car. We don’t eat out much. We have chosen to invest our limited resources in our kids’ education… at a private school.

GA Republican

November 23rd, 2010
12:24 pm

@ADent -

Stop with the BS. Public schools have been “government” run for many many decades now. They were this way when YOU were in school.

It isn’t that suddenly something has happened BECAUSE they are government supported.

By the way, they are locally run by a school board. So this “government” that you refer to is your local board that are neighbors of yours – get to know them!

HS Public Teacher

November 23rd, 2010
12:28 pm

@ADent –

Your slandering remarks are uncalled for. They are many public schools that are OUTSTANDING – and many of them are in the Atlanta metro area.

In addition, if you don’t like your local school, you could have chosen to use your time and money to change and improve it rather than to flee to some private school. That was your choice.

GA Teacher

November 23rd, 2010
12:29 pm

Did you know the the United Arab Emirates is hiring thousands of US teachers and paying us a great salary tax-free? Providing teachers with free housing and insurance; we can also bring our spouses and children!! Hundreds from Atlanta have left already! I’m leaving next month!! This mess has teachers running to a Middle East country! We will be paid well and can save money! I just told you of a few benefits! My salary has been doubled!! Teachaway dot com