I recently attended the eighth birthday of my one of my beloved nephews which was held at one of these “pizza and games” mega-centers. The complex was a labyrinth of video games, air hockey tables, basketball shooting machines, and anything that can be fed a token. Upon entering, my senses were overwhelmed by the cacophony of buzzers, beeps, sirens, horns, screaming children, hollering parents, and consistent announcements for individuals to pick up their orders at the counter. The chaos and the stressful feelings of this scene somehow reminded me of my rookie classroom experience wherein I was somewhat underprepared to manage teenagers in a middle school classroom.
After students took advantage of my inexperience (and not wanting to become unbuckled as a teacher), I quickly instituted clear procedures and class rules in our classroom to quell the craziness that students can bring if not given parameters. Understandably, smaller class sizes are much more manageable for most teachers and gives them substantial opportunities to customize and differentiate their instruction for students. In many schools nationwide, classrooms are filled to capacity with students regardless of a teacher’s experience or classroom management techniques. Yet, in Florida it is a bit different. Core academic classes have a maximum number of students allowed by the Florida Constitution after citizens voted it into law in 2002. I completely respect the will of the taxpayers who believe that students would be best served with smaller classes, and in many cases this is true. However, I maintain that there are some highly effective teachers in Florida who can positively affect the learning gains with more than the 18, 22, or 25 students allowed by law in elementary, middle and high school classes respectively.
New research suggests that effective teachers be given more students than others in an effort to maximize their overall effectiveness on student achievement. I believe if this is coupled with higher compensation for the additional workload for these educators, it is a logical step that benefits both teachers and students. Clearly, more students would be given the opportunity to be taught by master teachers, while less experienced and effective teachers would be able to hone their teaching skills in a more manageable teaching environment. As public education turns over every stone looking for the best ways to help students learn while helping teachers implement best practices, this concept seems like one that needs to be considered in more school districts and states.
I recall, all too well, how in my early years of teaching, some days felt as if I was playing a classroom version of “Whack a Mole” wherein one management problem went away while another quickly spring up. Using positive reinforcement instead of a padded mallet makes many highly effective educators capable of helping more students than they may already teach. Perhaps it is time education gave more students, and compensation, to our nation’s best teachers.