Whack-A-Mole and Master Teachers

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.

Related categories: ,
  • pwcrabtree

    Contributing Factors

    There are some factors to consider before dropping more students into anyone’s class… While politicians love the resarch that shows class size doesn’t matter, they don’t look at the big factor.  It is true that in large classes where rote memorization and lecture is the style of teaching… most kids will do alright. Research has proven this true…  However, if we want them to build collaborative skills, critical thinking skills, and problem solving skills, then there are limits to how many students you should have in a class. 

    Another factor to consider is that no matter how much pay we receive… we don’t have enough planning embeded into our day.  In other countries, where large class sizes exist,,, I have read that they have large chunks if not half of their day to plan and collaborate with peers. In the US, educators are lucky to squeeze in a 20 min break for lunch and maybe a 30 min plan.  This is simply not enough time…

    I serve 700 students at my school.  I serve the entire school in a two week rotation.  Some students have art every week and others have it every other week.  Two years ago, I almost left the profession I have loved for 18 years now. The biggest contributing factor,,, I had NO planning time!  I was at my capacity of instructional minutes and I could not even remember my students names. It was awful.  I felt like a terrible teacher and knew that if I didn’t change the situation,I couldn’t remain at the school I love with the students I adore.  I can not be an effective teacher if I do not have time to plan meaningful lessons, assess work, evaluate progress, speak to parents and teachers about children of concern, etc.  My workload is still extremely heavy, but I am managing it once again because I have a little more time…

    I do have to smile as instead of whack a mole,,, I visualize popcorn when I think my kids… Did I mention I teach K-6?  🙂

    • Rob Kriete



      Love the popcorn analogy as well.

      I completely agree with the glaring need of more time for educators to plan and collaborate.  Creating this culture of collaboration with time embedded to plan accordingly could help many more students achieve significant learning gains annually.

      I also agree that there is always going to be a limit to the number of students that any lesson can effectively support.  What do you think that limit is for the grades you teach?  And, do you think Florida has got it right with the implementation of a class-size amendment?

      • pwcrabtree

        One on one & peer remediation

        Rob, hopefully if you are able to reach the majority of students with the lesson and have set it up in a student centered way- the majority will be working independently and collaboratively.  Then this allows you to work one on one with students who may not be grasping the concept.  If I have a small group of students struggling, then I address the entire class by asking questions and allowing students to support their peers by describing the lesson in their own words.  This reinforces their learning while allowing struggling students to hear the assignment or concept in a voice that hopefully can relate to better.   I am unfamiliar with Florida’s implementation of class- size amendment… can you share more about it?

  • ReneeMoore

    A More Excellent Way

    While I applaud your desire to see more students get the teachers they deserve, I would argue that an even better plan would be make better and more systemic use of teaching teams (or real PLCs). Rather than cramming as many students as possible into room with highly accomplished teachers; while still leaving some students with less or ineffective ones, use the combined talents and expertise of a faculty to provide instruction for all students.

    BTW, just because our schools are built around classrooms, doesn’t mean we HAVE to continue to sort students by the roomfuls. As our colleague Bill Ferriter recently reminded us in this slide.

  • Jaraux

    More or less…..

    I like your idea, however I wonder if it might burn out our highly effective teachers or prove them to be less effective with a larger population. But in theory your vision seems valid. What if we eased people into teaching. Starting as a collaborative teacher, then to teaching a few individual classes then, once proven effective, a full load.

    That way effectived teachers could possibly be compensated for their mentorship and the new teachers won’t fill overwhelmed ( thrown to the wolves) . It gives them an opportunity to grow in an effective environment before creating one of their own. It also allows them to baby step their way into this profession with the least amount of damage to students.


    Just some thoughts……

  • Rob Kriete

    Collaboration is always key


    I think collaborative teacher teams are a great way to improve teaching practices leading to helping more students more effectively.  As a middle school teacher, I have been a team member working and collaborating with other core academic teachers.  Yet, most my team teaching within my subject has been done with the help of some great teacher interns.  I have always enjoyed these experiences because two teachers are learning while collaborating their efforts to help students.

    There is real value in creating teacher teams working and collaborating within subject areas to help students and teacher alike.  This may be how PLCs and collaborative teams must evolve.  This seems to a much more effective way to maximize teachers’ effectiveness.



  • SandyMerz

    Nice Take


    I had heard about the Florida laws and thank you for confirming them.  What’s cool about you piece is that you twist some givens and come up with your own ideas.  And that started people thinking.  Do you know what would happen if, say, a top math teacher and a new teacher who each had 25 students could, if they both agreed, mix them up?  Could say the veteran take 30 and rookie 20.  Then they agree to collaborate and coach each other?  Thanks for giving us new things to think about.


    • Rob Kriete

      Or have the two teachers

      Or have the two teachers collaboratively teach all 50? 

      It seems we all agree that getting more collaboration between teachers to help more students should be a priority.

      Thanks Sandy.