Environment Makes All The Difference

I’ve been substitute teaching close to two months now, and it’s allowed me to observe an interesting range of students at several schools. Over these past couple of months, I’ve taught grades K-12, and I’ve taught in schools ranging in size from 600 students (K-12) to well over 1,000 students (9-12.) This experience has led to some interesting observations, especially with regards to classroom environment.

Most of my time has been split between two school districts. One of the districts is fairly large, containing nine elementary schools, two middle schools, and two separate high school campuses. The other district which—from which I graduated—contains grades K-12 in a single campus. For comparison’s sake, my graduating class in 2004 contained just over 40 students. At the other district in which I’ve spent most of my time, a typical graduating class would be well over 500 students.

This massive difference in the size of the respective student bodies creates a difference in average class size. Last time I taught at my alma mater (Friday), my largest class was 20 kids. Last time I taught at the local scholastic behemoth, my smallest class was 28 kids.

That’s the system working against teachers. Those extra eight students might not seem like many, but a larger class means that each student is given less attention. This in turn makes it tougher for the teacher to build relationships with their students, and then the students begin to feel like just another face in the crowd. Students in the larger classes were definitely more frequently disengaged.

The situation at my alma mater is completely different. Thinking back to my days as a student, it was an environment where everybody knew everybody, teachers and students alike. Small class sizes and a small student body allowed people to make connections quickly, which led to benefits in the academic arena. Teachers could share information on students, students felt comfortable expressing their individuality and asking questions.

In short, the more intimate environment seemed to allow for a two-way flow of information. Even as a sub, I feel like the students have quickly assimilated me into the school culture at my alma mater. I get the same treatment as any other faculty member, and that’s not the case at the larger schools.

Some of you might find it odd that an aspiring band director would be preaching small class sizes, but that’s a different issue. Music teachers are given the rare opportunity to see their students for several consecutive years. Where a core class teacher might see a student once in 10th grade, their music teacher frequently remains the same for their entire high school career. I had the same band director from 6th grade through my high school graduation, as did many of my classmates. That time together in the classroom creates a strong relationship.

I want to make it perfectly clear that this is not a hard and fast rule, just an observation made from an admittedly small sample size. But, there is some merit to the idea. Each student in a 15-student class will get more frequent opportunities to interact with the classmates and teacher than a student in a class of 25+.

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