Classroom Size: What About This?

27 08 2014

tableIf you want my opinion, I think the right people aren’t at the table. Not THAT table: the one between the BCTF and the Government. That table just frustrates me. I am talking about the table where a group of people who have one motive and are FOR each other, sit down and brainstorm. I am talking about the table where fresh eyes look at the old institution and ask, “What if we tried this?” That one interests me very much. Since I most likely will never sit at the table, I can only imagine that I would start by asking…

What about Classroom size? Is making the class smaller really the solution?  If you have 40 children and 10 of those have significant learning challenges or behavior issues is that any different from having 10 children with 4 of them who require significant attention? Honestly, having worked with children in different settings, it really only takes one child who dominates the room to completely challenge a learning environment.

If you have a classroom with 40 kids who pay attention and respond appropriately to guidance, class size isn’t even an issue. Even children who struggle to keep up can receive the attention needed when there is a conducive atmosphere in the room.

So, then the issue becomes about alternate options for children, assistance and discipline. A teacher simply can not do his or her job (which is to teach) if they are constantly managing the unique needs or disruptive behavior of their students.

In our current system, we have counselors, CEA’s and other support staff hired on to tackle these issues. But how much money does the system need in order to really get at this problem? We propose smaller classroom sizes and/or more staff, right? But come to the table and help me understand why there has not an alternative to this idea. There is an alternative, but we have not even touched it.

The RCMP of our city could not do the job they do without a significant volunteer work-force known as Auxiliary Officers. These men and women go through a very similar process to the hiring process of regular officers. They are interviewed, screened, checked and double-checked. They are trained in the classroom and in the gym. Eventually they are given the authority, under the supervision of a member, to carry out select policing duties in our city. Many people aren’t even aware that there are volunteer members, because they look so similar to the hired ones, but riding in the car, at events, on bikes, at intersections in schools and all over the city are these trained and trusted volunteers.  There is a branch with hired staff to manage this volunteer force.

Every year the RCMP of our city have a banquet to honor these Auxiliary Officers. They count the hours they put in (in the hundreds for each of them) and they express their gratitude to men and women who would put in so much time for the sake of the force, and our city.

Back to schools: we don’t do this. We don’t tap into something that could save our schools. I was going to say, “Save our schools money,” but I literally think it could save our schools if we would only think through how we could use volunteers on a weekly basis. If the RCMP can give authority to this kind of work-force, why can’t schools?

We need to throw out some rules and regulations that prohibit the use of volunteers on campus and maybe some pride along the way too. There isn’t a single reason I can think of that we could not begin to train and use volunteers to be a significant help and presence in the day to day classroom to shrink the problem. I am talking hands-on, taking on some teaching strategies that they are being trained to do.

Every day in our province we have parents opting to home-school their children, and you know what? They are turning out some pretty fine graduates. How is this possible if they are not “teachers”? Depending on the program they enroll their child in, they may have a lot of support from an online teacher, or very little. They have accountability, but they also have a world of freedom. And it is working. So, while qualifications are beneficial, they aren’t everything. Don’t get me wrong: I value the time and money teachers and support staff have spent on getting an education themselves. Couldn’t their education also be useful in training people without the degree to be significant contributors in our children’s education and daily care? Just because you don’t have the degree, it doesn’t mean you don’t have skills.

Here is what I wonder…

1. Couldn’t volunteers do a lot more than come for the odd volunteer day to help with a craft or sit with a child and read? Important, but still limited. I realize there are other roles for volunteers (hot lunches and the like), but lets be honest, it’s spotty. In my district I haven’t seen a significant organized volunteer work force to lighten the load of teachers IN the classroom.

2. I don’t think teachers should be responsible to manage a volunteer force, but couldn’t someone be? When that volunteer walks into a classroom, they are not another job for the teacher; they have a job and the teacher can be confident they will carry it out and in doing so, provide relief.

3. Couldn’t a training process be put in place for different kinds of roles in the school? Taught in house so that it is easier to access? Why can’t we train interested volunteers to work with children who are ESL students, are there children with autism, are there children with ADHD? Why can’t we have a basic training program that equips volunteers to help? I am not saying we have all the strategies a CEA would have, but we could be in the class giving the one-on-one attention needed. We could assist CEA’s.

4. Why can’t a volunteer take on some of a teacher’s administrative tasks?

5. Perhaps some roles are too time consuming for a volunteer. So why can’t a district/school fund-raise and hire people for some unique roles in the school? Maybe a great volunteer has become one of those super-volunteers you’d like to hire. Maybe it is for minimum wage, or an honorarium. There are plenty of people who aren’t really looking for a ton of money to do something, but even a bit of a wage would be helpful along the way. I would have done this in a heart-beat when my children were in school.

I could go on. When you open the door to this idea, a hundred other ideas of how the community could get involved begin to blossom. I really wonder if it isn’t time to step outside of the system and get more hands involved. I believe a lot of people don’t want to be just spectators on the side, but if invited in, would come in.

And maybe there should even be a responsibility to come in. Maybe you don’t get to just drop off your child at 8 a.m. but every parent is also a partner.

I know some people will immediately leap to the holes in this idea and kill it before it has the opportunity to speak up for itself. I know there are a lot of things I have not thought through, but couldn’t it be thought through?

I don’t think bargaining around problems is the answer. I think brainstorming is. So, if we are going to raise a concern about classroom size, can’t we at least think about classroom size in a different way?

– Teresa Klassen




One response

27 08 2014

hey Teresa! I am intrigued by your post, and will be happy to know that there are many conversations just like this one happening all over the place. I just finished a class at UBC that opened up a conversation about this HUGE issue and these kinds of questions and ideas were just the thing we were discussing. Don’t be discouraged. Just because the people who will change the way things are going are not the most vocal does not mean that work is not being done. Instead of concerning themselves with the politics of it all, they are digging deep and finding new roads, quietly and out of the public eye. Have hope. The future of education will look very different than it does now. Anyway, as always, a great read, and some challenging thoughts.

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