I am sitting at my desk at Bell High School, reading compositions written by my 9th-grade English class. My students have written essays in the form of news reports. Their topic: the death of Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet. I am bursting with pride and anger.
No “gifted” students these. They are labeled “average.” Their essays are among the best I’ve ever seen for that grade level, and I’ve been looking for 15 years.
How is it possible to get such superior work out of “average” kids?
The answer is that there are only 13 kids in the class. (How did I get such a small class? A scheduling fluke.) A class of 35 to 40 “average” 9th-graders would never produce such high-quality work. With such big numbers the teacher has to spend as much time dealing with behavioral problems as he or she does teaching. There is virtually no time for individualized instruction, and the increased time spent on paper-grading means proportionally less time for creative lesson preparation.
This is nothing new. Everyone connected with education knows the effect of class size on student accomplishment. And that’s why I’m angry. Piled on my desk is the clearest evidence I’ve ever seen of what my colleagues and I can accomplish, given a reasonable chance to reach students’ minds. Why are we not given a chance? How many more uninspired imaginations and undereducated intellects are we going to shove out the schoolhouse door, clutching worthless academic diplomas in their hands, for a march into substandard jobs and economically deprived lives.
A few days ago, I was stopped on the school quad and informed that because of the small number of students this class will be closed next month. I need to rush and teach them all I can before they become lost in the mobs that populate our other classrooms. How will anyone reach them?
Of Juan Aguilar I speak, and Armando Gutierrez, and Graciela Gonzales; Ron Washington, Shawna Jackson and Han Nguyen, victims of overcrowded classrooms and assembly-line education, an oxymoron in any teacher’s terms.
Wake up, America. Their future is our future.