10 Basic Principles of Our School System, Part 7: Class Size

  1. homework
  2. class tests, tests and exams
  3. grades
  4. schoolbooks
  5. the curriculum
  6. 45/90-minute lessons
  7. class size
  8. age-based classes
  9. subjects
  10. teacher focus

The amount of students in a class is a constant discussion topic for teachers. “I don’t mind 5th graders, but 30 of them in one room…!” (you can replace 5th with 6th, 7th, 8th or 9th by the way). “I don’t mind correcting exams, but 30 of them…!” “I can remember students’ names, but 30 of them…!” It always comes back to the same thing. A little amount of it would be fine, but multiplied by 20 or 30 is just too much. If a teacher gets lucky and gets a small class of 15 or even less, other teachers will look at her with jealous or dreamy eyes, fantasizingabout how awesome that would be. Maybe this is the only thing almost any teacher would agree on when it comes to problems in our school system.

Why is it such a problem? Well, that’s almost too obvious, isn’t it? As a teacher you are supposed to teach every individual student but that task is practically impossible with 20-30 students in 45 minutes. In a normal lesson you can’t really focus on many students at all, mainly because once you do, all the other students you don’t focus on possibly lose their attention and start doing other things or they feel neglected. It’s just very hard to take care of so many students in such a short time, to give them the feeling of being heard. And theoretically it would be best for students if you could also factor any personal problems they might have or other circumstances that influence their school behavior.

This goes for correcting exams too. It would be really great to give every student a really detailed correction of their exams, especially with feedback that tells them how they can improve, like which areas they should be working on to get better. But that is not easy if you have too many exams and it’s easier to just point out all the mistakes without giving any advice for getting better. And of course, once you have more than one exam to correct, the piles seem unbearably high and you just want to get through, never even considering anything but the written words on the paper and slapping a mark on them.

There is also the impossible practicality of trying to communicate with 20-30 people in one room, especially if only one of those people is allowed to decide when to speak while everyone else has to wait until it is their turn. Think about it and realize that it could not work, no matter how disciplined or patient the students are or how strict or relaxed the teacher is, it is inevitable that people will be frustrated or ignored or restrained. Communication is neither made for a 1-speaker/30-listeners model nor a 31-speakers/0-listeners model.

Somehow this has been a hard topic to write about because, as I said, everyone is aware of the problem. Well, that’s not true. Everyone complains about the problem, but being aware of it would mean that we try to deal with the fact that the class sizes are not about to change. Granted, there isn’t much we can do, but one little thing is to lower our expectations for silence in the classroom or thinking about communication methods that might work better under these circumstances than the “raise your arm and wait until all the other people have said something”-method. Or just realizing how many problems arise from the amount of students in a class that they cannot do anything about, so that it’s pointless to blame them all the time. They didn’t choose to grow up in an environment of 29 competitors that are supposed to be their friends at the same time. We need to stop pretending and whining and just start dealing with it.