Last year, my youth group, 482Youth, surveyed students and teachers from Detroit. We wanted to know the biggest issue they thought they faced in their schools. The number one answer, out of all 700 surveys, was a lack of resources--something Wally has already informed you all pretty well on. As you probably know there aren’t enough books, desks, teachers, counselors, and other school necessities in our schools. But there’s one aspect that we haven’t covered when it comes to lacking the resources we need: overcrowded classrooms. Several studies have shown that large class sizes have a negative impact on student achievement, can cause a higher rate of discipline problems, and make it harder on teachers, often causing much unnecessary stress.
I can clearly remember that every class I’ve ever taken, literally since freshman year, has had more than 30 students enrolled. Many studies have shown that classes are most effective when there's between 13 to 19 students. And honestly, that makes a lot of sense. How can 30+ students learn efficiently when there’s only one teacher? Add the fact that there are only 20 books, books with missing pages and drawing everywhere and it’s nearly impossible to learn. How can students get in the mood to learn when they have to sit on the floor? Or when they have to sit down in a chair with no desk? Where can they write? This is no environment for academic success, and it’s happening in all our schools. It’s even worse for the less advanced students. These students need one-on-one instructional time and minimal distraction to learn at their full potential, but there just aren’t enough teachers to go around. And the results? They continue to fall behind or are pushed forward regardless of their actual progress.
Large classroom sizes also mean that there’s more opportunity for personal conflicts and disruptive behavior. I’ve experienced several days where my class gained a “free day” because the teacher had to take care of a disruptive student. Now you might be wondering what a free day looks like. Basically kids just sit around and talk the whole hour. Some kids have earbuds in, they even might dance and sing along to whatever they’re listening to. And quite often, there’s a group of kids gossiping, trying to start trouble. Sometimes there’s a substitute teacher present and sometimes the kids are left alone, with no adult ally in sight. Basically, it’s recess..but it’s happening during the time we’re supposed to be learning.
I've experienced free days for lots of reasons. Students might ask ignorant questions just to waste some time. I’ve seen problems like fights and/or arguments breaking out, people playing their music too loud, and other students throwing things. Last year, we had a problem where several kids were throwing books at each other. The bell had just rung and the teacher, along with the rest of the students, just stood at the door with a look of horror. Some kids actually found it funny and posted videos. So of course, class had to begin later than usual because of this incident, and we didn’t learn as much as we should have.
Not only does all this lead to stress for students who are trying to learn, but teachers trying to teach struggle too. An increased amount of students means an increased amount of noise. We all know teachers can’t teach when other people are talking. And even if they tried--if no one can hear them, what’s the point? Most students don’t notice the teacher at the front of the class waiting for them to quiet down. They actually continue with their loud conversations and that just makes it harder for us to learn. Teachers really have to take a chunk of class time to make the kids settle down, and they have to do this more than once in the matter of about an hour. We don’t even have enough teachers in our city as it is, but expecting them to teach classes of 30+ students often leads to this cycle of teachers rotating in and out throughout the school year.
More kids in a classroom also means that teachers can’t use different instructional approaches because there isn’t enough technology and materials to do so effectively. Instead, teachers have to use the same teaching techniques that might not be working for the students in the first place. I remember one time, in my engineering class, the teacher wanted us to experience a hands on project. The goal was to pass out bags containing legos and have all the students build their own car. We didn’t have enough legos, so we had to group up into teams of 4. Eventually , the time ran out and I didn’t have enough time to construct my own car. It’s frustrating to not have access to materials, but it’s even more annoying to know that students not even 30 minutes away have these things with ease. I’m sure that my teacher did the best he could, but there was no way for me to effectively learn in a situation like that.
All students, no matter what school they go to, or their academic placement, deserve to have a functional learning environment. We deserve to have access to a teacher who can support us fully, and to have enough materials to learn. These things should not be impossible to achieve, and they’re happening in many other cities and states. The problems we face in our public schools need to be solved for the sake of our future! How can we be expected to go to college and be successful if we haven’t learned anything in high school because we had one-too-many free days? There are many solutions to this problem, and organizations like the one I’m apart of are working with the school board, and other people in power in Michigan, to fight for them.
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