How To Teach 30+ Kids Without Losing Your...

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

What’s your “perfect” class size?  For me, it’s 24: a number with 8 factors and so many ways to divide students and table groups evenly. Twenty-four is enough to feel like you’re pulling your weight without feeling like you’re pulling your hair out. Last year, I had another class size with a lot of factors: 32.  I more than pulled my weight and yes, at times, I pulled my hair out. 

Today, I piled up half a dozen desks that I won’t need this year in the hall outside my classroom. I will admit I smiled at the promise of a more manageable class size.  I also was hit with the realization that last year wasn’t as bad as I feared.  If you don't already, soon you’ll have your class list in your hand.  What if your number is closer to three dozen than two? 

It won’t be perfect, but it also doesn’t have to be as bad as you fear.  
Here’s how to teach 30+ kids without losing your…

Resist the urge to complain about your numbers. Verbalizing your fears (and your gripes) not only dampens your reputation but also reinforces negative self-talk. In other words, you’ll have others believing you’ve written off your school year, and before you know it, you'll do just that. Reflect on your past experience; if you’ve been doing this for any time at all, you’ve faced and overcome other challenges.  This year will be no different. 

I spent two hours at Open House last year convincing parents that combining two entire third grade classes into one fourth grade class was no big deal. I said it until I believed it, even though there WERE times when it was a big deal. I gave myself a head start on positivity and in turn, sent those parents away feeling positively about their child’s school year.  Words matter, to both the speaker and the listener. 

sense of community
Speaking of those parents, get them involved! Don’t let the sheer numbers scare you off from making individual contact. With larger class sizes comes a bigger chance that there are parents with the time and willingness to get involved in your classroom. Think of things those parents can do for you, more than ever before! This is not the year to hold onto your pride. 

Last year, I had parents sort, file and stuff communication folders, prepare Scholastic book orders to be sent home, cut laminating and other classroom materials, etc. I kept a medium-sized plastic tote in my classroom and any time I started a task that could wait and could be done by a volunteer, I put it in that tote.  On any given week, 3-4 parents came by to help me. I know not everyone works in a school with that kind of parent population but if you do, take advantage of it. If you’re a control freak (like me), you can always go back to doing more for yourself next year. 

The more important part of your classroom community is of course, your students. Find ways to connect with each and every one of them, and to make sure they connect with each other. You’ll have to be vigilant to make sure no one falls through the cracks. Take advantage of small moments to chat with students individually (before school, lunch, recess, after school, etc.) and get to know them each on a personal level. If you haven’t done Morning Meeting before, this is the year to start! (blog post coming soon…)

Don’t let a large class size scare you into thinking you can’t make as big of an impact this year.  That simply isn’t true. In some places, 30+ kids is the norm. Look into different ways to run your classroom to make it work—small groups, peer tutoring, technology. Think outside the box! Routine and procedures will never be as important as this year. If you don’t have a rule for it, make one. Kids are good about rising to the occasion as long as you set up a system in which they have the chance.

This past year I had higher math test scores than ever before, much to my surprise. Honestly I think having so many students kept me on my toes and caused me to make more accommodations to make sure I was reaching them all. For example, I offered free one-on-one math tutoring sessions before school in the weeks leading up to our end-of-grade tests. Because of my concern that the students weren’t getting the individualized attention they needed in class, I went the extra mile. You’ll find ways to do the same. 

Take it one day at a time.  It may be one of those years where you count the days. But we all have those for one reason or another. It doesn’t mean the days count less and it doesn’t mean you love each of those students any less. Be patient, and be kind: both to yourself and to those 30+ kids!

Don't overcommit. This is not the year to start a new club or chair a new committee unless you have to. Last fall I missed an entire week of school with the flu for the first time in my teaching career. Coincidence? Probably not... Practice saying "no" when you can so you can stay healthy for all those kiddos! No one wants to sub for you when you have 30+ kids... ;)

Bottom line: a year ago, I would’ve preferred that my class list have 24 names instead of 32. But you know what? After 180 days of teaching 32 kids, there’s no possible way I could choose which eight I wouldn’t want to get to know and learn with.  Each name on that list is an opportunity to touch a life and for you to grow as an educator.  Don’t begrudge that, and don’t take it for granted.  It won’t be perfect, but you’re a teacher…what is? 

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