For the past few months I've had 31 kids in my class.
17 Kindergarteners and 14 first graders.
If you've ever met a 5, 6, or barely-7 year old kid -- multiply that by 31 and you get my life for the past few months.
I love teaching.
I've been told I have a great command over a class, no matter how many kids are in it.
I've been praised for taking 31 kids under my wings without complaining blah blah blah.
But inside I felt crazed every afternoon at 4:00.
Two ears are not enough to listen to 31 poverty-stricken children needing some love and attention.
I felt like I was failing the kids and failing myself... how can you be a truly good teacher and suck when numbers get too high? To me, the numbers issue felt like a lousy excuse. My patience was wearing thinner than a piece of paper and that wasn't fair to the kids. Sure, I've been told things like "wow, if you were stressed, no one could tell" or "you always had those kids under control, I don't know how you could stay so calm and keep them so calm." My brain was a mess and my heart truly wasn't in it. I tried. But it wasn't... I knew the school was in the process of hiring a new Kinder teacher to take my 17 little ones, only no one knew when that would actually happen. I was in limbo and I'm bad at limbo.
Last Wednesday someone finally lifted the limbo stick and I'm back to being an actual teacher. I have 19 calm, cool, and collected first graders (14 of whom have sat through a class of 31 and now seem to truly appreciate the quiet that accompanies the simplest of tasks).
I'm finally having fun again.
I'm finally actually able to teach again.
School districts, the state, the president can throw theories and curriculum around like baseballs all they want, but the way to teach these low-achieving, under-privileged kids (to leave "no child left behind" if you will) is to lower freaking class sizes.
I've been able to teach more in the last four days than I have in the past two months.
When they come from a home where simply putting food on the table is a priority, the kids need to feel like someone loves them before they can even begin to think about learning.
When there are 31 kids, a child can't get a word in edgewise without someone else shoving themselves in the middle. A kid I've had all year finally told me on Friday that most of the time his family doesn't have food -- because we had a few minutes to just sit down and connect. Now I'll know to feed the kid when he comes to school and he'll probably start making some progress -- not because of some magical reading program, not because Mr. Bush decided so (in fact, because of No Child Left Behind, it delayed the hiring of this teacher and made things even worse) -- but simply because I could stop playing crowd-control officer and start being a teacher to the kids.
Chris has put up with my constant complaining for the past few months. His job is WAY worse than mine, no matter how many little bodies I have in the room; yet, he always listened and helped and convinced me I was still doing the right thing. What is love? Knowing someone will be there every night to lend a comfy shoulder, a pre-warmed t-shirt, and a bowl of ice cream and listen to the same complaints every night without hesitation.
Thanks for listening.
I've off my soap-box now.