The Brightest Part

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Aug 07 2013

Overcrowding: 300 Students

Today I was finally able to see my schedule for the upcoming year and I am teaching 12 classes worth of students.  I teach 7 out of the 8 periods and I have five periods where there are 2 classes worth of students (around 50) in the class.  When I saw this my first reaction was to start laughing, because it was honestly the situation that I had been worried about most going into my second year.  I had spent all day, and the last 2 weeks, preparing my unit 1, long term plan, investment, management, and vision, only to be confronted with a very harsh reality check, making some of my lofty plans void.

Last year, the other 2nd year TFA chemistry teacher at my high school taught 7 classes, 2 of which had 45+ students.  I saw him struggle all year trying to manage and invest such large classes, and I worried that I might be placed in a similar situation next year.  At my high school last year, there was also a third set of students who did not have a chemistry teacher for half of the year, until they found one, then let her go a few months later.  The school was simply strapped for teachers, and especially chemistry teachers.  Teachers that can teach in-demand subjects have ‘better options’ then to teach in inner-city schools strapped for resources and unfortunately it’s difficult to find chemistry teachers.  My school requested 2 new chemistry corps members, probably anticipating the challenge of finding a chemistry teacher if they didn’t use TFA, but the region has placed the (few) chemistry corps members elsewhere.

Which leads to the situation I find myself in my second year teaching: teaching chemistry to over 300 students.  Part of me is worried that I won’t be able to handle 5 such classes, and that I will become burned out and lose my optimism and momentum that I gained from my experience last year.  Part of me is kinda excited for the challenge and how much I know I will grow as a teacher and a leader from this experience.  But mostly I’m concerned for the 300+ students I am about to meet.  They deserve a quality chemistry education, and unfortunately they are stuck going to a high school that is viewed as so ‘bad’ it can’t find teachers willing to teach there.  Unfortunately, they will have to learn in an overcrowded environment and won’t get as much one-on-one help they need.  This is yet another sad example of the injustice and inequity in our education system.

But being an engineer, I find myself thinking of solutions.  Creating a strong college culture and messaging the large classes as an opportunity to experience college lecture-style learning.  Somehow messaging and creating a class environment where 45+ students is not a disadvantage, but an advantage to my student’s learning.  Creating lessons that are group focused and collaborative.  Creating a culture where students want to help others and be helped in return.  I don’t want my students to feel as if they are missing out or as if their education is suffering.

The fact is, if they can’t find another chemistry teacher, having me teach 300 students may be the only option the school has to ensure the students are able to take chemistry.  In the end, I’d rather have 300 students and have a more difficult task ahead of me, then have students who are not able to learn the subject I’m so passionate about.

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"What we see in the shadow as the darkest part of the flame is, in reality, the brightest part."

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