Friday, 19 April 2013

There has just been a very early morning

telephone call. 
I rushed to answer it thinking it would be some sort of family emergency. Instead I got an irate mouthful from a reader of today's paper. He did not like one of the letters in it - mine.
When he paused to take a breath I said, very politely, "If you don't like what I had to say then perhaps you should write a letter yourself."
"They won't publish it. People like you have it all sewn up. The letters page..." he tried to continue on.
I said, perhaps a little less politely this time, "Sir, it is not yet 6:30 in the morning. Everyone has the right to write to the newspapers and many people do. If you want to argue with me do so there." 
I put the phone down. He has not rung back. He may write a letter to the paper but, even if he does, I doubt it will be published. It will need to make whatever point he was trying to make in a much less rambling fashion.
The odd thing is that I did not think I was being particularly controversial. It was a letter suggesting that while schools might like more funding they did not actually need it. 
Yes, I know that sounds like a highly controversial statement on the surface but I really do doubt that ever smaller classes and greater amounts of technology are the answer.
When the Senior Cat began teaching class sizes were far larger than they are now. It was common for city schools to have classes of more than fifty students. His one teacher school with all seven years of the primary school had forty-two students. 
I started school in a class of about forty-five infants, so did my brother. 
When my brother and I started our teaching careers classes of forty were still common although some "lucky" teachers had only thirty-four or thirty-six. I had nineteen students in my class of profoundly physically and intellectually disabled children. The maximum was supposed to be twenty but one of the other teachers who had more ambulant children than the rest of us had twenty-four children.
Now "normal" class sizes of twenty-four are considered too large and most teachers say they can only cope well with twenty or less.
I know that what goes on in classrooms is now very different and that the curriculum has expanded but are those class sizes really too large?
The idea behind the smaller class sizes is, of course, that the child can be given more "individual" attention. Is that necessary or even necessarily a good thing? It is said that it allows a teacher to identify and help the child who is struggling, to make sure the child does not "fall behind". 
I am not sure about this. Of course all children need attention some of the time but they do not need attention all of the time. They need to be left alone - with the expectation that, if they are given tasks to do, they will do them. If a child is really struggling then of course they may need some extra help - or perhaps they need to be able to do something different, or in a different way or a little more slowly. Perhaps they should even be allowed to fail sometimes? 
I think we need to stop thinking of schools as places where little princes and princesses are constantly entertained and never allowed to fail. Instead they should be places where everyone works most of the time, a place which is sometimes interesting and sometimes boring and where people succeed and fail - just like the do in the world outside school.
But, it seems I am wrong.


Jan said...

Yes, I remember those classes too. My school had its centenary some years back and I was astounded at the size of some of the classes. Also astounded that I could supply all the names of over fifty children in my fifth class.

Dad was a teacher. His first school was out of Cowra, NSW. It was a small corrugated iron shed in the middle of a cow paddock. Freezing in winter and like an incinerator in summer. One of his colleagues started teaching on the verandah of a condemned house which was gradually falling down, helped along by some of the pupils.

Helen Devries said...

I was in a class of fifty when coming to London from Scotland...and classes of thirty were common later.
I had the benefit of a superb education...weaknesses sorted as we went along by teachers to whom I remain grateful for their skill and kindness.

widdershins said...

We are smack bang in the age of 'helicopter parents'. Makes me wonder what sort of world their children will create after we're gone.