Memorizing 200 names: Part of a Teacher’s First Day

My head is throbbing, my throat’s on fire, and my limbs are numb.

The cause of these symptoms? The opening day of the school year.

While I’m beginning my 27th year as a teacher, each start of school gets more challenging.

One would think with more experience, the easier it would get; however, with each year, I learn more, and in sharing all that I know with students, it causes stress on how to fit it all in.

Plus, there are the usual tasks that require completion within the first few days such as creating spreadsheets with the rosters, typing seating charts with the correct names students wish to be called (not the ones on the rosters), collecting signed parent forms, and photocopying handouts that cover the entire school year.

Since I’m teaching an extra class this term, I have even more students than normal. I discussed this challenge with my students, one of whom asked me, “How do you memorize the names of 200 students?”

It’s funny how it takes a 15-year-old to remind me how numb I’ve become to the reality of that number.

For years now, California ranks near the bottom among states in per pupil spending and in key education factors.   However, according to the most recent National Center for Education Statistics report, the state can lay claim to one category: the highest student to teacher ratio in the country of 23 to 1.

But that number is deflated since “teacher” includes educators who are specialists. The reality is that most classrooms average in the mid-30s.

It makes sense why some parents remove their kids from public schools and go the private school route where ratios are less than half.

Whether or not class size makes a difference in the learning process is an issue that has no clear evidence to support either viewpoint.

Still, there are the raw numbers that can’t be disputed in terms of the alarming amount of work that is required of public school teachers: the ability to know 200 vs. 100 students’ names, the amount of time to evaluate 200 papers vs. 100 papers and to modify lesson plans, the cost of additional books, supplies, and equipment, the lack of mobility to move about in a room with 40 vs. 20 students, and the warmer the rooms are due to the additional body heat.

It also is difficult to call on 40 students in an hour-long class than one of 20, meaning a larger share of kids remain mute each day.

Imagine an attorney meeting with 200 clients every day. Or a physician seeing 200 patients a day. It does not happen.

If a doctor were to see one patient for only 5 minutes at a time, it would take him nearly 17 hours to get to 200 patients without any breaks. And who would think 5 minutes qualifies as a quality healthcare visit?

In a state with a large non-native English speaking population, expecting that educators with their extraordinary workload can have all their students meet the Common Core standards is quite an undertaking.

It is time for Californians to question how much longer can such overcrowding continue when schools are held to high accountability measures.

If the goal of public education is to house students, consider what we are doing a success. But if the charge of schools is to illuminate ideas in the minds of young people, to enable them to realize the potential of their abilities, deep-rooted changes must take place.

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