Give Kindergartners The Right Start

I have the utmost confidence in my daughter’s teacher. She’s phenomenal, in fact. Thank goodness, too, since we ask our educators to do impossible things. We overfill classrooms and then expect teachers to wear all the hats: educator, guide, leader, comforter, disciplinarian, emotional support, counselor, mediator, assessor, and many more.

My daughter’s pre-kindergarten (preschool) class had fourteen students, a teacher, and a teacher’s aid. With the jump to kindergarten, my daughter’s class size has increased by over 50%, and yet there are fewer adults in the room. Our district cut paraeducators in kindergarten classrooms several years ago. Though my daughter and her peers are arguably no more emotionally or socially mature than they were a year ago, we ask kindergarten teachers to dramatically increase class size at the same time they lose in-class support.

Which takes me back to my claim that we ask our teachers to do the impossible. In my daughter’s class of 22 (an average to small class size in our district) there are students who had no prior schooling, who are unfamiliar with the alphabet or numbers, and who wrestle with learning or socio-emotional challenges. On the days that I have volunteered, it has been rare not to witness a meltdown by one of the students.

Because of the size of the class, the teacher must split the students into two groups in order to teach a subject like math. (S)he must prepare for wildly varying stages of readiness and ability. Some students are reading at second or third grade levels while others had no prior exposure to letters or numbers. Further, our teachers are required to do a significant number of one-on-one assessments of each student. How is this possible when you are one teacher for 22 or 25 or 27 students?

In the months since my daughter started kindergarten, I have asked educators at her school and others: what would make the biggest difference in classroom management? From elementary to the high school level, the answer always includes: more realistic class sizes. Every. Single. Time.

I speak from direct experience: 22 children in a kindergarten class without a paraeducator is too much. And we are the “lucky” ones: far too many classrooms have considerably more students than 22. Our children are our future, or so we say. If this is true, then we should care deeply about the place where they spend nearly a third of their time each day. Our children, and our educators, deserve better.

-Claire Morris Clark