My classes are overcrowded. Just like thousands of other educators, I teach in a school district struggling with tough choices when it comes to budget matters. The result? There are lots of student names on my rosters...lots and lots of names.
Too many students packed into a room designed for a much smaller class presents some serious challenges. Like other teachers, I struggle with managing the paperwork load. I work hard to figure out ways to return graded papers with meaningful comments in a timely fashion. I work hard to figure out ways to manage the traffic flow so that my students can work with their classmates and I don't have to leap over book bags in the aisles. I work hard at classroom management so no one gets lost in the crowd. I work hard to make sure that an overcrowded classroom is just a challenge and not a detriment. If you are in the same situation, here are some tips for managing an overcrowded class that I have found useful in my own practice.
An Excerpt from Discipline Survival Guide for the Secondary Teacher
“In the recent past, many teachers have had to cope with classes that were just slightly above the recommended size for the grade and subject. However, today’s widespread and severe budget cuts have made critically overcrowded classrooms that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. As inevitable as overcrowded classes may be, the discipline problems associated with them are not. Overcrowded classes can be managed successfully by those teachers who meet the unique challenges they present.Even though we know that smaller classes are the preferred option for our students, a positive discipline climate and a pleasant learning environment are possible in overcrowded classes. The following strategies can start you on the way to successfully managing the problems of overcrowded classes.
· Even if you are not easily intimidated, confronting a large group of students who have been crammed into a classroom designed for a much smaller group can be more than a little discouraging. Unless you immediately assume a strong leadership role, you will be so outnumbered by your students that they will be in charge of the class, not you.
· The room arrangement is very important in overcrowded classes. Make sure you have enough desks. Move all equipment that you don’t need to use right away to storage and do whatever else you can to further reduce the claustrophobic effects of clutter in the room.
· Pay careful attention to traffic patterns and student movement. Try to reduce this as much as possible. Teach your students to dispose of trash at the end of class and to sharpen pencils only at the start of class.
· An overcrowded class requires more monitoring than a smaller one. Teach your students that they are to place their book bags under their desks rather than in the aisle to make movement easier.
· A seating chart is an absolute must in an overcrowded class if you want to reduce the amount of off-task behavior. A structured environment will reduce the number of problems you will face.
· Prepare yourself for the noise level. A large class can be a noisy class if you don’t establish some guidelines early in the year with your students to help them control the noise level.
· Be extremely organized and a model of efficiency for your students who could be tempted to use overcrowding as an excuse not to do their best. Keep your personal space in good order and insist that your students leave their area tidy at the end of class. Encourage them to check to make sure their classmates don’t leave personal belongings behind when class is over.
· It is important for you to avoid confusion and the discipline problems caused by failure to return papers promptly. Although it takes longer to grade papers for a large class, your students may feel lost in the crowd if you allow papers to pile up before you give them the feedback that all students need in order to stay focused on learning during class.
· Routines are very important in a large class. Establish and teach them early in the term. Students should be able to predict what they are supposed to do in your class even though there are many students in the room.
· Allow no horseplay. Even though you may be inclined to allow students some leeway in playing around, this is not a good idea when there are too many students in the room. Horseplay in a crowd is wasted time as well as dangerous. Stop it at the first sign it is about to begin.
· Be especially careful in a crowded class to prevent the cheating that can happen because students have to sit close together. Provide a cover sheet and monitor carefully to prevent problems.
· Enlist your students in a sense of togetherness and encourage a spirit of cooperation in solving the problems caused by an overcrowded class. A sense of humor and a positive attitude on your part will set a pleasant tone for your students to model.
· It is important for you to speak with every student each day. Greeting them at the door is a good beginning to solving the problems of having to keep in touch with many students. Make a point to let your students know that you are aware of them as people, not just as faces in a crowd.
· Creating permanent teams of study buddies is a good way to give students a sense of togetherness and connectedness in the midst of the larger group. When students have a few partners to turn to for help and support, they will feel like a part of the class instead of being just one of many.
· Courtesy to each other and to you is especially important in a large class. Teach the importance of courtesy to the students in a large class and insist that they treat everyone with politeness. A large courteous class is much better and easier to deal with than a small rude one.
· Your attitude is the most important factor in coping successfully with the demands of a large class. It’s not the number of students occupying seats in the room, but the careful planning, interesting lessons, and sincere effort to connect with each student each day that will determine the success or failure of the discipline climate in a class.