In recent months, Hillsborough county superintendent Addison Davis has made several statements claiming that cuts in the number of teachers and budgets may be made soon. This has caused many teachers to worry about not just their job security, but also how many more students will be shoved into their classrooms. This is an even bigger concern this year because of Covid-19 restrictions and attempting to social distance students from one another.
“Because classrooms are so crowded, lots of students end up getting quarantined and then their education is disrupted because [teachers] have no way of spreading students out enough to protect them from that,” Emily Kelley, a teacher at Steinbrenner, said.
When teachers are fired, the students who were previously taught by that teacher must go somewhere. Many teachers who have worked in Hillsborough county for years are having a record number of kids put into their classrooms, many between 30 and 35 per class period. With this increase in students, pay does not increase and neither does the amount of time teachers have to grade work and effectively teach individuals.
“There’s an issue of quality of education is lessened when there are an excessive number of students in the classroom,” John Eric Vona, a teacher at Steinbrenner, said.
Because of the rise in class sizes, many experienced teachers have been struggling to properly educate their students. With a lack of time and resources, the amount of feedback given goes down, along with the time spent helping struggling students learn harder materials. Quality of education is decreasing because of the striking number of kids pushed into a single classroom.
“With that many students in the classroom, it is difficult for me to get to every student when somebody has questions or needs,” Kelley said. “I’ve got a line of 15 or 20 kids who also need my help and attention and not enough time in a class period to get to everybody.”
Especially in the 2020-2021 school year, where there are virtual students and teachers, there has been an increasing number of issues. With less in-person teachers due to some teachers having to teach virtually, and students coming back to become brick-and-mortar students, overcrowded classrooms have been presenting themselves even more. There are no rules for virtual teachers and their class sizes, meaning any number of students can be added to their class. This can further exacerbate the issues that come with too many kids in one class period.
“We as teachers are most effective when we focus on students and student-centered education which means getting to know our students and tailoring lessons to their needs,” Vona said. “That becomes increasingly difficult with larger and larger classes, whether it is in person or online.”
Although this may seem illegal, the Florida law instated in 2002 specifically says the “average” classroom must have 25 students. Because some teachers have smaller class periods with only 15 or 18 students, this means the county can technically put 30 or 35 students into one classroom. Class size restrictions are also limited to core classes only; any AP classes or electives do not fall under the Florida law, meaning any number of students can be in those types of classes.
“We have been striving a long time in the state to have lower class sizes,” Vona said. “All that seems to have been thrown out the window now. I have lots of classes that are over 30 students.”
Legislatures at the time would have had a hard time seeing the loophole in the law and many people today think that the law means that only 25 students can be in a classroom. Even though this is false, Florida legislature has done nothing to amend the current statute.
“When my class size is bigger in my online class, once again students get less one on one attention. With 40 or 50 students in one ‘classroom’ they very much become a number and not a human being,” Kelley said. “Students can slip through the cracks and go completely unnoticed in an online class because they are anonymous in so many ways.”
The state and county need to recognize that what they are doing to teachers is not okay. Firing quality teachers and putting too many students into one class period is not a way to effectively educate the upcoming generations. If the local and state governments stay on this route, teachers will put less and less effort into helping individuals due to the stress put on them. Without more teachers and less students per class period, education will continue to decline.
“I think one of the best ways for my students to become better writers is for me to give them that individual attention and feedback and it is an unrealistic expectation for me to give that many students that kind of individual attention,” Vona said.
Taylor Snow // Editor-in-Chief