I Started the Semester with 46 Students
Normally, 46 is a great number. In my busiest semesters, I have had over 100 students, mostly in writing-intensive classes. If all of my classes had been full this semester, I would have had close to 100 students. I know that many teachers at all levels have many more than that.
Teaching writing-intensive classes requires a staggering amount of time and care. People who don’t teach writing tend to grossly underestimate the time and energy it takes to read student writing and provide constructive feedback.
Having 46 students in a semester means that I can give each student more individual attention. It means that I have the time I need to prepare fully for each class and spend as much time as I need to conscientiously assess student work.
This is how it should be, and I have certainly earned a break. The Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC), part of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), recommends an ideal class size of 15 students for composition classes. Writing classes with more than 20 students contribute to a work environment that is not reasonable or equitable according to the CCCC’s Principles for the Postsecondary Teaching of Writing. These are good guidelines, but almost no school follows them. My writing classes have enrollment maximums of 24, and I fought hard when I was Department Chair to prevent them from going higher.
The arguments for large writing classes never make much sense. Administrators either insist on numerical parity and try to set enrollment maximums at the same number for all classes across all disciplines, or they prioritize enrollment, i.e. money, over equity and the wellbeing of students and teachers.
It’s rare to end a semester with all of the students who started. Some refer to the fact that we lose some students during the semester as “attrition.” Efforts to keep students in class and help them avoid needing to withdraw or drop out are part of what we refer to as “retention.”
I have come to accept that there is not much I can do to keep some students in class. Some students are in the process of discovering that they’re not ready for college yet. Some students would rather play than study. Some…