By Kevin Judkins
Who was your favorite teacher?
Most of us remember at least one great teacher from our first 12 years of school. It was probably someone who introduced you to a lifelong passion for science or reading or history. Or maybe it was the teacher who helped you overcome a difficult subject and find a talent you didn’t know you had. You probably remember that he or she spent a little extra time standing by your desk, making sure you were really learning.
In classrooms across Washington, our kids are waiting to discover that favorite teacher, and tens of thousands of teachers are doing their best to inspire young people the way they themselves were once inspired.
Every teacher I know, whether they teach kindergarten or high school, would like to spend a little extra time with students who need help to keep them from falling farther behind.
Every teacher I know, whether they teach struggling students or advanced placement science, would love to personalize lesson plans so they better fit the needs and abilities of each student.
But for teachers like Carrie Dixon in Bothell — who has a ninth-grade class with 33 students — giving kids the one-on-one attention they need is getting harder every day.
Study after study has shown a clear link between student performance, attitudes about education and the number of students in their classrooms. When classes are smaller, kids participate more. They engage with their teachers and with their peers.
When classes are smaller, teachers can spend more time with each student, and less time simply trying to keep control of the room.
When classes are smaller in the early grades, kids learn study habits that improve performance throughout their school years.
We know all this, and we’ve known it for a long time. That’s why, in 2009, Washington legislators passed a law mandating smaller classes in Washington schools. What they didn’t do was provide the funding to actually reduce class sizes.
Starting this year, the state Supreme Court has given legislators no choice but to meet the state’s paramount duty and fully fund education. Right now there is some debate in Olympia about where the money will come from, but there should be no debate about where that new education funding can have the most impact. Washington students sit in the fourth most crowded classrooms in America, which has to change if we’re going to give them a first-class education.
If we want to improve test scores, close the achievement gap for disadvantaged students and fulfill our duty to provide every young person a quality education, the most direct way to do it is to reduce class sizes.
Nearly every adult remembers a teacher that made a difference, and we all want our kids to have those memories, too. It’s time for Washington to make those memories possible by funding smaller classes in this budget.
Kevin Judkins is a teacher at Glacier Peak High School.