The Teacher's Attention

The Teacher's Attention: Why Our Kids Must and Can Get Smaller Schools and Classes

Garrett Delavan
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 244
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt14btf5j
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  • Book Info
    The Teacher's Attention
    Book Description:

    The Teacher's Attentionis a fresh take on relationships in schools. Looking beyond our obsession with raising test scores, this book recognizes that education is a key partner in raising children. Garrett Delavan contends that allowing students, educators and parents to navigate a smaller number of relationships-a concept he calls "relationship load"-provides many benefits, including a better chance at achieving equal access to a good education for all children.

    Delavan shows how class size, school size, and longer-term student-teacher relationships are all equally critical components for educating our children ethically and successfully. After examining these proposed reforms in detail, Delavan also considers counterarguments and provides a detailed projection of costs and savings, putting to rest the assumption that smaller classes and smaller schools are necessarily more expensive. Finally, the book discusses possible steps toward implementation, showing how the author's proposed reforms are remarkably practical.

    eISBN: 978-1-59213-895-1
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. vii-xvi)

    In Philip Jackson’s classic study,Life in Classrooms, he writes, “Th e crowds in the classroom may be troubling. But there they are. Part of becoming a student involves learning how to live with that fact” (1990, p. 19). Class size is easy to take as a given of schooling if you’ve always taught or seen classes of relatively equal size. That’s not my experience. I’ve taught for eight years at a public school with fluctuating enrollment, which makes for fluctuating class sizes. It’s been a laboratory of sorts, a laboratory particularly suited to the formation and testing of hypotheses...

  4. 1 First and Foremost
    (pp. 1-39)

    There are many good (and bad) ideas for changes in schools; I am convinced relationship load ought to be addressed first and foremost. For some it’s a radical argument; for others it’s a tired argument, supposedly long since shown to be simplistic. If you’re skeptical, please read at least this chapter—I shall try to intrigue you. There are at least eighteen reasons grouping size reduction should be done first and foremost among (but not necessarily instead of) other good suggestions for school change. In Chapter 8 cost projections show that we’ll spend 20 percent more on education than we...

  5. 2 Getting the Crisis Right
    (pp. 40-53)

    Beneath the educational policy in the United States is an underlying philosophy that runs counter to a balanced, relational view of human existence. Nel Noddings, one of the best-known philosophers of education in the United States, refers to it as “the relentless cultural press for separation” (1989, p. 214) and “the orientation characterized by hierarchy, specialty, separation, objectification, and the loss of relation” (1984, p. 200); she contrasts it with an ethic of caring. Relational balance in education is misconceived in at least three dimensions that bear on this proposal: the individual and the community, achievement and nurturance, special needs...

  6. 3 The Racial Relationship Gap
    (pp. 54-60)

    Just as academic achievement is not equitably distributed across races, relationship load is not equitably distributed. A major factor in the achievement gap is that students of color tend to be placed in schools that are “understaffed and overpopulated” (Williams and Land 2006, p. 583). Consider the four aspects of relationship load as experienced by two racial groups who tend to experience less school success. African Americans and Latinos are more likely to be in large schools and classes. As Figure 3.1’s trend line demonstrates, smaller pupil/teacher ratios (a correlate of class size) are disproportionately an entitlement of white students....

  7. 4 Defining the Harm: Adult Attention Deficit
    (pp. 61-77)

    In this chapter I hope to make clear what children need from adults and how it harms them not to get it. I will also discredit three damaging myths:

    Less attention makes kids more self-reliant.

    Parents are the only adults whose attention matters.

    In all circumstances, older children have less need for attention.

    All kids want and need attention from adults, and schools don’t provide nearly enough of it.

    The reasoning in this proposal is grounded in the understanding that the two overarching needs perceptible to children in their relationship to adults areautonomy, that is, getting to do what...

  8. 5 The Four-Piece Relationship Load Solution
    (pp. 78-102)

    The Sephardic thinker Maimonides grappled with the issue of class size in the twelfth century (Achilles 1999, p. 22). In 1693 John Locke argued that private tutors were preferable to schoolmasters in their moral influence because a tutor “was likely to have only three or four children to supervise, compared with the three or four score of the schoolmaster” (Heywood 2001, p. 160). Relationship load in education is hardly a new topic, yet it continues to be seen as secondary to fakeacademic-crisis concerns. Brevity has been a chief culprit. Because of the obvious value of small classes, for example, we...

  9. 6 The Core of the Relationship Load Effect
    (pp. 103-115)

    Here I want to highlight the reasons teachers cannot be as caring or effective in large groups as they can in small, nor can students feel as cared for or as capable. More evidence could be marshaled to support what I say here, and many more effects of relationship reduction could be similarly supported, and I hope to do just that in a later volume.

    The evidence presented here counters common assertions that changing relationship load has no effect on its own and therefore should not be pursued on its own. For example, Ancess writes, “When only structural change occurs,...

  10. 7 The Counterarguments
    (pp. 116-126)

    Of the major arguments used against grouping size (and particularly class size) reduction, these are the two I have dealt with so far:

    It doesn’t make any difference without retraining.

    It doesn’t always raise test scores.

    I addressed the first in Chapter 1 and the second in Chapter 2. Here are the others:

    Class sizes came down over the history of public schooling and it hasn’t helped.

    It dilutes the overall quality of teachers (and/or the integrity of the profession).

    Its effects can be reproduced by increased teacher effort, training, or quality.

    It’s too expensive.

    These are mainly arguments against...

  11. 8 The Costs and Savings
    (pp. 127-144)

    In the German fairy tale, the Pied Piper didn’t get paid when he led the rats out of town by playing his inviting music. In retaliation for this, he led away the town’s children with the same music, never to be seen again. If we don’t want to lose our own kids, then we also need to pay the piper. This chapter examines whether that payment will be all that large in the long run. It challenges the most prevalent counterargument, demonstrating that the proposal is at worst cheap and at best free. I’ll start with ongoing costs, then move...

  12. 9 Implementation at the School and District Levels
    (pp. 145-162)

    The role school and district administrators can play in helping to solve the real crisis is to increase teacher continuity, bring down school size, and facilitate parent-school relationships. As well, they can reduce class size significantly within the current budget constraints by reducing separation of programs and specialization of teachers. The major barriers to helping kids at this level will be the following:

    Racial and class-based equity challenges without coordination from above

    The limitations placed on teachers by classes that remain too large in some areas because of budgets that cannot be increased without changes from above

    Recruitment and certification...

  13. 10 Implementation at the State and Federal Levels
    (pp. 163-177)

    The key contribution of state and federal decision-makers would be to coordinate and fund the critical piece of grouping size reduction: classes of twelve. They can also be critical players in ensuring more funding equality across local school districts and that the largest schools, and those with the most poverty and racial stigmatization, get priority in school and class size reduction. Again, what follows is not a binding prescription. I want to show that the proposalcanbe done, not to give the final word onexactlyhow.

    It is widely known and discussed that local tax collection based on...

  14. 11 Help from the Private Sector
    (pp. 178-179)

    Thus far we’ve principally talked about how thepublicsector can reorganize to meet the challenges of the real nurturance crisis. Theprivatesector also bears responsibility for the problems and the solutions. The most obvious area is the overworking and underpaying of the parents and community members and the subsequent effect on their ability to raise the community’s kids.

    A package of policies that includes generous paid parental leaves, reduced work hours for parents, better pay and benefits for parttime workers, and much more investment in high-quality child care is an indispensable foundation for any enduring attack on the...

  15. 12 Implementation at Kid Level
    (pp. 180-184)

    I will wrap up the book by bringing it back to where the students are—in their homes and classrooms. What follows is a short selection of how teachers and parents can maximize school’s potential impact on the nurturance crisis. I keep it short because it’s been generously elaborated elsewhere. What’s most often overlooked, of course, are the real constraints placed upon teachers by relationship load—decisions almost entirely out of the hands of teachers. Let’s begin by addressing parents and guardians.

    A common reaction to the ideas in this book is for parents to feel their turf is being...

  16. Conclusion
    (pp. 185-188)

    When I entered high school as a ninth-grader, the school was bursting at the seams. It was the same year a neighboring high school was being closed down, and the other three were accommodating its students.Accommodatedis not how I felt among the more than two thousand other teenagers. I became overwhelmed and disconnected. I began to skip classes and stop doing homework. By mid-year I’d succumbed to clinical depression. I was more fortunate than I might have been, though. Because I’m white, I did not also have to deal with a standard dose of institutional racism on top...

  17. Appendices
    (pp. 189-196)
  18. Notes
    (pp. 197-202)
  19. References
    (pp. 203-218)
  20. Index
    (pp. 219-226)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 227-227)