overcrowded classroomIn less than 2 months, Karen starts 3rd grade, and we are all feeling the stress. She’s been acting out aggressively, hitting girls at any perceived slight. Her usual over-sensitivity is magnified, and any teasing or frustration leads to extreme anger. Meanwhile, we are climbing the walls trying to figure out how to find an environment that will be supportive, allow her to learn and to actually enjoy school. I enjoyed school at her age. But then I didn’t have the daily nightmare of loud, unmanageable classes with teachers who have to constantly yell to make themselves heard and who spend more time trying to maintain order than actually teaching.

As parents we are very concerned about the school’s plan to only have three 3rd grade classes instead of 4. Each class will contain 35-40 students with one teacher – no assistants and no parent volunteers (not permitted). The school is planning to go from 4 second grade classes of ~30 students each, to only 3 classes of up to 40 in each for third grade. I don’t understand how any child can learn effectively in that environment. I once heard a statistic that approximately 60% of the students in our schools are on Ritalin or similar. I’ve experienced how the administration tends to push parents towards medication to deal with any acting out. It seems the only way a teacher can even begin to control a class of 40 rowdy Israeli students is to have half of them medicated.

The teachers here regularly go on strike about salary and benefits. I don’t understand how any teacher can feel good about “managing” a class of 40. Why don’t they strike about class size? Friends in the US tell me that their teachers’ union is very strong, and would never permit a teacher to have more than 25 children per teacher in elementary school. All the teachers I’ve spoken to admit that it isn’t possible to effectively teach 40 8-9 years olds. I guess having most of the kids on Ritalin makes it a bit easier…

Karen’s stress manifests as anger, but underneath it all, she’s scared. She’s afraid of losing some of the classmates she’s worked so hard to repair relations with, but she’s even more afraid knowing that she will lose her homeroom teacher who has been so supportive of her over the last two years.

The uncertainty of who will be her new teacher is also stressful, but at the moment, she is most unhappy knowing that she will lose a teacher who has given her so much during the past two, very difficult years. Her teacher is young, and Karen’s was her first homeroom class, ever. Under those circumstances, I was amazed at her ability to maintain priorities in a class where Karen wasn’t the only child with behavioral problems. She truly gave of herself, in both time and energy, to help Karen acclimate to the structured environment of school.

Karen’s teacher gave us, and Karen, a huge amount of support when we needed it most. She worked with us tirelessly, to help reduce Karen’s stress in class to a manageable level which eventually led to improved behavior. She never gave up on Karen, even when we hit rock bottom in first grade. With her help, Karen became dedicated to overcoming her anger fits, and changing from a girl who hits to a girl who has girlfriends who enjoy being with her. Karen receives a ton positive reinforcement and knows her teacher understands her and will always give her the benefit of the doubt. She’s learned to expect much less from other teachers. Her main fear is getting a teacher who won’t want, or be able to invest the time and energy it takes to understand Karen’s special needs and abilities.

We are exploring educational options that may allow Karen to flourish, rather than just survive. I have serious doubts that her current public school can bring out the best in her. She is outstanding in many areas, and I want her in a place where the educational staff appreciates her strengths rather than putting band-aids on her perceived weaknesses.