Last June, a number of North Toronto teachers were “re-located;” that is, they were forced to seek work elsewhere in the Toronto District School Board. This September, North Toronto welcomed record numbers of Grade 9 students - considerably more than last year. Why does the TDSB cut teachers while letting more students into each school? This is not a question I can answer, but I can tell you why your classes are large, if they’ll stay that way, and how you can survive in a room with 30 plus.

            The TDSB does its hiring (and firing) in the spring. The system is as follows: the TDSB looks at the number of Grade 9s in the school, then assumes that a Grade 9 class of the same size will enter the school in the year following. If the size is small, some teachers may find themselves out of a job. The problem is, the number of Grade 9s  entering NT fluctuates year to year. The year, there are simply too many students and not enough teachers.

            This board policy punishes both teachers and students. Often, the teachers who NT doesn’t have room for are young. Is it fair that a new teacher be dropped in different schools year after year? Neither you nor your teacher really wants a large class size. Here’s why.

            In a large class, students get less individual attention from teachers. The teacher must manage more students – marking more work, tests, and exams. Struggling students fade in a large class, and smart ones also suffer, having to settle for a much slower pace of learning.

            It’s not all bad of course. Discussion based classes will benefit from a large number of minds; it means more diversity, more perspectives, and livelier debates. But a large math or science class means large challenges for everyone involved. Teachers may only move on with a lesson if all 35 students understand – and students come from different backgrounds, with different abilities, and different learning styles.

            Grade 9 student Elayne Mayer has an English class with 33 other people. “The worst part of it is,” she says, “everyone has to suffer. There is never any one-on-one time with the teacher.” Some students willingly hide behind their classmates, finding that a large class is the perfect place to relax without being scolded. “People are listening to iPods in class… it’s easier to get away with that.” Elayne’s science class is also large. “When doing experiments, you need enough room and enough stuff for everyone. Sheets and materials run out. There is a lot of waiting. It’s annoying.”

            The TDSB is trying to reduce class sizes, or, is at least trying to respond to a Ministry Mandate from the government of Ontario which stipulates that primary school classes (from Kindergarten to Grade 3) be capped. These caps are causing great distress among primary school administrators, but that is a whole other article... The caps come directly from the government’s Every Child program, a four year program that was designed to help students with reading and math. The government hoped it would improve students’ EQAO results. Whether or not it has worked (McGuinty says it has), it is plain to see that nobody in power is trying to lower the class sizes of students in older grades. But high school years are crucial. Many university programs have prerequisites, and demand an understanding of the material taught in those prerequisites.

            The North Toronto administration does all it can to improve the situation, which, as aforementioned, is dismal, especially for the Grade 10s who are currently bearing the brunt of the teacher shortage. Fortunately, the board has allowed Mr. Gorenkoff to hire two more teachers, Mr. Hood and Mr. Yeung. This will undoubtedly help the situation, but it also opens up a door of new challenges, such as the splitting of classes and the rearranging of schedules. Changes are expected to be complete by October 27th.

            For now, if you’re stuck in a crowded classroom, you can do either of two things: make use of your teacher’s extra help time slots and join the NT math club (free tutoring!), or suck it up and realize that in a little while, you may find yourself in a class with 500 others at U of T.