As the author of twenty-five books in many genres, I do a lot of touring and public speaking. That includes speaking at universities where faculty clue me into their struggles in and out of the classroom. One of the things that gripes professors at state schools is when they hear administrators publicly congratulating themselves on doing “more with less” in the face of budget cuts.
It sounds lovely and even heroic, doesn’t it? But it never seems to apply to the administrators themselves. What exactly are they sacrificing? They don’t take pay cuts and work harder, or work longer hours. Their salaries keep going up, as national surveys show.
One thing it does mean is that their underlings–professors and adjuncts–teach ever larger classes. The pressure on class size across the country is insidious and undermines educational excellence, but nobody in charge seems to care or understand its impact.
A year and a half ago, I had a class of amazing fiction writers who were funny, smart, wildly diverse, and hard-working–but there were twenty-nine of them. That’s right, twenty-nine. In a creative writing class.
There was no way I could give individual students the attention they needed. I did the very best I could, though, and got a hearty round of applause the last day. I applauded them back because I was so proud of their work ethic and their talent.
But I think that like many students around the country, they deserved a much smaller class. Creative writing is intimate, intense, and has the potential to change people’s lives. I saw that more recently in another creative writing class that was equally talented, but had only eighteen students.
These students got to know each other’s work and each other in a much deeper way. They quickly formed a private Facebook group; chipped in for a coffee machine and coffee to use at breaks; and they were were concerned when someone was absent. They shared class jokes; they shared moments of deep emotion; their writing changed; they changed.
Thanks not just to their personalities and interests, but to the class size, they became a devoted community of learners and teachers. Isn’t that we hope for?