How I Realized Size Matters

I walked out of my first piano lesson today invigorated. Energized. Satisfied. It’s not an uncommon feeling, even though I teach lessons after a full day of teaching English.

Today I finally figured out why.

My student today was clearly struggling with the pieces I assigned last week. As he played, I watched what he did. I noticed what he did right and looked for commonalities when he made mistakes. I could tell he was getting frustrated, so I asked him, “True or false: you can read treble clef better than bass clef.”

“100 percent true,” he responded.

And then we created a plan. We talked about how he could become more familiar with the bass clef. We identified the deficiency and figured out how to improve. I felt like I actually did something to help this student become a better pianist and musician.

Whoever says class size doesn’t matter–and plenty of politicians are making it clear they believe it doesn’t–most likely has never had the chance to work one-on-one with a student in any content area. Piano lessons aren’t the only places I feel like I’m actuallly teaching. When students come in before or after school for help, I feel the same way. The few times I’ve collaborated with Newspaper or Yearbook students on stories produces a similar effect. But my English students aren’t coming in for help. And as class sizes keep creeping up and up and up, those moments in the classroom are more difficult to create.

Today’s piano lesson was a good reminder that if I just slow down and watch what my students are doing, I can develop a plan of attack to help them learn.

But I have to wonder if at some point, class size reaches a point of critical mass, where it doesn’t matter what I do, the sheer number of students I must teach to read and write is just too big to make any measurable difference. I hope I never discover the answer.


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