SCHOOL SCENE: How big is too big?

Photo: ESOL teacher Luis Arce and student. Photo by Jackie Camer.


“If there was anything I could do to change the ESOL system, minus the cost, it would be to increase staffing to allow smaller classes,” said Northwood ESOL teacher Luis Arce.

Many teachers would agree that teaching a class of fewer than 10 students is easier, more enjoyable, and more efficient than teaching a group of more than 20. Unfortunately, due to budgets, space or lack of teachers, many ESOL programs only offer large classes.

Teaching 30 non English speakers is more challenging than teaching 30 native English speakers. The student-to-teacher ratio is currently 31:1 at Montgomery County’s Northwood high school for both English speaking and ESOL students. ESOL students tend to come throughout the year. Beginning the school year Arce had 14, whereas now he has 30. With the majority of his students coming from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, should we expect this trend to increase?


Northwood ESOL teacher Luis Arce in his classroom. Photo by Jackie Camer.

“Yes the size will increase and it’s unfortunate,” says Arce, “You see in English classes you don’t have to worry about if the students understood what was said, but in ESOL classes you do and not only do you have to go over the assignment in English, but in Spanish.”

ESOL, which stands for English for Speakers for Other Languages, offers courses in reading, grammar, writing, and oral communication in five levels from beginning to advanced.  “Learning English isn’t the only reason students take this class, they eventually learn how to assimilate into society,” said Arce. ESOL classes provide the key to understanding more about how to operate in American culture. They give students the opportunity not only to practice language but to learn why something is said or how language changes in a given cultural context.

Once a former ESOL student himself, teacher Luis Arce knows the troubles that some of the students go through. “It took me years to understand what homecoming was and I still really don’t get it.”

For the 2014-2015 school year, classes with more beginning ESOL students receive more staffing. Classes with fewer ESOL students at the advanced levels of proficiency receive less staffing. The in-flow of ESOL students this year in Montgomery County Public Schools is the biggest yet. With 11.7 of Montgomery County’s public school population in the ESOL program, just how many students are in each class?

Arce wishes he could have more one-on-one with each student or that he could have a clone.

However, there could be some benefits to bigger classes. Large classes provide learners with a chance to interact with other adults and students who may have similar life experiences, come from the same country or are facing the same challenges. Students, especially those who have recently come to the U.S., are often separated from friends and family. Class is a place to make new friends. “Sometimes you end up being their parent, consultant and oh yeah, then there’s teacher. We spent a whole class period on opening our lockers, it’s not that they’re stupid, it’s just foreign to them,” said Arce.


About the Author

Jackie Camer
Is a senior at Northwood High School. Currently she is editor of her high schools literary magazine. She plans to major in Communications and Media. When not writing, you can find her playing with her goldendoodle Sandy.