The legislature’s Education Committee today is hearing testimony on a number of bills that impact teaching and learning, and many CEA members, leaders, and staff are making their voices heard. A bill capping class sizes received an outpouring of support with more than 100 pieces of written testimony submitted by CEA members.
“We commend the committee for recognizing the importance of including in the bill caps on class sizes,” CEA President Kate Dias said. “Class sizes can significantly impact the school environment, including the conditions that can affect students’ mental health and emotional stress. The manifestations of emotional stress show up in very different ways—some obvious, some silent. Large class sizes make it harder for teachers to connect with students and provide one-on-one attention, which can exacerbate the alienation, disengagement, and withdrawal that some students feel. This lack of connection also makes it more difficult for teachers to monitor emotional stress and the potential escalation of negative and potentially violent behaviors.”
Senate Bill 1093 would cap class sizes at 20 students for preschool through grade two, 23 students for grades three through eight, and 25 students for grades nine through twelve.
Dias said that early in her career she had classes of 28 and 30 students. “In those cases, students were crammed into classrooms and, between bodies and backpacks, I could not physically even get to students. There were no opportunities for quiet conversation and reflection on work and challenges, there was no space for collaborative work groups, and there was no time for me to make meaningful connections.”
Several years later, when her district was able to reduce class sizes, Dias said she was teaching the same course with 20 students. “What a difference! I could confer, offer creative projects, organize labs for students, and spend more time truly engaging with each learner. That is the experience all students should have—that is the experience all teachers should have!”
“I’ve been a teacher for 16 years and students are coming in with trauma and challenges that we teachers alone can hardly deal with at times. It is not just one or two students, it is many in each class,” Stratford teacher Cyrilla Turechek said, giving voice to what many teachers are experiencing. “In addition to trauma, students are also coming in two and three years below grade level. The span of levels in my elementary class is vast. To teach at all those levels and meet the instructional needs of all students is nearly impossible.”
She continued, “The more students we have in a class, the less small group time and individual time we can give each student. Smaller class sizes won’t solve everything, but it will make a huge difference.”
Stamford teacher Edward Donnelly said that smaller classes offer several advantages for struggling students. “With fewer students in the classroom, teachers are better able to provide individual attention to each student, understand their specific challenges, and tailor the instruction to meet their needs. Struggling students may require more time and attention from their teachers to grasp concepts or complete assignments, which can be challenging in larger classrooms. In smaller classes, however, teachers can provide additional support and guidance, leading to better academic performance and higher levels of engagement.”
He added that smaller classes can help reduce stress and anxiety, which can be major barriers to learning for struggling students.
Over her eight years as a teacher, Stamford teacher Alyssa Domini said that she has seen her class sizes grow steadily every year. “When I first started, 25 students in a class was unthinkable to me, 20 students was excessive, with the perfect number of students for optimal academic and social emotional achievement hovering around 18. As the years have progressed, however, I now breathe a sigh of relief when I see that a class has under 27 students. To be clear, the relief is in the fact that I won’t have to find more desks or books for my students; it is not in the fact that I think I will be a better teacher for them.”
Shelton music teacher Bailey Knowles teaches every student in her elementary school, and says that large class sizes limit the activities she can do with students given a lack of funding to purchase additional materials and a lack of physical space. “Despite movement and dancing being essential to music, I must exclude that part of the curriculum simply because I cannot fit 30 students in my classroom comfortably enough for them to dance without someone getting injured. Smaller class sizes ensure that students are accessing the entire curriculum, and not just bits and pieces.”
Columbia teacher Brooke Kleinman has similar concerns about too many students in a tight space. She teaches science and worries about the dangers to students when she runs hands-on labs. “This cannot be done safely when there are too many bodies moving around and performing the lab. This isn’t just an issue of students not getting what they need because there are just too many of them for one teacher to work with during a class period. This is also a safety issue with larger teenage humans taking up space in the room when trying to do anything hands-on.”
Glastonbury world language teacher Cecile Perraud said that she has had up to 28 students in her classes before, making it impossible for all students to participate meaningfully and learn a new language. During the average class period with 28 students in a class, Perraud said that each student only has 60 to 90 seconds to speak and practice the language. “The smaller the class, the more time we have to devote individually to each student, and the more opportunities students have to engage in the activities.”
“It’s no wonder that over 100 teachers have submitted testimony to this committee on the issue of class size caps alone,” Dias said. “Class size matters for students, and it matters for the profession. As a teacher, the ability of teachers to make a positive difference in the lives of our students is what drives our passion. You can help us help more students by making class sizes more conducive to supporting every student. And the positive byproduct of helping students is helping more teachers find joy in this profession.”