Whats the pupil-teacher ratio?

Many years ago and a hundred miles from Chester, I served in the central office of a school division in a university community. We were swamped with applications, and I spent each day interviewing (mostly) young ladies for teaching positions. I asked lots of questions to applicants; questions which would now put me in deep trouble if not in jail.    

Before it became forbidden, I would ask if they had family to look after, if they have transportation, and if they planned to stay longer than a year because they had a husband in graduate school. After it became politically incorrect to ask such questions, I simply said, “Tell me about yourself,” and they would usually give me the mostrevealing information – more than I needed or wanted to hear.

One day a telephone caller introduced himself as Mr. Reams. He said he was a new person in town and was employed by the college. “I’m moving to your school district and one [of] your elementary teachers told my wife that she had to face 35 children each morning.  What is your pupil-teacher ratio?”                      

“I understand your concern, Mr. Reams,” I said, “and ratios seem to be important to many people. But before I can give you our numbers or ratios, I need to know which teachers you think I should count.”

 “All of them,” he said. “All who teach divided into the number of students.”

 “OK. For example, would you count the elementary physical education teachers the children see three days a week at each elementary school?”

 Mr. Reams hesitated and said, “Well, yes.”

 “Fine. Would you count the principal and assistant principal?”

 “No! Don’t count administrators.”

 “I agree. What about counting the school librarians? They instruct groups of students and have children in and out of the media center all day thus relieving teachers of the number of pupils in the classroom at one time.”

 Mr. Reams gave a hesitant, “Yes.”

 “Very well. Would you count the guidance counselors, required by the state, who work with small groups and individual children?”

 “I don’t know. If you count them, it’s all right by me.  How many more are you going to list?”

 “Quite a few, Mr. Reams. We have to agree on each position or neither of us will agree on the outcome. There are a lot more. Shall I count the Title I teachers, employed with federal funds, who give remedial reading and math instruction to disadvantaged students?”

“Yes, count them. I didn’t realize…”

 I interrupted. “Would you count special education teachers who have small classes of handicapped children?”
“Of course.”

 “Would you count speech therapists, teachers of emotionally-disturbed children, and teachers of children with various learning disabilities?”

 “Yes, if they are certified by the state.”

 “They are. In fact, they must have a Master’s degree. Would you include teacher aides?”            

“We didn’t have them when I was in school. What do they do?”

“Some are volunteers. They are not usually certified as teachers, but they work with children in small groups, supervise activities under the direction of a teacher, help keep discipline in the classroom, relieve teachers of lunchroom duties, grading papers, and so on.”

“If they’re not certified by the state I don’t want them counted.”

“All right, even though they do dilute the number of children that a teacher must supervise. What about remedial reading teachers, some employed by the state and some with federal money?”

“Count them.”

“Good. And how about art teachers, choral music teachers, and band directors who instruct small and large groups?”

“They’re OK.”

“And how about the new computer teachers who operate the computer labs for all grade levels?”

“Count them, too.”

  “What about visiting teachers for homebound instruction?”

 “OK.”                        

  “All right, Mr. Reams.  I think we’ve covered all the teaching staff and have agreement on whom to count. Now, give me a minute. I’m putting numbers into a calculator. Well…the teacher who spoke to your wife may very well have had 35 students in her homeroom with a hundred percent attendance, although it’s usually about 90 percent.  We’re departmentalized in the upper grades, she spoke truthfully.”

“But… our pupil/teacher ratio works out to be approximately 12.3 students per teacher.”

 There was a long pause and Mr. Reams said, “Why do you need so many teachers?”

 “We have to meet state and federal requirements, accommodate mentally and physically challenged students, and provide a safe and comfortable place in which to take care of other people’s children, so that they will be able to work at better paying positions.”

 “Oh,” he said. “Thanks.”

Dr. Charles Todd is a retired Virginia teacher, principal, and school superintendent.

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