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Recognizing the Advantages of Small Groups

We’ve started to take our 2-year-old toddler to preschool this week. Parents will already know that this can be a rough process; kids don’t like to leave their parents, and most kids — like our son — are not used to having such reduced attention from adults for such an extended period of time. In our case, we’ve had a solid week of crying and behavioral adjustments to a completely new, alien environment.

The thing that I immediately notice everyday when I drop him off, though, is the sheer chaos of the classroom. I feel a little bad for the teachers; they have to single-handedly handle two handfuls of children, all of which deserve — and in our case, have received since birth — an adult’s full attention. In fact, I had looked up what the law requires in teacher-to-child ratio, and it maxes out at an unwieldy 12 kids to 1 teacher. Of course, the ratios only get bigger as the kids get older, and by college levels we routinely have professor : student ratios in the hundreds if not thousands.

This entire setup is ironic given that in the professional workplace, we recognize the power of small(ish) teams and structure ourselves to maintain manageable team sizes. Management theory places the ideal number of direct reports somewhere between 7 and 10 people. It takes a quantifiable amount of work to manage one individual and optimize that relationship, and businesses are incentivized to make the most out of their employees, even if it has meant adding layers upon layers of middle management.

I guess that explains the massive gap in the number of teachers/professors are assigned to students compared to that of managers to reports. The former has less of a vested interest in individualized development, and relies more on broadcasting education and self-selection to segment the student population into subsets of students who will receive more attention.

And for now, my son is in that camp, mostly because the teacher is forced to comfort him to stop him (and the others affected around him) from crying the entire time.

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