Over 2,000 students are enrolled in Carlmont, putting it in the top 5% of the largest public high schools in California. Due to its size, Carlmont suffers in its student-staff ratio, 22-1, which is far below the 16-1 national average, according to Public School Review. Thirty-plus students in a class are common at Carlmont, limiting the time teachers can devote to each student.
“It’s hard for teachers to know their students, it’s one teacher and 175 students, and teachers only meet their students once a day,” said Patricia Braunstein, a history teacher at Carlmont.
Project STAR (Student-Teacher Achievement Ratio) was a 1985 study of student-teacher ratios in Tennessee. The research showed strong evidence favoring smaller class sizes. Students enrolled in smaller classes had an 8% higher reading score, 9% higher math score, and a higher expectancy to take a college entrance exam compared to students in larger classes. Although many factors are at play, it can be boiled down to one crucial reason: student-teacher interactions.
“It’s been easier for me to get to know students if I have classes with 20 or 22 kids. That doesn’t sound much different than 30 students, but there is actually a huge difference,” said Kristine Govani, a Carlmont teacher who teaches both Computer Science and business.
In Carlmont, teachers are always finding ways to build stronger relations with their students. They often have casual conversations and take part in extracurricular activities.
“If I know my student plays a sport, I asked them how they did or if they are in a club, I ask them how that went. I try to know more about them as people outside my classroom,” Govani said.
Teachers also build stronger connections to the Carlmont student body by hosting clubs, tutoring students after school, and generally being available.
“I still try to make myself available. Answering emails, running clubs, being open at lunch, but at the end of the day, there is only so much you can do,” Braunstein said.
Because of the size of Carlmont, there are limitations to what the teachers can do. This is where students need to make an effort to connect with their teachers.
“I try to participate in class as much as possible. I think that being active during class is the best way to get to know my teachers,” said John Taylor, a sophomore.
Participation in class is the most straightforward way of getting to know your teacher, but other small steps can be taken to connect with the teachers. Instead of emailing teachers about a missing grade, asking in-person is both easier for teachers and helps build up the student-teacher relationship.
“I have two former students who come by every single day to say hi. When students can make that overture, they can get to know their teachers, even on a big campus,” Braunstein said.
A closer bond between students and teachers promotes a more positive learning environment, which is hugely beneficial for the student. Studies have found a strong correlation between academic achievement and a positive learning environment.
On a more personal level, a strong relationship with teachers offers a variety of little benefits.
“When I get to know my teachers, I always feel comfortable enough to talk to them if I am struggling or need to make up work,” Taylor said.
As students approach their junior and senior years, they begin to plan their futures; many start the grueling college application process. Four-year colleges require letters of recommendation, where the students’ relationship with their teachers could be a determining factor in getting accepted into a college.
“I wrote several recommendations this year, and the hardest letters to write were the ones for the students I didn’t know very well. Whereas, the students that I knew a lot about and knew more of their daily lives were much easier recommendations to write,” Govani said.
Be it an improved learning environment, comfort in asking for help, or a meaningful recommendation letter, building a relationship with teachers will benefit students in both the short and long term. For better or for worse, for the over 2000 students are enrolled in Carlmont, getting to know their teachers is the student’s responsibility.