Teachers Come In Threes

Driving home on Dale Mabry, my daughter noticed a construction trailer on the side of the road and exclaimed, “Hey, a portable! They’re probably making a school, Mommy.”She’s in first grade, so her experience with public school includes numerous portable classrooms. Welcome to the Hillsborough County school system.McKitrick Elementary in Lutz has a portable park that covers the eastern part of the property, and they’re building 18 long-awaited classrooms in the rear.We moved to the area because of the great schools and watched McKitrick built shortly afterward. It’s been only four years, and the new elementary school is 25 percent over capacity.There are 58 kids in my daughter’s first-grade class. Her school calls this a triad – a co-teaching consortium that consists of three certified teachers in two connected classrooms. It’s McKitrick Elementary’s solution to crowding.When I first learned about the introduction of the triad last spring, I was far from thrilled. It’s an “A” school, and I figured, why mess with success? Friends learned about the size of the class and shuddered, offering sympathy and private school recommendations.We decided to stick it out.My daughter’s triad starts lunch at 10:17 and her class rotates through music and art once a week. They do P.E. in their classroom sometimes or on the grassy area next to the parking lot, since they lost their field to the construction.For all the add-on portables, the infrastructure of the school doesn’t change. The cafeteria, playing fields and library were designed for a lot fewer kids – hence lunch two hours early. She’s ravenous when she gets home at 2:30 pm.Parking for school events reminds me of Disney World during a holiday, only worse. There are no remote lots. So if the school’s lucky, the Tournament Players Golf Club will offer additional parking space. Otherwise you’re on your own.Did I mention that part of the school parking lot is taken up by the construction of additional classrooms?It’s been half a year now, and the teachers have worked out a system to manage the class size. There’s a lot of coordination and planning involved with a platoon of kids.While half the class receives formal instruction in one room, the other half works in centers that focus on activities such as guided reading, math and writing. One teacher instructs the traditional class and the other two work more intimately with students in the centers.An advantage of the triad is that the students are often separated into ability groups that cater to each child’s strengths or weaknesses. My daughter is thriving in this environment, and I’m not sure she’s any worse off than if she were in a class of 15 kids.As in any first-time effort, there are growing pains. One of the school’s triads disbanded because the teachers didn’t care for the arrangement. Since the entire first grade was set up in triads, it isn’t surprising that some teachers prefer traditional classrooms.Lisa Yost, the school principal, acknowledges that she probably wouldn’t implement the triad if not for the crowding. There are 1,118 kids in a school engineered for 897, so the school got creative. For each triad, the school saved a room.The real culprit contributing to the crowding lies beyond the school. Perhaps the school board and the county commissioners can follow McKitrick’s lead by trying another model themselves. But that’s a topic worthy of its own column.At the end of the day, I’d prefer a traditional classroom with smaller numbers. Yet I’m not sure my child cares. She has 57 friends and has learned to manage well independently. Perhaps children are more resilient than their parents.Sonja Sullivan, one of the triad teachers, shared a story from class. Teaching a math segment, they asked the kids what came in groups of two, then asked what came in threes. The kids replied that tricycle wheels and traffic lights do.Another raised a hand and said, “Teachers do, Ms. Sullivan. Teachers.”

Jan 9, 2006

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About the Author

Mylinh Shattan is a writer who has lived on three continents, served in the Army, worked in corporate America, and taught in college. She loves adventures, in the world and in the mind. Literature is relevant and learning is a lifelong pursuit, so you might as well have a bit of fun along the way.

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