Every size of school has its own benefits and its own challenges. Bigger schools will have a completely different dynamic to smaller schools, but is one ‘better’ than the other? Not necessarily.
Of course each individual school is different – different types of staff, socio-economic, location, resourcing availability, surrounding community support. And the number of students learning there can both impact and be impacted by all of those factors and more. Truly small schools, with only handfuls of enrolments, will feel all of these pros and cons in more concentrated manner, where those schools who are small-ish might find these to be a bit more diluted.
If you have the option to choose between a smaller school and a larger school as a teacher, your best bet is to actually spend time teaching at both if possible. That way you can really truly determine which you prefer, and you might even surprise yourself. But if working for some time in each type of school before you settle down isn’t an option, this list should provide a bit of insight in what it’s like to teach at a smaller school. Note, we are focusing on the teaching side here, not the learning side as a student!
Since the school is smaller, you can get to know a larger proportion of the student body. You’re more likely to know students outside your core teaching area/grade because you’ll see the same faces more often, and have more opportunities to remember their names and little bits about them. In this sense it’s easier to develop a strong sense of teacher-student community.
If you’re in a high school, you’re more likely to teach the same students in following years, which means deepening rapports and really getting to know them and their learning style well.
Having less students can actually mean a greater diversity in your choices for leadership roles, scholarships, etc. You might think it would be the opposite, but in reality having a smaller student body can force educators and admin to look beyond the ‘typical’ choices for such opportunities. It can both allow and force you, as a teacher, to work closer with students who may have been overlooked in a larger student body.
You may very well end up teaching the same student(s) year after year. This can be a blessing or a challenge, depending on the student(s). If it’s on the challenging side, hopefully at least you can work toward a positive rapport, or at the very least be able to spot their escalating behaviours before they become an issue.
It can also inadvertently result in the student body being quite homogenous. Less students overall can mean less diversity, and at times less acceptance of that diversity. As a teacher in such an environment, it’s important to actively work to reduce the marginalisation and misrepresentation of students who may sit outside the homogenous majority.
Sometimes smaller schools can access grants and funding that are off limits to larger schools, but only when such offerings exist in the first place. It can be a blessing in disguise when you can approach sponsors and investors with your small-school tight-knit community. People love supporting the underdog, as it were, and often smaller schools are viewed in that light.
Having less resourcing can actually encourage staff and students to get creative with what they have – a lot more recycling, repurposing, and inventing goes on!
More often than not, though, being a smaller school with fewer enrolments means the school misses out on funding and resourcing. We all know that no education system is appropriately funding their schools, and for some reason the less students you have, the less money you seem to get per capita. Less funding often means less chance for cool (or even new) equipment, more run down buildings and facilities, and less opportunities for extra-curricular activities that have a cost associated.
It can be very disheartening as a teacher to realise that your ideas and dreams for the school and your students cannot come into fruition because of the lack of funds as resources.
Did you know there’s a Staffroom Stories podcast? You can check out the website directly here, find transcripts and show notes here, and subscribe through Google Podcasts, the Podbean App, Amazon Music/Audible, Samsung, and Podchaser. I’ll update when it’s approved for Spotify and Apple! The trailer is live now, and our first episode goes live Tues 17th May, so keep an eye out!
The Subject Offerings
Smaller schools will often be much more selective with what elective subjects they will and can offer. They need to be ones that current staff can effectively teach, and the school has resources to support. Being able to more effectively *know* the student body offers the opportunity to really tailor the subject offerings to the dynamic of the students at the time.
A smaller school can become really specialised and focused on a particular subject offering, and combining that with the ‘small-school tight-knit community’ paradigm, it can become a very valuable marketing point.
Smaller schools often have less resources along with less staff, which might immediately make some subject offerings impossible. It can also mean that there simply aren’t enough students to fill a class, so the subject doesn’t go ahead.
As a teacher this can mean missing out on the opportunity to teach a subject you’re passionate about, or not having the appropriate resources to support the subjects you are teaching.
Teachers at smaller schools can sometimes feel more valued than those at larger schools. They are more likely to be given opportunities for advancement, and can really build upon the feeling of community.
If you’ve got a great team to work with, you can very quickly become a tight-knit highly-effective unit, and friendships can last a life time.
Having less teachers in general can also reduce the risk of unpleasant cliques forming – you know the ones, where you can’t sit with them unless you wear pink on a Wednesday.
It also allows a greater spotlight to be shone on each individual teacher. You could see that as a blessing or a curse – being more visible comes with a greater responsibility and often higher standards, and less opportunities to hide amongst the crowd.
Smaller school means less teachers, which often means higher workload for the teachers that are there (and the leadership team members supporting them). There are less people to share the load of extra curricular activities, planning, moderating, even playground duties, so each individual teacher often has more on their plate than the average teacher at a larger school. That’s not to say teachers at larger schools have it easier, just that there are less opportunities to spread the load at smaller schools. They also are more often used for relief within the school, and are more likely to be on a full load. This can lead to faster burn-out.
On the flip side, less teachers means that if you don’t get along with some (or all) of the team, there are fewer people to form a good working relationship with. This can be especially difficult if you don’t get along with your leadership team, or your immediate subject or grade area team.
Working in a smaller school is a unique experience – the smaller the school, the greater the challenges but also the greater the opportunities to really hone in on the community feel. Students and teachers alike often feel more visible.
What have your experiences been working in a smaller school? Let us know in the comments below, or join the convo in our Facebook Group.