Finding Elbow Room: Dealing With Overcrowded Classrooms

By Jenny Ortiz

Though I teach literature, I was doing some calculations this week. If I have two classes at Adelphi with 20  students in each class, I am accountable for 40 students. Add that to the 25 in my core literature class as well as my 30 in American literature from St. John’s. I can’t forget the 25 each for the two classes I’m teaching at LaGuardia this semester. This comes to a grand total of 145 students for the Fall semester, which is not unusual given the number of classes I teach. I have come to expect this number, and am fully prepare to give each student personal attention and guidance.

As a Freeway Flyer, having so many students is neither an issue nor a challenge. I’ve come to enjoy the many names on my rosters and days before I meet them, I begin to prepare for the class. For me, what creates a road block are the constant late registration and class overrides. The first few weeks are crucial in establishing the order and the intentions of the class. Trust is created between instructor and students. With 145 students, developing a strong base is imperative, or I lose the class for the rest of the semester. Respect and work ethic are established the very first day of class.

However, late registration is inevitable while a class override is frustrating. Both leave me scrambling.

With late registrations, I understand that these student had no real say in the predicament in which they found themselves. Most of them would’ve attended the first day of classes had they been allowed to do so. However, many of these students miss the first two classes. This can cause a student to become confused and overwhelmed with the classwork as well as feel uncomfortable in a classroom full of strangers.

When there is a class override, there is the added stress of an additional student over the cap. While one extra student doesn’t sound too bad, schools have caps in order to ensure that each student is given personal attention. I’ve made it a point to teach at schools that encourage smaller classes because they help in the development of a better understanding of the material. Smaller classes help the students be heard and the instructors to listen. An extra student is another person for whom I become accountable.

I remember a class in which I was so far over my cap, I couldn’t fit the students in the class, which had been designed for only 20 students. We spent the first ten minutes of every class looking for chairs. Obviously such issues can’t be blamed on me or the students. However, it is up to us to make the best of the situation while the school’s administration comes up with a better system. No one wants to give up smaller classes, but the fact is that every semester more and more students enroll into a form of higher education.

I could go on about the negative impacts overcrowding can cause, but much like a soldier in the trenches, I know about the landmines, and it’s my job to avoid them. I make extra copies, come to class early to greet any new comers and have a plan as to how new students will make up the work they’ve missed.

At the end of the day, that extra student can’t be seen as a problem or an inconvenience. How do all of you Freeway FLyers out there cope with overcrowded classes and late registrations? I’m curious to hear your thoughts as well as your tips on the subject.

About the Freeway Flyer:

Jenny Ortiz is a quite serious 24 year old New Yorker, except when unicorns (specifically chubby unicorns) are involved. When she isn’t pleading with Kurt Sutter via Twitter to be her mentor, she is teaching at St. John’s University, Adelphi University, and LaGuardia Community College (see, quite serious). When she isn’t teaching, she’s hanging out with her friends showing off  earth and water bending skills (not serious, but super fun).  When she is alone and it’s raining, she likes to read Haruki Murakami, or listen to the Broken Bells and daydream.  If you want to be a fan, you can read Jenny’s work on,, Jersey Devil Press,, Break Water Review,Eighty Percent Magazine, Stone Highway Review,  and InkSpill Magazine…or you can follow her on Twitter:

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