The Cost of Going Big: Class Size in Middle School Physical Education

Jason Gatti, Dominican University of California


Class size is a perennial issue that has been debated and researched for years. While there has been a significant amount of research conducted on the impact that class size plays on the teaching process, much of this research has focused on core academic subjects. California education code exempts Physical Education (PE) from student cap limits, which has resulted in a disparity in class size between academic core subjects and PE. Despite this, there is a distinct lack of scholarship concerning class size and its impact on the teaching process in middle school PE. This research attempts to fill this gap by furthering our understanding of the impacts that class size has on the physical educator. A qualitative research design was used to collect data from a sample of seven teachers currently teaching middle school PE across three different school sites in the San Francisco Bay Area. The results of the study indicate that class size has a negative impact on the instructional practices of middle school PE teachers. In particular, teacher-student interaction, modification of activities, and class instruction were seen to be affected by larger class sizes. Along with that, teacher apathy was seen to occur when teachers become overwhelmed with the physical and emotional cost of teaching large classes in middle school PE. Physical educators need more support from their district in the form of professional development workshops with appropriate follow up as well as an increase in curriculum meeting time to ensure that educators receive the support they need to remain motivated towards the teaching process.