|"Time" by Emil|
Used with CC License
Because students in small classes are promised personalized assistance and feedback on assignments, faculty spend much of their time giving that assistance or answering those questions - sometimes by text, email, phone, video conference, or in-person meetings either during or outside their office hours. Some students come to class, some do not. Some students ask questions during class, but many do not. Faculty who teach 2 or 3 courses a semester might spend 9-12 hours in classes each week, then work with their 60-90 students, plan lessons, create videos, grade 60-90 papers, commit to committee meetings, service responsibilities, write, and complete professional development for around 30-40 hours a week, working a total of between 40-60 hours a week. Much like an iceberg, most of a faculty member's work is completed "below the surface" and "out of sight." The job requires Herculean efforts in time management.
The workload of faculty who teach 2 or 3 of these more personalized courses is reasonable, and when compared to faculty who teach 4 or 5 of those "small" classes, that workload seems dreamy. Faculty who teach 4 or 5 courses might spend 15-20 hours in class each week, and in addition to the "below the surface work" explained above, also work with around 120-150 students each week, giving as much personalized feedback as they can muster - which may not be much given the unreasonable time constraints. The math: 40 hours a week minus 20 in the classroom leaves 20 hours to assist 150 students equals 8 minutes per student and 0 minutes for committees, service, professional development or writing. Those working beyond 40 hours might achieve the minimum productivity levels in their scholarly and professional development, but even the most stalwart faculty need to eat and sleep occasionally, not to mention raise their children, take care of aging parents, and participate in life with their spouses.
So what's the tradeoff? As faculty teach more and more courses, which equals more and more students - even in increments of 12-30 - time and effort might be "borrowed" from other areas of their "below the surface" work. They stop writing or producing their own professional work. They may stop completing their committee assignments and rely on others to complete the bulk of the work. They, in other words, stop being a scholar, give up working within the academic community, and lack the time to develop their teaching philosophies or even practical pedagogy. In some cases, they assign less work to students, give less feedback, and their courses might consequently lose any semblance of academic rigor. They might even sacrifice their family's well-being.
More math: Faculty might teach 30 students for 75 minutes, then teach another 30 students the same content or activity for another 75 minutes, back-to-back, and sometimes up to 5 times per week. Teaching the same class only twice, with 60 students in each class, would save the faculty member hours per week, time that could be given back to the students in their classes in the form of personalized assistance or feedback on assignments. The time might also be spent working toward becoming a better teacher, scholar, or mentor.
The lesson here is that both faculty and students should carefully consider the call to teach or take "small classes" because there's so much more involved than simply how many students enroll in each class section. Certainly the discipline matters, as chemistry and composition are taught much differently, but the main consideration to keep in mind is the assigned course load.