Association of Departments of English



ADE Policy Statements

ADE Guidelines for Class Size and Workload for College and University Teachers of English: A Statement of Policy

In response to the nationwide discussion of deficiencies in reading and writing, the English profession has called attention to poor teaching conditions and excessive workloads at all levels of education. We have urged the improvement of teacher-training programs by recommending that prospective and practicing English teachers receive better instruction in the art of reading and writing. We have developed special programs for students entering higher education who come from increasingly varied backgrounds with different competencies and needs. We have established programs in rhetoric and composition in many colleges and universities to encourage research and to disseminate its results.

Despite an abundance of experienced teachers to provide sound instruction in English, we find that in many institutions the number of courses taught by each instructor and the number of students in each class, especially in writing courses, has reached unacceptable levels. This problem has become acute in independent and public institutions alike.

In the light of these circumstances, the Association of Departments of English presents the following guidelines for maximum class size and workload in English. These guidelines are a revision of ADE's 1974 and 1980 statements, and they reaffirm policy statements of the National Council of Teachers of English (1966), the National Junior College Committee (1968), and the American Association of University Professors (1969).

I. Number of Students in Writing Courses

Recommendation: College English teachers should not teach more than three sections of composition per term. The number of students in each section should be fifteen or fewer, with no more than twenty students in any case. Class size should be no more than fifteen in developmental (remedial) courses. No English faculty member should teach more than sixty writing students a term; if students are developmental, the maximum should be forty-five.

The process of learning to write clearly and effectively is not a simple matter of acquiring information or memorizing rules. It requires a parallel and simultaneous process of learning to read with more sophistication. Because reading and writing are related activities, learning to write entails a complex interaction between writer and reader. Students write; teachers respond. But a teacher's response must be more than "correcting" and more than perfunctory grading. Evaluations must involve a detailed reaction, often in conference with the student, to each piece of writing.

Good teachers want to teach as many students as they can teach well. But if teachers are forced to respond to the writing of more than sixty students weekly, they will necessarily oversimplify their responses. Their students will not learn that the basic ingredient of good writing and good reading is the ready and vigorous ability to understand, to formulate, and to express ideas. Students will regard their own writing as a mere exercise, unworthy of careful attention or serious thought.

Students in developmental (remedial) composition need considerable individual help and more detailed responses. Students in advanced composition, business and technical writing, or creative writing are likely to produce a greater volume of more complex writing; thus a greater proportion of a teacher's time is required to respond to what they have written.

II. Number of Students in Literature Courses

Recommendation: College English teachers should teach no more than thirty-five students in a literature course and no more than twenty-five in a writing-intensive course. For each additional thirty-five students, a teacher should have a qualified assistant to help with the evaluations of written assignments.

One essential objective is to transmit the sense of discovery and pleasure associated with reading imaginative literature. The acquisition of corollary skills in analysis and expression should accompany the emphasis on reading. Classroom discussions and substantial written assignments are essential features of such courses, but they are feasible only with classes of fewer than thirty-five students.

Certain general and advanced literature courses that include historical and biographical background and critical surveys may be conducted by lecture for larger classes. For example, departments may schedule these courses in order to give students access to distinguished scholars and lecturers. In such courses, examinations rather than frequent essays provide an adequate, though not ideal, measure of student performance.

Honors courses and seminars that require students to conduct research and to produce sustained critical essays should be restricted to fifteen students because close individual guidance is essential.

III. Hours of Instruction

Recommendation: College English teachers should spend no more than twelve hours per week per semester in the classroom if they are involved in undergraduate instruction exclusively and no more than nine hours per week if they are involved in graduate instruction. Although this document stipulates the maximum teaching loads commensurate with quality teaching, it should not preclude a department's varying workloads among teachers. Institutions that require faculty members to publish for tenure and promotion should lower teaching loads, especially for junior faculty members.

Limitations on the number of courses assigned to teachers are essential to guarantee quality instruction. The hours spent with students in the classroom constitute only a fraction of an English teacher's responsibility. That responsibility includes time spent in organizing and preparing material to be used in the classroom and in responding to work students have done inside and outside the classroom, whether in literature or in composition courses. It also includes hours spent in the office working with students individually and hours spent in the professional study that is necessary for keeping up with current scholarship.

The proportion of time a teacher spends on out-of-class activities varies, depending on the kind and level of courses offered. Whatever the assignment and the type of college, sufficient allowance must be made for preparation, responses, conferences, and professional improvement. Without these allowances, teaching can become mechanical and learning can be diminished. The responsibility for assigning and adjusting workloads of individual faculty members should rest with the department.

IV. Variety of Courses

Recommendation: College English teachers should be neither restricted to teaching several sections of the same course nor assigned to prepare more than three different courses in a given semester.

In general, the proper number of different courses likely to ensure excellent teaching is two or three; that is, there should be enough variety to promote freshness but not so much as to prevent thorough preparation.

V. Variable Workloads

Recommendation: College English departments, in order to make the best use of their teachers' interests and abilities, should be allowed to adopt variable workload policies.

Flexibility should be exercised in assigning individual teaching loads. A flexible policy will take into account the scope of a teacher's interests and the range of a department's responsibilities.

VI. Administrative Duties

Recommendation: College English teachers should have a reduced teaching load if they have been assigned major administrative duties.

With the increased need to comply with internal and external regulations (e.g., those of academic governance, collective bargaining, equal opportunity employment, affirmative action assessment, and accountability), additional duties have accrued to department members, especially to chairs. To ignore the burden of such responsibilities by requiring chairs to teach a full load is inequitable. The same principle applies to directors of composition, writing laboratory, or graduate study programs and to other faculty members who are required to contribute substantially to departmental and college governance.

VII. Part-Time and Temporary Appointments

Recommendation: Part-time and temporary teaching appointments should be avoided as a rule.

Temporary appointments are often abused, particularly when these teachers work under trying conditions for inequitable remuneration. Since integrity of commitment and continuity of effort are essential to ensure quality teaching, every effort should be made to fill continuing departmental needs with full-time appointments.

Revised March 1992
Association of Departments of English

back to Table of Contents


Copyright © Modern Language Association. All rights reserved. Questions/comments to Steve Olsen, Manager and Editor, ADE Web Site.