Overcrowded classrooms have been the topic of discussion by multiple researchers in the field of education. It has been looked at from various angles because of the numerous challenges that are caused by it. Researchers such as Khan and Iqbal (2012), Marais (2016), and Muthusamy (2015) investigated the effects overcrowded classrooms have on teachers, and found that teachers who teach in such classrooms deal with many challenges, such as being unable to provide learners with individual attention, and being unable to use innovative teaching strategies. These teachers also experience high levels of stress and fatigue. Although numerous studies investigated the challenges caused by overcrowded classrooms, a gap in the available literature suggests that there is a need to investigate how teachers can manage large classrooms successfully. This dissertation builds on the currently available research on overcrowded classrooms by examining the management strategies that teachers use in these challenging situations, thus contributing to the field.
Using a qualitative approach, this study purposively sampled twelve participants from two schools with overcrowded classrooms in Midrand, South Africa. Data were collected through semi-structured interviews. The study found that teachers who teach in overcrowded classrooms experienced problems when dealing with learner disciplinary issues. Teachers experienced unique ordeals with learners who did not work well or constructively in overcrowded classes. Their peers easily influenced these learners with distracting and petty non-academic conversations. Unfortunately, this has a ripple effect on learners’ achievement of their academic goals, as it was also found that teachers had to cope with the educational gap these learners in large classrooms experience, due to a lack of basic reading and writing skills. One of the most prominent challenges that teachers faced in overcrowded Grade 4 to 6 classrooms, was that they felt helpless when they could not support learners who struggled with basic tasks. Teachers felt stressed when they could not provide these learners with individual attention, as they had to choose to either be assertive and maintain constant discipline, or lose classroom control if they gave personal attention to learners in need. However, some teachers overcame these problems by allowing the students to participate in creating classroom rules that they enforced with each other.
This study found that teachers who succeeded in managing overcrowded classrooms, did so by doing their best in establishing a positive rapport with the learners, by making them part of the process, and by being actively engaged in their own learning and academic development. A key finding was that successful teachers formed positive working relationships with their learners through discipline negotiations and shared mutual educational goals. The teachers were successful in creating a classroom environment in which learners were able to satisfy essential needs. The study found that successful teachers establish feelings of belonging with their learners being motivated to persevere and still try to have fun in a safe space, as described by William Glasser’s Choice theory, the theoretical underpinning of this dissertation.