Controversies among students of the Class of 2020 emerged as the new International Baccalaureate (IB) program finally began to see action. Being the last class that is undertaking the Advanced Placement (AP) program at Woodstock, many students felt as if their education was being disregarded by the school.
On March 8, Mr. Ethan Van Drunen, vice principal, and Mr. Richard Davies, head of Upper Years, came to address the Class of 2020 in their homeroom on the implications of this shift to the IB program at Woodstock.
The Class of 2020, being the last AP class at Woodstock, would have a different education from the rest of the school when it came to their senior year; hence, they were worried that this curriculum would not be taught well and their education would take a backseat.
During the homeroom, Mr. Van Drunen and Mr. Davies explained how the school was still putting effort into the AP program for the Class of 2020, throughout the remainder of their course at Woodstock; he even told the class to “trust” the school to acquire new, better teachers for AP courses at Woodstock.
Soon after the homeroom, many students were angered and puzzled by the new changes and actions taken by the Woodstock administration.
Some students doubted the school’s ability to hire “good” teachers that are able to teach the AP classes and can manage to help students succeed with all of its rigours; this belief primarily stems from the huge turnover of the teachers in the mathematics and science departments in the middle of the academic year.
Veer Arya, Class of 2020, said, “That’s kind of a red flag for me because first of all, we can’t just trust them after last semester, and we’re paying 16 lakhs for this; we have the right to know, you know?”
This turnover of teachers also scared some students about their college applications, such as Kyumin Kyung, Class of 2020, said, “How are we even meant to get a recommendation if all the teachers are leaving after a year?”
This stress by students about the impact of this shift on their college lives did not go unnoticed by the authorities.
Ms. Swati Shrestha, college counsellor, said, “Any new teachers in grade 11 or 12 will get to know you quickly, because they will be teaching you four times a week. Even if you’re applying for early deadlines in your senior year, a new teacher that year would have at least 10 weeks to get to know you and write a recommendation.”
In fact, according to Mr. Davies, Woodstock usually has a significantly lower teacher turnover rate in comparison to other international schools.
Mr. Davies said that the average turnover rate at an international school was around thirty percent. At Woodstock, over the past years, it has averaged about twenty percent; this year alone, however, this increased to around thirty-one percent. This means that every year, out of all the teaching staff, around twenty teachers leave the school.
After mentioning these statistics, he concluded that, in relation to other international schools, Woodstock is “paved for the course.”
One other major concern that many students had was the quality of the new teachers being hired. This issue was further intensified by how current teachers were currently managing the AP classes.
Shyla Robinson, Class of 2020, said, “The subjects that I want to take next year are either really new, or the teachers that teach them are not trained to teach AP properly.”
This question of how teachers would handle teaching the AP and IB boards concurrently was at the heart of many students’ concerns because they thought that most new teachers that were being hired by Woodstock were of an IB background.
These thoughts outraged students to the point where they were approaching Mr. Van Drunen during lunchtime to talk about teachers and the status of their education. These talks lasted long enough to make most students who attended it late to class by at least five minutes.
When asked about the recruitment of teachers, Mr. Van Drunen said, “All of the teachers we hire, we hire them based on how they are at teaching and what their academic and career background is.” He also talked about how teachers, if teaching AP classes, were sent off for training with the College Board in the United States.
In fact, Mrs. Swati Shrestha, college counselor, said that nobody had “a complete list of everyone who has been hired.” but she talked about how it was impractical to “make assumptions about what kind of teaching experience new teachers hold, and what exams they had been trained to teach.”
Some students shared similar views to those of the authorities, like Karl Lange, Class of 2020, who said, “Teachers study all the same stuff in university. Basically, they teach the same things, regardless of whether they are teaching IB, AP, or any other educational board.”
Hence, the real problem may have shifted from the teacher to the student. Regardless of how good the teacher is, the student will still struggle if they put no effort into the class itself and take no initiative for their own education.
Anirudh Aggarwal, Class of 2020, agreeing on this, said, “I believe that a good teacher won’t make a magic potion that will get you a five on the AP. If you don’t work hard, even if you have the best teacher in the world, you will still get a one on your AP.”
Another issue that students perceived was the priorities in the school curriculum. Many students feared that the IB curriculum would be prioritized by the school and that the AP program would become compromised.
Arya said, “My main concern in what is happening to our grade in education is kind of taking a back seat.”
In response to this concern, Mr. Richard Davies said, “I’ve been in a similar process before in Australia, where there was a change in curriculum. What we found is that the class [the last batch] did as they had been doing already.” He also added that they did well during their senior year because they had smaller class sizes and more student-teacher interaction.
However, the value of the AP program at Woodstock is something that students are greatly invested in, to the point where verbal assurances made by authorities would not suffice.
Kyung said, “If we’re not getting proper things done for the AP, then the school is not giving the things that they offered us. It doesn’t seem like what we’re paying for is what is being returned back to us.”
With similar concerns, Robinson said, “I’m considering leaving school for this, you know? Just to be able to take subjects I know, where the faculty will be worthwhile, somewhere else.”
In order to calm the bewilderment and anger of the Class of 2020, authorities must be willing to show students that they are being listened to and cared for. Otherwise, more students may find themselves let down by the system.
To that end, Mr. Davies reassured students, saying, “As teachers, we are here because we desperately want you guys to do as well as humanly possible. Teachers go about that in many different ways and styles.”
Photo by Dhrubhagat Singh