During the first two weeks of February, I found myself getting to school at 7:45, going to the guidance office only to be met with darkened windows and locked doors, returning at lunch to wait 35 minutes, leaving me with only five to actually talk to my guidance counselor, and coming back yet again after school to be turned away at four because the office was closing. All this was interspersed with frequent treks up to the sixth and seventh floors to visit the English and biology departments and even included missing a class for three consecutive days.
Unlike most other high schools in the city like Brooklyn Technical High School, High School of American Studies at Lehman College and LaGuardia High School, Stuyvesant annualizes only some English classes and select Advanced Placement (AP) classes, instead of annualizing all its year-long courses. Second-semester programming often entails students storming into the guidance, programming and assistant principals’ offices and yelling, even as classes are already in full swing. Most guidance counselors are meanwhile trying to deal with other work like Secondary School Reports and assistant principals are tearing their hair out, overwhelmed by the extreme chaos and large number of complaints. The programming nightmare in September may be unavoidable, but there is no reason why we have to repeat it midway through the year.
As a result of this mid-year nightmare, there are going to be four categories of students: those who had the teacher the previous term and are exactly where they expect to be; those who had one that went through the material faster and will thus spend the next month in a state of vegetation; those who had one that moved more slowly through the material and are utterly lost and unprepared; and those who had one that approached the material in a different order and are stuck in a hopeless situation all semester. Teachers then face a difficult dilemma. They can forge ahead with their own syllabus and let the students deal with the teaching disparities on their own, or they can change the speed and risk not covering all the material completely or deeply, leaving some of the class bored stiff with review. Changing classes halfway through a year-long course interrupts the flow and sense of continuity that should come with it and detracts from the time that can be spent on the material.
These academic problems can also lead to personal ones. In a large school like Stuyvesant, it’s hard to get to know a teacher well, and when one switches teachers after just five months, it can be almost impossible. When students and teachers know each other better, it is easier for students to do well because they understand what the expectations are and can relax more. Teachers would be able to grade and assess students’ progress better because they understand their strengths and weaknesses. Favors like teacher recommendations are easier to ask for and more effective with closer student-teacher relations.
If Stuyvesant annualized classes like its fellow specialized high schools, the only programming changes to be made in February would be for single-semester classes and in cases where there is a serious issue between a student and teacher. Mandatory single-semester classes could easily be dealt with. Classes like drafting and Introduction to Computer Science for sophomores and Music and Art Appreciation for freshmen would be offered the same period so the switch would not disrupt other classes. For upperclassmen, as more selectives and electives are available, more changes would be required, but for underclassmen, virtually no changes would be needed, thus halving the work of programming. This leaves only some single-term electives as potential disruptions to students’ programs. To account for these, students could make all programming requests for the year in the spring so that both semesters could be programmed at once.
I was discussing my second-semester schedule to a friend at another specialized high school, when she said, “You mean you get a different schedule halfway through the year?” I confirmed this, and she replied, “But that’s so stressful! I couldn’t deal with that.” It is stressful for students, teachers, and administrators alike, and there doesn’t appear to be any good way to deal with it other than eliminating the problem altogether and annualizing classes.