Staff and students are concerned that the Trillium Lakelands District School Board may be once again considering the highly unpopular octomesters come September.
While these structures have worked effectively to combat the spread of COVID-19, educationally they have been unsatisfactory for many having to teach or learn in them.
An octomester is one-eighth of the regular school year. During that 22 day block of time students learn only one subject and study it five hours a day. When the first 22 days are done, students move onto the second octomester, likely with a large number of the same students they spent the first class with if the courses are compulsory.
Social media criticism of this structure was muted until director of education Wes Hahn suggested at the May committee of the whole meeting that some kind of cohorting, likely octomesters or quadmesters (where students take a different subject ever second day completing both credits in a 50-day window), was being seriously considered for the fall.
One veteran high school English teacher posted that courses have already been stripped down to only teach half the number of books a normal pre-COVID course would have demanded.
“There just isn’t the time for the kids to read, reflect and write about the books we offered before. In 22 days, there is also not time for me to mark and return lengthy pieces of student work where the information provided can help the students become better writers. Anyone who thinks octomesters are anything but a kind of emergency learning has not tried to deliver these programs. We are hoping with vaccines that normalcy will return to timetabling next fall.”
A secondary math teacher reflected on their experience with octomesters this year stating, “For the kids who love and get math it can be a lot of fun. For the other 75 per cent, it is a new topic every day or two and the pace is breakneck. Once you fall behind you are in tough. Imagine taking a subject you might be struggling in for five hours a day with no break for another course you might actually enjoy. We get them through but I really hope we will be back to normal in the fall. I think senior math teachers next year are going to need September to get Grade 12 students up to speed. A lot got left by the road side this year.”
TLDSB student trustee Kaylee Kelly has reported at numerous board meetings on student stress with octomesters focusing in on the pace and amount of work found in an octomesters. She has also talked anecdotally about stress and a worrying increase of mental health issue amongst her peers.
One student spoke for many when they shared on social media, “We are thankful for the board who has tried to keep us safe. We recognize our teachers are overwhelmed by these octomesters where no one can afford to be sick, or have a bad day. Next year is my Grade 12 year, and I cannot imagine doing Physics or Calculus or English 22 days in a row, all day. I require time to think and need time for extra help especially in Physics.”
“I know some of my friends in hands-on courses like art, tech and drama love the five hour blocks,” the student admitted, “but their classes are made up of a small number of big projects that work with the long days. If COVID is done, octomesters have to go. I want my old timetable of four classes a day back if for nothing else but variety and a change of pace during the school day.”
Board meetings on June 8 will finalize not only the final school calendar for 2021-2022 but also what secondary timetable structure will be used to staff schools for September.