Grade 11 Spanish teacher Cassie Klawitter was ecstatic when she got word a year ago that the high school in Brantford, Ont., Cramarra, would be moving to a semester system — a move that came after Klawitter suggested it on the Avonlea Quotidian website, “Teachers for an abbreviated semester system.” Now, Klawitter and other teachers in the Ontario board of education say they’re getting ready to wave goodbye to a two-and-a-half-hour long block of class time. “We’re going from seven 17-hour weeks to seven seven-hour weeks,” said Klawitter, who is also the assistant vice-president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF). “I do agree with the shortened week [of 16 hours], but I don’t think it’s fair that we would have to take an entire semester off.”
And when Klawitter first spoke out about the curriculum change on the Quotidian website, she wanted to find a halfway point: a course that started at seven hours but did not end in an exam. The OSSTF says almost everyone followed suit. When Klawitter first spoke out about the curriculum change on the Quotidian website, she wanted to find a halfway point: a course that started at seven hours but did not end in an exam. “I think it’s really important for us to feel like we did in high school,” she said. “We’re getting to spend that time with the students, which we never get to do in school. So I want us to be the strongest teachers we can be.”
Most of the high schools that switched to the semester system started out with less than six to seven hours of classes per week. They ended up with eight to 12 hours per week. But it also got extremely competitive, Klawitter said. When the plan to make a change was announced in 2016, everyone wanted it. “The faculty wanted it,” Klawitter said. “The seniors wanted it. They were trying to get into a better university, they’re trying to get jobs and, for a lot of them, they had loads of homework and classes.”
At the first seminar, the first class of the semester, 17 students showed up and we all agreed there would be no more than seven students in our classes. We agreed there would be some compromises.” Kathleen Lavery, Grade 11 French teacher at Cramarra who has taught an abbreviated three hour class, said that when her students started talking in class, “They kind of agreed and said, ‘Oh, I’m not sure.’ But after five minutes, they came to an agreement.” It’s a pretty tough negotiation, she said, but “the kids seem to understand at least that there was a number they wanted.”
The other high schools that switched to the reduced length semester all had students in the same classes, explained Delphine Couillard, the secondary school principal at Cramarra, which was one of three high schools in the Ontario board of education to switch over. She was able to meet that number through her strong teaching staff, she said. The biggest concerns expressed by teachers and students in Cramarra was the unpredictable nature of the new schedule. “So [the other high schools] came to us and said ‘Do you mind having these students in your classes?’” Couillard said. “It wasn’t hard to accept, because we’ve been in the same format for the past 14 years. But of course, every year has been completely different from year to year.”
The teachers also said they didn’t feel the lesson plan has improved, and that longer days could mean students are less focused. A report by Ontario Teachers’ Federation puts the anxiety and burnout at high levels and calls for a change to the schedule. Students themselves said they liked the more flexible schedule, but teachers said they had not received any new plans from the school board.