We just finished the first week of classes at school and hopefully by Sunday we'll have our schedules. Going into classes that I may or may not be teaching the next week while unsure of whether there were students registered for them has been entertaining. My mere one year of experience tells me that this is pretty unusual. Last year I had my schedule weeks before and it never changed. A few other teachers had some classes added and taken away, but for the most part things were pretty stable. As far as I know all the other departments, including English, Business and Engineering are settled. It's really only the Math schedules that are in chaos. No particular person or thing can be blamed for what's going on. It all stems back to a few different things happening at once this year to the scheduling process:
1) A new program. This is the first year that we've had a modular program in which students take classes based on their ability in each subject instead of being put in a level based on their results of a test that covered a few different subject areas. To put it another way, we previously had students who were good in English and poor in Math mixed in with students who were poor in English and good in Math mixed with students who were moderate in both subjects because their score on the test with both Math and English questions was about the same (similar to placing students based on their total score on the SAT). This year the students take separate tests and are placed accordingly.
2) The need to create a new Math placement test. Unlike the English department which is using the test results from the same test that was given last April, we needed to create a test from scratch that fit in with our new curriculum. As far as I know, the placement test that the school uses (CEPA) is given to all High School graduates in the UAE. Scheduling the new test was an issue which brings us to...
3) The dates of Ramadan this year. Because Ramadan fell right when school was starting, the school year was pushed a few days later than it would've been, right after Ramadan. If we wanted to schedule the placement test before the school year started (a good idea if you want to schedule classes for the teachers and tell the students which classes to go to), we needed to have the test during Ramadan. With a lot of students out of town during Ramadan and all students tired and hungry from lack of food and caffeine, we only got about two-fifths of the students we needed. Even in the make-up placement test given the first week, only a quarter of the students showed.
4) Rigidity of the scheduling process. One thing that no one caught was that all the beginning Math courses were given at the same time. This meant that teachers could be given a maximum of two of these courses, everyone had to teach them, everyone would be teaching at the same time, and that we didn't have enough Math teachers to teach the classes. To add to it, the classes (we'll call them Math 1 and Math 2) meet a different number of times a week. One meets four times and the other five times. Without knowing how many students are in each level, we don't know how many classes of each we need. This further means that there's no way to give a teacher classes and say the it could be one or the other. The person making the schedule has to know which class it is before giving it to a teacher. Fortunately, this has since been adjusted slightly.
5) General administrative mess-ups. With a new system and a lot of people trying to communicate with each other, some mistakes are inevitable. Some people forgot that the students were being placed separately according to a Math placement test and placed them according to their English scores like last year. This means that most of the students who have already taken the placement test and have been taking classes for the past week may very well be put into another class.
Everything will get sorted in the end. It's just that the process has been a pretty painful one. I don't envy the person working on the schedule and think that he is doing a terrific job. I can tell you, I wouldn't be laughing about this the way I am if I had to tackle this task.