On April 5, 2019, an arduous and endlessly frustrating month of my AP Government and Politics course seemingly came to an end.
Alexander Meli, a Civics teacher, arrived as the permanent substitute for our then-teacherless class - only a single month before the dreaded AP Exam.
“Until we got our (hopefully) permanent sub - our second permanent sub, Mr. Meli - it was very chaotic. And I don’t want to say anxiety-invoking… but [it was] very nerve-racking, in a sense,” said classmate Brendan Sullivan (‘20).
The issues pertaining to this course date back to March 5, when longtime teacher Daniel Wagenberg announced he would be taking a leave of absence for the rest of the school year.
“I am sorry to inform you, that as a consequence of family health issues, Friday, March 8th will be my last day in class this academic year. I wish that I could remain in class with you, but I cannot… Please respect my desire for privacy by not asking for further details of my family situation,” wrote Wagenberg on Google Classroom.
To this day, my classmates and I sympathize with Mr. Wagenberg’s decision to take a leave of absence, and we do not blame him for the ensuing issues regarding this course. “My sympathies do go out to Mr. Wagenberg, because I understand that whatever is going on is extremely hard for him,” remarked Sullivan.
The first problem to arise was the matter of finding a substitute teacher. According to Mrs. McAndrew, who was in charge of hiring a replacement teacher, Norwalk Public Schools delayed posting the job opening.
“It had nothing to do with Brien McMahon. It had to do with something going on in the district. There was a holdup at the district, and it involved a lot of people. They were delaying that posting, which put us in this position where we couldn’t hire anybody,” said McAndrew.
Unfortunately, this was only the first issue pertaining towards the course. “When that got resolved, we then posted the job. And nobody applied for it,” explained McAndrew. “It’s pretty clear [why] - you don’t get paid much. And so the problem with it was that it was not enough time, so you weren’t getting candidates who wanted to do it.”
Despite the setback, there was hope among both students and staff when a substitute was finally anointed. “Mr. Marks comes along - baseball coach, he used to work here. Someone suggested to him, ‘hey, throw your resume at Ms. Wood.’ She called him in and interviewed him. She said, ‘great, this is great,” disclosed McAndrew.
Unfortunately, Marks, after serving as the teacher of three class periods of GoPo, abruptly resigned from his new teaching position - leaving both students and staff dumbfounded, with only weeks left before the exam. “I really cannot tell you why he left after three days,” expresses McAndrew. “It was as much of a shock to you as it was to Ms. Wood and I.”
“I got the sense that Mr. Marks came in with confidence,” said Sullivan. “I don’t know the situation as to why he left. I felt that he had good intentions coming in, and again, through no fault of his own, he had to ‘abandon ship,’ as we have been saying.”
As such, Marks’ lasting legacy on the course was a large quantity of exam review handouts, confusion and a general increase in apprehensiveness regarding the upcoming AP test. Afterwards, a temporary substitute, Mr. Okampo, briefly took control of the class for several periods (just prior to Meli’s arrival), although no significant amount of learning occurred. “The most amount of work we got done was a single sheet that [Okampo] made up on the spot,” reports Sullivan.
Despite the extenuating circumstances, both Sullivan and I maintain faith in Meli’s teaching prowess as the May 6 AP GoPo exam nears. “Already, I do feel - although we haven’t learned much [so far] - that [Meli] is going to be very beneficial in equipping us, to the best of his ability, with the very, very limited timeframe that we have left to get ready for the exam,” Sullivan admits. “It is an AP class, so a lot of the work is incumbent upon the students as well, and we’ll definitely have to teach ourselves a lot. But I feel that he will be a good facilitator and guide in that sense.”
Ultimately, this unfortunate circumstance has caused an immense amount of stress and concern for GoPo students, including myself, over the last two months. This circumstance should, however, stand as a lesson to the Norwalk Public Schools district to post new job openings as swiftly as possible - thus allowing for a smoother hiring process for new substitutes. Perhaps new reforms that offer better incentives to long-term substitutes should be considered as well, and any steps that can be implemented to avoid a situation like this in the future should be enacted.
Regardless, the AP exam inevitably nears on May 6. My class and I will give it our all - despite the difficulties we have faced in this class.