Theory of Knowledge teacher vacancy causes issues

Teachers give up their study halls in order to take over a teacherless class and lead seniors through the Theory of Knowledge curriculum as they write papers for their IB diploma

With the sudden and unexpected departure of the Theory of Knowledge teacher Ashlee Palmer, the IB faculty scrambled to make sure all 98 seniors are prepared to succeed in the class.

TOK is a course taken by IB students the second semester of their junior year and the first of their senior year. Passing the course is mandatory in order to receive IB diplomas.

Government and world history teacher Zaan Gast, who taught TOK in the past, has taken over.

However, for a few weeks before the Gast shift, seniors were dispersed to other instructors — social studies teachers Mike Mikulec, Tom Paloumpis and Lisa Sigmon as well as English teacher Linda Wilson.

Each of them gave up study hall time to teach TOK. Before senior graduation, the students need to cover the entire rest of the curriculum and write an extensive Theory of Knowledge paper.

“The really big thing is the TOK essay,” said Cameron Fishback, an IB senior. “If you don’t pass the paper, you don’t get your diploma, so it’s really important that we have someone to read our essays.”

While the paper is one of the large requirements for the TOK course, teachers acknowledge that time will need to be spent on moving forward with the general content of the course as well.

“It’ll be a combination of some content material being covered as well as time built in for the development of their TOK paper,” Gast said. “[The whole course] is a diploma requirement.”

‘We can’t allow any time to go by’

As seniors move towards graduation and the prospect of their IB diplomas, teachers are recognizing the stress being put upon the issue. “A good score ensures that they get their diploma, so I’m going to take it seriously,” Wilson said. “We want the students to do well because this is part of their diploma.”

“We can’t allow any time to go by,” Gast said. “That just starts a whole snowball that we don’t want to get out of hand.

Gast taught Theory of Knowledge six years ago, unlike the other teachers who stepped in to assist.

“It’s been a long time, so I’m very rusty,” he said. “Plus a few things have changed in the curriculum.”

However, the teachers had strategies to run efficient classes and make sure the students learn just as much as they would with anybody who primarily teaches TOK.

“I had to sit down [and] I went through the textbook,” Paloumpis said on preparing for his new classes. “I went through the IB guide on Theory of Knowledge and took a look at how they’re supposed to write their paper and how the paper is supposed to be graded.”

The teachers are also planning to continue to move along the path laid by Hillsborough’s previous TOK teacher, Sandra Grudic, who left at the end of last year.

“Ms. Grudic established a very great process and it was extremely successful, so we’re trying to maintain that,” Gast said. “We’re looking at the things that she did, how she did them, and proceeding that way.”