I Spent a Day at My School… as a Student. Here’s What I Learned.

At the end of the last school year, I posed a question to my two classes of sophomores. I asked them if anyone would be open to me shadowing them for a full school day. Only two of my students seemed interested, and I ended up agreeing to spend the day with the one who has decent grades. I figure this is going to be a two-part experiment where I also spend a day shadowing a student who has more frustrations with the school system. This may still happen, but I’m also teaching students in a non-traditional program this year, who really haven’t been served well in their K-12 educational experience.

My intention behind this experiment was really to learn what it’s like to be a student in this building where I teach- not the one where I went a thousand miles away in Colorado, but this red-brick, built in 1956, first-ring suburb structure that I get paid to come to every day.

The student I spent the day with is honestly a lot like me. She is a white female with a blonde ponytail most days, A’s and B’s, and a love for reading her favorite genre of books.

Our schedule for the day looked like this:

  1. Study Hall
  2. Concert Choir
  3. World History
  4. English (with me) ha
  5. Advanced Algebra
  6. Chemistry
  7. Painting

Rather than taking you through a minute by minute experience of living like a teenage student in the school I work in for a day, I figured I would really try to narrow it down to a few specific themes.

Major learnings from the day:

  • I got to watch some of my current and former students sing and dance in preparation for their pop concert for choir. It was strictly business in there, from bell to bell, to make sure the choreography and parts were ready to go. There was something so endearing about students performing their little steps with their partners. And one of my students’ partners was absent, so I giggled a little watching him dance by himself. Takeaway: Students are more than their grades in my class. Try to make it to their events. See if we can get them to perform more during the school day so everyone can support their talents.
  • I walked into 6th hour Chem a few minutes late because I wanted to get my own 6th hour English class started before my friend Meredith took over to sub for me. When I walked into Chem, I sort-of figured out that I needed a blue handout and a calculator that everyone else seemed to already have, and both were at the front of the room. I felt rather sheepish going up there to get what I needed. The class was already working through the first problem together, and I sat at my desk thinking “What the heck language is being spoken in here?” I had no idea how to find the pH and pOH let alone define what those even meant. The teacher asked if anyone had any clarifying questions before they moved on to the next example, but I didn’t raise my hand. I totally felt immersed in shame for being late, slow, and stupid for having no sense of the task. TakeawayFind a consistent spot for handouts that is not in the front of the room. Take a minute to turn to someone near you to make sure everyone is ready to move on rather than asking the whole class.
  • It seemed to me that each class started right away with whatever content area we were in. In 2nd hour, the piano was already playing warm-ups for kids to join in as they entered. In 3rd hour, we started taking notes on genocide. 4th hour is class with me, and sure enough I had my Google slides presentation up and on display for students as they walked in. In 5th hour, I took a very difficult quiz on probability even though we were in teams and could use notes. The quiz was passed out as the bell rang so we would have enough time. I explained 6th hour above. And in 7th hour, fancy paper was handed out to students to start painting. Takeaway: I feel like we have such little time to cover everything we want covered, so we are taught to intentionally plan every minute we get. I try to start class every day with a random check in question to get every voice in the air. Think: “If you were an animal for one day, what would you choose to be?” and “What is your favorite letter of the alphabet?” Students have the option to pass, but their answers are always one word or one phrase only. If we could somehow magically switch to block schedule, I think that would help decrease the factory-style learning I experienced, but until then, maybe just taking a quick academic break to answer a human question is okay.
  • During lunch, I got to eat outside. It was so nice to sit in the sun. A handful of students played soccer, some sat alone and read, some were with friends. It was a really nice break. I was feeling some anxiety because a) hello, it’s a high school cafeteria and b) we had a lunch break in the middle of our probability quiz, and I was thinking I should be spending time looking at schoology keys and notes to better understand. Takeaway: As a teacher, I should go outside on a warm day even for a quick break by myself. 

So now, going into week three of a new school year, I have to remember to encourage (and offer when I can) more teachers the opportunity to shadow their students and to embed some of these takeaways. In my new classroom, I adopted the handouts at a table by the door idea. I took the class outside once the first week. I went to the first half of the first home football game. But it’s only a matter of time before some of these habits break.

Other teacher friends: What are new hopes for this school year that you need accountability for? How can you try to shadow a student for a day sometime this quarter or semester?

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