Shadowing Students and Knowing by Experience

Did you see the article that was floating around a while ago about a teacher who shadowed students for a day? (If you didn’t, you can find it here.) I found it intriguing. It wasn’t that long ago since I was in high school myself, but I didn’t go to this high school or sit in the classes that my students are sitting in. Plus, there was the whole college and grad school thing in between high school and now. All that to say, I didn’t know what it was like to go to school where I teach, and I’d probably forgotten most of what it was like to be in high school anywhere.

So, intrigue turned into a quick email to my supervisor: “Hey, did you see this article? What would it take for me to…?” That got passed on to my dean, who leaped at the idea.

Fast forward to February. I had tests scheduled in every class, so I handed off my classes to a sub and followed around a junior for the day. Then last week, I had another day of tests in every class, so I again handed off my classes to a sub, but this time I followed a senior.

I’d definitely forgotten what high school was like.

The drama and the talking to friends part and the social-awkwardness, that I remembered. (Tangent: Honestly, who doesn’t feel awkward sometimes? By which I mean, usually. That’s not a high school thing, it’s just a life thing. End tangent.)

But I’d forgotten what it was like to sit all day, listen all day, not be in charge all day. I’d forgotten what it’s like to have to ask to go to the bathroom, or to be hungry because lunch is sooo far away and you’re not allowed to eat in class. I’d forgotten what boredom is like.

I didn’t learn anything that hasn’t been said before, but I did learn it in a different way. I talk a lot about the difference between knowing something in your head and knowing something by experience. (This is why I assign homework and kids do practice problems.) I was aware that students sat all day, but until I experienced it, I didn’t realize how brain-dead that would make me until I experienced it. I was aware that teachers talk a lot and students listen a lot, but I didn’t realize how boring that was until I experienced it. I was aware that critical thinking is good for learning, but I didn’t realize how essential it was until I sat through a class without much of it.

Bored leads in a straight-line path to checked out and tired.

So, it’s changed my teaching. Not much, yet, but in small ways that are continuing to grow. I’m trying to get students to walk up to me when they hand me their papers instead of me coming to them. We’ve left the classroom once a week for the past two weeks. We’ve played with play-dough, sidewalk chalk, and string. Next week, we’ll get up and walk the path of parametric equations instead of sitting still. It’s small things, and there’s a lot more to build on, but it’s a start. Yesterday, a lot of students said, “Wow, this class goes really fast!” Fast class = not bored. I’ll take it. It’s a start.

So – have you shadowed? Would you?

Oh, also, in addition to all the good things it’s doing for my teaching, it was really fun to just spend a day with the kids.


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