Shadow a Student: back to 11th grade!

Yesterday I had the fantastic opportunity to shadow Samantha Chase, a junior and former Spanish 2 Honors student.  We know each other pretty well, so I felt great about shadowing her.  Until I saw her schedule.  Good grief – AP Physics, challenging/unfamiliar courses (like Pre-Calculus and Marketing II), and (gasp) Lifetime Wellness (a delightful sounding euphemism for the dreaded P.E. of my high school days). I’d be lying if I said I didn’t regret my eager volunteering just a bit.

Reservations aside, I woke up bright, early and (mostly) ready to tackle my day as a Nipmuc student.  I met Samantha in the lobby where she was chatting with some friends and preparing for her day.  She greeted me with a big smile and a Pre-Calculus worksheet that she had picked up for me yesterday.  I stared at the worksheet and frantically took a mental inventory of all the math I ever learned.  All I could recall in my panic was y=mx+b and something about excusing Aunt Sally.  Before I could negotiate my way out of E block Pre-Calculus, the bell rang and we were off to the green wing for AP Physics.  I glanced at my phone and saw this inspirational text from my husband.  Oh boy.


What I learned as a student:

Our day was absolutely full of new information (especially for me).  Here’s the short list:

  • AP Physics: We reviewed about pendulums and SHM (which means simple harmonic motion…of course), and started a unit on waves and particle movement.  Mrs. Ide used a “PhET simulator” (not “vet simulator” as I originally thought) which is a digital tool used to simulate labs that cannot be completed in a classroom (like viewing atoms or waves).
  • Lifetime Wellness:  We learned CPR technique and AED use for adults, children and infants.  While I did recently take an infant CPR class, this course by the American Heart Association gave actual scenarios in which the students were able to plan out a potential action plan.  Many students are preparing to receive their certification!
  • Pre-Calculus: I learned that I do not remember any of my own Pre-Calculus knowledge.  I was warned: Mrs. Gilchrist is giving a quiz.  Even by using Samantha’s notes on exponential/logarithmic forms, I still struggled through four pages of  random letters, numbers and (I’m thinking) hieroglyphics.   Props, math people.
  • Marketing II: The class covered the wage gap in the United States, the current state of the middle class and the concept of American economic inequality: all topics that both interest but sometimes confuse me.  Mr. Perras switched back and forth between showing “Inequality for All” and prompting some really interesting class discussions.
  • AP Language: We watched some great student-created videos in which they described their progress with a long-term research project.  Then we switched gears and explored a quote by Lincoln about freedom, comparing it to a short film about the modern American vagabond.  As promised, I got a taste of Mr. Clements’ famous 10 minute drills, which brought me right back to furiously writing during college finals in small blue books.

What I learned as a teacher:
Spending a day as Samantha’s shadow really made me stop and think about life on the other side of the classroom.  I had so many lessons, tips and ideas to take away, but here are the main ones:

Being a student is exhausting: My students would probably attest that I teach in a (near-constant) state of over-caffeination.  I’m all over the room, all the time.  I thought that my day as a student would be extra relaxing because I’d be able to sit down instead of jumping around and dancing about verbs.  I was so, so wrong.  I really understood and appreciated the need for students to get up, out of their chairs and move around.  I know that I will be implementing more moving in my class ASAP.  

Three minutes is a short amount of time:  Sure, students can physically move from one class to the next in the allotted three minutes.  However, it’s very difficult to mentally “change gears” from one subject to the next in only three minutes.  It was hard for me to finish thinking about one topic, pack up and move to another room and immediately be mentally prepared for a completely new topic.  This really inspired me to re-think the first ten minutes of my own classes.  How can I help students make this transition a little easier?

Our students are awesome:  I knew this going into my shadowing experience, but being with students all day – in the halls, in the (way too small) student desks, at lunch/break – really highlighted just how lucky I am to teach at Nipmuc.  All day long I noticed countless examples of students helping each other in little, selfless ways – holding doors, offering a smile or an iPad charger, giving high-fives.  I heard so many students encouraging each other in all of my classes and offering support, even at break and lunch.  I heard students say, “She’s SO great at writing” and “I can help you study that – check out my notes.”  I was happy, impressed and proud.

Shadowing a student was a fantastic experience, and one that I would love to do again in a few years, if given the opportunity.  As teachers, it’s so easy to assume that we understand the daily grind of a high school student because we interact with them every day.  However, the role-reversal experience of shadowing really revealed just how challenging the student life can be.  Moving forward, I hope that my students will notice the subtle changes I plan to implement.  And I hope that I never have to take another Pre-Calculus quiz ever again.  🙂

THANK YOU to Samantha for allowing me to see a day from your perspective!

Some pictures from our day:



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