Shadow A Student Challenge

The Shadow a Student Challenge is a journey that starts with seeing school through your student’s eyes, identifying meaningful opportunities to improve the school experience for your students, and then taking action to create change at your school site.

I decided to spend the afternoon with our Student Government President.  I opted to shadow her for a couple of reasons:

  • She had an afternoon club and a lunch club.
  • Her afternoon classes were well outside my comfort zone: Critical Thinking in the Arts and French Cinema.  Being a science teacher, I wanted to see how I would survive in classes in disciplines I wasn’t used to.

Before shadowing her, I asked three questions.

  1. How do you manage your time during the school day?

During the day, I usually try to do most of the work that I wasn’t able to do the day before. I also use my time to meet with teachers, hang out with friends during free periods, go out and get snacks, and generally enjoy my last few months at Marymount. Some days I am more productive, and others day I am not. But I believe that school is about more than doing homework constantly–it is about making real connections with others that last a lifetime.

2. What are the biggest challenges in going from class to class, with the expectation that you will be an active, engaged participant in class?

A challenge can be juggling everything, and the expectation that in all things perfection will be achieved. However, this expectation is more of a standard I hold myself to, and over the years I have learned to let things go and allow myself to make mistakes.

3. How do you manage to switch gears so many times in the day – for example, tomorrow you go from lunch club to French to Critical Thinking to Student Government.

I like switching gears often. It is what keeps me interested in my activities and keeps me excited throughout the day. Sometimes it can be a little difficult when I go from Student Government to Singers (I am still in Singers but I don’t get credit for the class because you are not allowed to do both) to jump right in to what we are learning, but I always use my friends there as sources of aid when I am confused or do not know what we are working on.

So I started off in Critical Thinking.  There were only six students in the class.  We started with an overview of what had been discussed previously and then the class was introduced to the next unit: childhood v. adulthood.  The students got a reading on either Peter Pan or Alice in Wonderland.

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The students worked individually on these questions, and then would be expected to report back.  I probably made the mistake of not taking a reading to do.  But the time when the students worked on this was interminable.  One student sitting in front of me was “multitasking,” alternately doing her reading and chatting with someone online.  I noticed that when she would go to chat, she would darken her screen, type in the chat window, and then brighten the screen again.  I reminded me of why it was important to circulate around the room when students are working.

The students then reported back on their respective questions, and students took notes on their peers’ reports. It was interesting to see how the students’ perceptions of both works – based on their viewing of Disney classics – influenced their comments.  I was impressed by how they were able to draw on a whole world of experiences to discuss the previously-unknown hidden meanings in both works.  It was an engaging discussion.  I found the discussion to be much more interesting than the independent work time.

Then it was off to French Cinema.  This class is conducted entirely in French, so I knew I’d have to draw on my high school French experience.  But there was good news.  The French Cinema teacher was out with an appendicitis.  So class was cancelled.  As I headed to the stairs with my shadow, she got the news as did the rest of the students in the class.  Their response to a cancelled class was the same as my response to a cancelled meeting – total joy.

I had a little break before the Student Government meeting.  My shadow started the meeting promptly at 3 PM, even without the moderator present.  She had a specific agenda – the discussion revolved around the cleanliness of the student cafeteria and occupied signs for the bathrooms.  Every new idea required a proposal that would be sent to the Dean of Students and the Upper School Head.  A followup discussion focused on the Silent Auction and strategies to boost student morale.  Every member of Student Government was involved in the debate – and the President made sure everyone’s voice was heard.

I may not have shadowed a student for a whole day.  But I did learn how important it is to vary learning activities in a seventy-five minute class.  I cannot imagine going through an entire day of learning like this!

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