Recently, I completed the #shadowastudent challenge and spent an entire school-day shadowing a 4th grade student in his 4th grade class. I dressed like a student, complete with Under Armor sweats and NFL pom beanie. I rode the bus to school (for the first time ever, in my entire life); this was really fun, you should of seen the looks on students faces when they realized that I was on the bus.
Why was I doing this? It was a great way to learn, first hand, about the content that our teachers teach and student learn. It was also a great insight into what it is like to be a student in our school. Ultimately, that was my primary reason. I wanted to develop a better sense of empathy for the students that I serve at Van Allen.
What follows is a collection of my reflections from throughout the day.
At Van Allen, we have a beautiful school, and beautiful classrooms. This was one of the first things that stood-out to me as I sat in the back of the classroom. The natural light that we have coming-in to our classrooms is such a nice feature to any learning environment.
Teachers, never underestimate the power of using visuals within your lessons. There are a lot of potential distractions within each classroom. Every single student is a potential distraction, regardless of if they are trying to be one or not. And then you have ALL of the stuff that every teacher has within their classroom. Visuals don't cure all, but they certainly help students focus.
I may, however, have tweaked an ankle at the beginning of class. I'm not used to running that includes all of those stops, starts, and cuts. It's all good, though; whatever it was worked itself out once I got loose and warm.
Anytime that a teacher has an opportunity to tell a story to his/her students, take it! The students love it. They love seeing a glimpse of who their teacher is. Plus, these are times when the teacher is clearly having fun and enjoying him/herself.
We got to eat a snack at 11am. This was five hours since I'd had a bowl of cereal for breakfast, which was 10 hours after I'd had dinner the night before. I know that my diet and my needs are different than compared to a 10 year old's, but I was hungry.
I ate my first school cafeteria lunch since I was in high school. That's right. I repeat, after being a professional educator for over 10 years, I ate my first school lunch. It was good. It seemed healthy. A little more food than I would normally eat in one setting at school, but I also take the luxury of being able to snack throughout the day.
*I'll add that when I was in school, the pink milk was skim. So going through the lunch line, I took a pink milk and didn't think twice about it. It wasn't skim. I drank strawberry milk for the first time. It was also, probably, the only time that I'll drink strawberry milk.
Every student should have lunch AFTER recess. Going from a full meal to full-out game of infection (tag) on the playground is less than ideal.
I should also add that after participating in PE and then coming-in from recess, I completely understand why my kindergarten son wants to wear shorts and a tee-shirt to school EVERY day. Kids are moving, and working; they get warm.
The standard chairs that we have at Van Allen are not comfortable. I already knew this going into my shadow day, but a full-day sitting in such a chair certainly confirmed this. We are working to provide students and classrooms with more flexible seating options, but such a transformation (throughout the school) will take some time.
Normally, I drink A LOT of water throughout the school day. Today, I did NOT drink nearly as much as I normally would have. Even as a classroom teacher, the adults in a school are afforded opportunities (specials, recess, lunch, etc.) to fill-up water bottles, go to the bathroom, and fulfill other personal needs. While these opportunities are certainly available to students, I don't know that they are as on-demand.
Sometimes we ask students to do something (or stop doing something), but they continue doing what they were doing until that task is finished. Often times, we (adults) see this as defiance. But I don't know that it necessarily the case. Think about yourself in your own personal life. Are there any chores that you must perform each morning before leaving the house (regardless of the rush that you are in)? I believe that we should be very careful with what we "demand" of students. I believe that we should offer a lot of reminders and/or suggestions to students, and then exercise caution with the battles that we are willing to fight.
This day confirmed a guiding principle that I believe - never make a child do something that you wouldn't make an adult do.
Along those same lines, another highlight of my day was when our group was given time to explore a National Park from the southeast region of the United States of America. Those were our parameters, find a National Park in the southeast region and explore it. Student need time time to explore. They need to be given parameters, but then they need to be turned-free and left to wonder.
Acquiring knowledge may be an overrated aspect of school. It is very dependent on the content as to how meaningful and/or engaging it is. That being said, as educators, we should place most of our emphasis on thinking and problem solving. These are skills that have long-lasting implications regardless of what a child grows-up to become.
Being-in a classroom, all-day, reinforced my long standing belief that schools should do away with subject areas. EVERYTHING should be reading, and EVERYTHING should be writing. All other subjects SHOULD be taught with those elements of literacy.
The following dialogue that took place within the classroom between a student and me is worth sharing:
Student: "What book are you reading?"
Me: "Towers Falling, ever heard of it?"
Student: "No, but I'm going to buy it. If the principal is reading it, I am!"
Before I conclude, I want to make sure to express some thanks. Thank you to Sarah Beaver, our 4th grade teacher who very quickly volunteered her classroom for me to fulfill my #shadowastudent challenge. Thank you to Jordan, and the rest of Mrs. Beaver's 4th grade class; not only were you very welcoming to me, but it was also clear that you were treating this as just a normal and ordinary day. Thank you to the rest of our Van Allen staff for allowing me to commit to an entire day for this work. Thank you to the creators of this challenge, and the social media community that has shared it. I am thankful to have had the opportunity to #shadowastudent.
Ultimately, I think that I have more questions than answers after my day in 4th grade. That being said, I would strongly encourage ANY school staff, given the opportunity, to shadow a student within their school. If for no other reason, it is a great opportunity to spend time with kids. And that, spending time with kids, is one of the most meaningful things that you can do for/with kids.