“Why would you want to shadow a high schooler all day? You went to high school–you know what it’s like.”
That was one of the responses I got when I told adults about my plan to participate in the “Shadow a Student Challenge.” Many adults thought the idea was great; some thought it was ridiculous; most laughed as they envisioned what the day would entail for me.
The fact is that the student experience is different today than it was when I went to high school. There are many similarities, of course, but students face some challenges and stressors that simply didn’t exist 20 years ago. The “Shadow a Student Challenge” was designed to help administrators build understanding and empathy for what their students go through on a daily basis. My goals for the day were to get the “feel” for the flow of the day as a whole and understand what our students experience in our high school. Spoiler alert: it was tiring!
A huge thank you to Kim, who graciously allowed me to follow her around for 12 hours. Here’s a running log from our day:
4:34am–Out of bed to get ready for school.
This is slightly earlier than Kim gets up for school every day, but in speaking with some students who have a long commute (Hoboken, etc.), there are definitely multiple students in our high school who wake up before 5:00am every day. By 5:15 I am out of the house so I can get to Kim’s house to join her on the bus.
School starts at 8:10am, and our bus is scheduled to arrive at the high school around 7:45am. Kim is the first pick up on this route, which means she has a 100+ minute ride each morning. Honestly, for me the bus ride is fun because I get to watch the faces of the students as they see me–either surprised because they didn’t know I was doing this or laughing because they didn’t think I was serious when they had heard about it.
Most students are busy doing school work or are otherwise productive during the bus ride, which is nice to see. Around 6:20am Kim tells me that we have a Civics quiz on the supreme court, so I begin to cram for that. I had forgotten to check Realtime to make sure there were no assignments due…
7:48am–Arrive at school
Before class we stop by the media center to print out a paper. Then a quick bathroom break (and a coffee from the cafeteria for me), and we don’t even have time to drop off our gym bags at the locker room before getting to class. We have been at school for a full 20 minutes but somehow it still feels very rushed.
9:35am–SOAR (silent study hall)
First block went well (I had coffee, after all), but it is hard to do everything I “need” to do between classes (check my email, check the likes on Instagram, refill my water bottle). Study hall is a nice time to finish studying for Civics (I now know all 9 supreme court justices…). It’s only been one block, but I already have homework–this week in that one class there will be 2 quizzes, one essay, and a project due…
I’m already tired, and the yawns have started. I have really enjoyed my first two classes, but 80 minutes is a long time to sit. It makes a huge difference when the teacher incorporates movement into the block. One teacher even allows us to take a 3 minute walk around the front driveway, and it makes a huge difference in my ability to focus and participate in the rest of the block.
By the time Kim and I get our food from the cafeteria and find a place to eat (there may have been a little wandering in there…), lunch is halfway over. It’s a definite highlight of the day when I’m invited to eat with some other students. There is still time to eat and socialize before 3rd block (and take selfies to post on Instagram).
In my third block of the day, I realize that sometimes high schoolers can be annoying! Little things that were not distracting earlier in the day are now stopping me from learning. Every time a student is off task on their laptop, or turns around to whisper to a classmate, or calls out an off-topic answer to the teacher’s question–these are the only things I can pay attention to. I’m certain that most of the students aren’t being distracting on purpose, but there are other situations where a student is clearly just seeking attention and doesn’t care if it derails the conversation. It makes me frustrated enough to write down how mad I am. 12:45pm– officially tired and grumpy.
1:41pm–Late to Class
5 minutes to get between classes sounds like a lot of time, but it really goes by quickly!
4th block is great. We get to work in groups, we go to the cafeteria for an activity, and we get plenty of movement during class. It really helps end the day well.
Nevermind–the day isn’t over; I forgot about track practice.
After school it’s time to change for track practice. Kim is a thrower, so I’m optimistic there won’t be too much running. My hopes are immediately dashed when all track members are told to do an “easy” warm-up lap around the school. I make it (winded), and the stretching afterward is tolerable and even fun.
My body has not tested its top speed for decades. By the fourth sprint, I have the answer: my top speed is a depressing combination of slowness and pain. I sit out the last 4 sprints to make sure I don’t break.
5:00pm–Practice is over
After a variety of other activities and throwing javelins, track practice is finally over. I’m sore and tired and hungry–time to head home and do my homework. I “cheat” and don’t go home with Kim, but instead go to my house to eat with my family.
Again I cheat, because I don’t work on any of the long-term projects, just the work from today. Kim still works for over an hour more.
In all, it was a fantastic day as a student. It was just over 12 hours from the time I left my house to the time I returned, and that did not include homework time. Asking other students who do sports, this is pretty standard in terms of a schedule (with some variation in wake-up time). Except that many of the high school students also have part time jobs in the evenings as well. The students were quite happy to tell me I was “lucky” to have shadowed on Monday because it was a relatively light workload (plus the supreme court quiz got pushed back so I never had to test my cramming skills). Still, it was a demanding schedule, for sure. I slept well and woke up sore the next day.
A few big takeaways
- We have outstanding Christian teachers at EC. The lessons were interesting and engaging, and I found myself truly pulled into the discussion and learning. Devotions were thoughtful and I saw the faith of the teachers lived out in the way they taught.
- Movement matters. The teachers who most intentionally planned the 80-minute block to incorporate multiple activities and transitions held the the students’ attention noticeably better. I’ve sat through a lot of individual blocks during observations, but I’ve never sat through four in one day–the lesson plan has an incredible effect on the student experience.
- Kindness makes a huge difference. I know that I was a “fake” student, but it really did have a large emotional impact when students called me over to them or came over to say hello.
- Students are busy. It was a very busy day, and I didn’t even have the added psychological weight of trying to navigate social situations or conflict with a teacher or the subject-matter or issues of self-identity. I got off easy.
I was asked a few questions over and over again throughout the day. “Why are you doing this?” “Are all the principals doing this?” “Why didn’t you choose to shadow me?” and my favorite (from two teachers) “Can I do this sometime so I can understand my students better?”
Yes! If their experience is as worthwhile as mine was, then it will be time well spent.