Teacher Shadowing Student for a Day

I had the unique opportunity - as a teacher - to follow a student through a regular school day to understand a day in the life of a teenager

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On February 3, 2016, I laced up my shoes and loaded up my backpack to head to school. This wasn't a typical day at school for me. Instead of being the teacher, I was the student.

My name is Jeffrey McMicken, and I am a teacher in Richland School District Two in Columbia, South Carolina at Ridge View High School. Not even 10 years ago, I was sitting in a high school classroom much like the one I teach in now. Being relatively new to the profession, I thought my day at school as a student would be a breeze. I could not have been more wrong and the experiences I gained from this are ones that will carry with me the rest of my career.

I got to my first class (Early Bird) late, which starts an hour before the regular school day. It was the one I was most excited for too: Advanced Placement United States Government. The teacher asked me for my late pass. While I know my colleague was joking, a feeling of dread and fear still swept over me for being tardy. This wasn't the best start to my day, and the rest of the students - my peers for the day - looked at me in horror. I was embarrassed. 

The next class I attended was English. From walking and carrying all of my things, I was already complaining about being hot, sweaty, and having too much in hand to keep up with. The day in English was spent reviewing for a Beowulf test. It's amazing how much you forget. I got a ton of questions wrong and it turns out I didn't pay attention to this story as well as I thought I had in high school or in college.

From English, we went to Physical Education. I brought a separate bag of clothes and shoes to change in to, but thankfully I didn't have to. That day, we were helping the Special Education students learn a dance to perform at the district-wide Special Olympics that would be held the next day. If there's one thing I can't do, it's dance. Half of the period was spent trying to figure out the dance, and then once I did I tried to haphazardly lead the other students. I got a lot of funny looks, so I trust I didn't mess them up too much. 

During our Advisory class next, the student I was shadowing, Mallory, let me know we would be taking an Algebra 3 unit test. I remember being shocked and locking up when she told me that. We crammed in studying, and I felt prepared. I could spout off about simplifying equations, exponents, radicals, bi-nomials, and even tri-nomials. 

In Algebra, I could not have done more poorly. I felt like I was prepared for the test, but the minute the test came out was the minute I forgot absolutely everything. I was the first person to finish, so the teacher was able to grade it on the spot. Out of 25 questions, I only got 1 right. Oddly enough, it was the 1 question I thought I wouldn't get correct. Everything else, I was feeling pretty good about.

During lunch, Mallory and I went our separate ways. She to eat and I to lick my wounds from a failed morning.

After lunch, we had a Student Council Leadership class. Mallory is the Student Body Vice President. This period was spent going over a large application packet with other student body officers. I was amazed at how well they communicated together and how much more grown-up and responsible they were when trying to accomplish working through red tape together. The remainder of the day was spent working on posters that were to be hung around the school promoting events. I think Mallory had to spend time cleaning up my mess and paint behind me, so I hope that poster ended up being used.

After school, Mallory usually would be headed to softball practice for a few hours. Thankfully, the weather was awful and practice was canceled. I would have dreaded going to that.

From this whole experience, I gained a lot of insight and things I want other teachers and administrators to be aware of when working with students in public school:

  1. Students move classes way too frequently.
  2. There are so many rules and they can differ for each class.
  3. Students have too many bosses and too many people telling them what to do.
  4. Teenagers have other classes and other responsibilities.
  5. Students may not get their work done because of the above-mentioned responsibilities.
  6. There is a lot going on each day in their lives and we need to acknowledge that and help them as best as we can as their teachers and also as fellow human beings.

I enjoyed this experience a great deal and feel that I gained so much from it. I hope this is something other schools implement and our district continues to do. Our students need to understand that we understand them, their needs, and their lives. I know that when I create lessons, activities, and assign homework that it needs to be focused, meaningful, and purposeful to support all students on their journey to and through college.

[Optional] Synthesize a little! In one sentence, describe what you learned from your empathy exercises or analogous research. (Ex: Good advisors make a difference.)

Teachers need to shadow students for a day to see that they need more focused and meaningful work to do in K-12 school to support and prepare them.

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Photo of Donna Teuber

Hi Jeffrey, You did it! Thank you so much for posting your insights from the shadowing experience. We need this perspective to move forward with helping our students on their journey to college. Amazing post!

Photo of Jeffrey McMicken

I really appreciate you pushing me to do this. Thank you! 

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