A Teacher’s Perspective: What I Learned From Shadowing A High School Student
This March, I decided to participate in the Shadow a Student Challenge. The gist of the challenge is simple: enter the world of education through the eyes of a student in hopes of building empathy for students. When I saw the email explaining that the challenge was a month away, I quickly approached my department chair and principal with a proposal in hand stating why I wanted to participate. Lucky me, they said yes!
Warren Central High School has just under 4,000 students. There is a constant buzz of chatter, always an activity to participate in after school, and every period you can see a student running to class in hopes of making it before the bell. With such a big school, communication between staff members can be difficult, students can become overwhelmed with social and academic commitments, and one would assume it can be easy to get lost in the shuffle. Here’s where the challenge comes into play. What is it truly like to walk the halls of Warren Central as a student? What is it truly like to have seven classes all located at different ends of a one million square foot building? How hard is it to stay on top of academics while fulfilling your social needs as an adolescent? And, what is it like to be 15 again? I was ecstatic to find out.
My schedule for the day was that of a typical 10th grader:
1st period: Health class with one of our veteran teachers Ms. McCammon. Lucky for me Tyreke’s partner was absent, so I was able to help him finish a project due by the end of the period on different types of family structures. It was a blend of looking through a text book for definitions on family structures, researching community outreach programs on the Chromebook, and getting our creative juices flowing by creating a poster. I think we did a great job!
2nd period: Algebra II with one of our teacher-of-the-year finalists, Mr. Mann. Let me preface this by saying how I feel about math class… I was a horrible math student in high school, and I was actually a year behind due to failing Algebra I.. Mr. Mann gave me homework earlier in the week to do, and I asked one of my advanced literature students to walk me through how to do logarithms. For the record, I still have no idea how to do them.
Mr. Mann is adored by the students and staff for being innovative, enthusiastic, playing music in his class, and simply making math fun. There was a big test coming up, so the period was spent reviewing through a competitive team game. We got to write on the desks with dry erase markers, challenge our peers, and practice chanting math formulas all while listening to the latest music by Drake! My poor team lost because of me. Not only couldn’t I do the math problems, but I had four of my students in that class who were dead set on ensuring I lost. I had a blast learning, engaging with my peers, and seeing students’ embrace the art of reviewing. *Insert reflection: 15-year-old Victoria would also have been a contributing factor in her team’s loss due to subpar math abilities. I think there would have been a sense letting my team down. I would have wanted to fade into the background knowing that my team probably saw me as a casualty and waste of space.
3rd period: Spanish 1 with Senorita Moeller! I have never taken a Spanish class, so this was a unique experience! Ms. Moeller has so many qualities in her teaching that our Blended Learning and Personalized Learning (BL/PL) committee is hoping to develop in our colleagues. She had stations around the room practicing vocabulary, researching Latin culture, and engaging in oral conversations. She circulated perfectly giving each group of students the help and support they needed as they stumbled. Multiple times in my groups students hit roadblocks of comprehension. The classroom dynamic is set for students to first try to figure it out with their peers. If that doesn’t work they call Ms. Moeller. She encouragingly baits them with questions until someone at the table recalls the correct answer/words to use. She has clearly worked on setting up a community of learning that is imperative when working so collaboratively. Her positive praise, goofy nature, and adoration for her students ensures they feel comfortable. I felt like I was able to let my hair down in that class and just get emerged in the activities… minus the part that I personally was completely lost in the conversations.
4th period: Show Choir! We have a very talented group of performers that make up our Connections Show Choir (listen to their amazing vocals in my video). As a former show choir student myself, I found it only fitting that I re-enter the world of character shoes and sweaty dance practices. The group had a competition the next day so I wasn’t able to actually participate, rather I pretended to be an injured member who just got to watch and listen. The group’s director, Mr. Podgorski, has a way of inspiring his students. I secretly recorded him during his “you can do this, I believe in you” moment during class and actually teared up. As a student in his class I felt loved, cared for, and like I had a voice that the world wanted and needed to hear. The students ran their show from start to finish with multiple cuts to perfect moves and vowel sounds, and then the sweaty teens had a few moments to change and get ready for period five!
5th period: Nutrition and Wellness with Ms. Linenberg. Normally throughout the day I have snacks in my desk that I’m constantly eating, but as a student that was a bit harder to do.Some teachers have “no food in class” rules, and others allow the gamut of foods. I’ve always been a teacher who allows food because I personally snack all day; however, it really shines light as to what it must be like for the students who have anti-food rooms all day. Although that breakfast line is long, it’s a must for a successful school day. By 5th period, my stomach was growling so it was time to eat. I was thrilled to find out it was a cooking day in class, and we were making pizza! I had to run to class and made it right at the bell. My teacher was outside of the door and graciously allowed me to go to the bathroom at the bell. So many teachers at that moment would A: send a student to the tardy room B: tell them, “You’ve had 5 minutes to go. What were you just doing?” (What was I just doing? Literally sweating and saying excuse me to every student I passed on my way across campus) C: ask for a pass. We were told what to do then were sent to our group’s kitchen. I was put into the red group, and after washing my hands and getting my apron, I realized something was off. This class was silent except for the needed communication to prep the pizza. My group members explained that no one talks in their class. (If only some of that could trickle into my own 5th period English class, I would be one happy camper :). Mrs. Fricke found herself baiting her group for conversation (which they obliged due to my status); however, the young Victoria who was voted “social butterfly” in high school would have probably drowned in the silence. The pizza was superb and the rest of the class was spent quietly eating. I did leave class a few minutes early to see what the skippers who hang out for multiple lunch periods might be doing.
(I had to dress the part as well… my Retro Maroon 6 Jordan’s were certainly a show stopper.)
6th period: U.S. History. Let me preface this class by saying Mr. Barclay is one of the students’ absolute favorite teachers in our building. He’s too funny and nice for students to truly ever give him lip, he is so involved and reaches all types of students, and the kids know that no matter what he loves and cares about them. Mr. Barclay was having us give oral presentations over the industrial revolution. He asked me to do the project earlier in the week, so I did a condensed version and presented it during class. There was a loving banter between students, a sincere appreciation for hard work, and a stern voice for no tolerance of poor audience attention. In this class I laughed, I learned, and I found a common respect for my peers who sat around me.
|(Can you spot the typo in the
presentation that Mr. Barclay did?)
|(Yes! I got an A!)|
7th period: Chemistry. In high school I took integrated chem/phys from a teacher who told us to rip out page 87 from our workbook and turn it in by the end of class. I don’t remember much beyond copying the worksheets from those around me. Yes, I just admitted to cheating. I currently only know H and O on the periodic table and couldn’t muddle my way through an equation if you offered to pay my mortgage for the rest of the year. I also had homework for this class that consisted of watching a tutorial and taking notes. I did the homework, but entered the class extremely confused (due to not having been in the class for the past nine weeks). Something amazing that Mrs. Wiley did for her bell ringer was work on an equation from their last unit. I approached her about it at the end of class and asked why the last unit and not this one. She simply said, rather than having just half of her students get it right and move on, since her subject constantly builds upon prior knowledge, she ensures that each day one more student comprehends the equation until all students can correctly do them.Those that had mastered the concepts had a sense of competition about them of who would correctly get the equations correct. I loved this idea, and as a student who would absolutely struggle in her class, I felt that she cared about all levels of students she teaches.
At the beginning of class a student double-checked with Mrs. Wiley, “Now we’re supposed to give her the true high school experience, right?” A nod yes, then she turned around and asked me for a piece of gum. Through a giggle, I obliged her request. During the lab I had to take a step back due to a lack of knowledge of the equations and procedures. I was with two students, one very loud and type A, the other very quiet and shy. I was humbled to have the experience of working with these two girls because I am a type A traditionally, but had to assume the type B approach due to my situation. I felt walked on, voiceless, and quite frankly a bit frustrated. These are very different feelings than I’m used to in an academic setting, but it is a feeling that many of my students often face in groups.
To say that I learned a lot is an understatement. I realized that:
- A typical school week is packed with homework, and it’s stressful to get it all done.
- Fridays are a day for projects and presentations in a lot of classes. (Let’s remember that our students have seven classes each day… that’s a lot to take care of on a Friday.)
- The hallways are a nightmare to get through.
- The commons are not your friend if you enjoy being on time to class. Each time I stopped in the commons, I got caught up in conversations and was close to getting to class at the bell. At Warren that means you are told to go to the Tardy Room for the period (three tardies = 1 absence).
- It’s hard to find your voice in a classroom environment controlled by dominating personalities.
- The cafeteria is not too inviting when you don’t have a traditional clique to sit with (that is, if you can find a chair). Typically when I see students in the cafeteria alone they are immersed in their Chromebook… now I wonder if that’s a defense mechanism from simply feeling alone and excluded. Had I not been outgoing and persistent in my lunchroom experience, I might have been one of them. We must remember, it’s not a natural thing for a high school student to ask those beyond their friend circle, “Can I sit with you?”
- You need the social interaction with your peers in between classes to get your blood flowing after a long 55 minute period.This really shows the importance of students participating in extracurricular activities. Not only is it a positive outlet for energy, but it provides opportunities for growth in all types of students physically, mentally, and most importantly socially.
- It’s hard to sit still for 55 minutes, and those chairs are not too comfortable.
- You really need extracurricular classes to break up the day, and sadly the students who need that type of environment are often the ones who are making up credits with extra core classes.
I took away the reminder that all of our students have different needs that must be met. They may be big or small. We must find ways to meet them in the world of “high school” that we often times truly don’t remember. That student who just wrapped up lunch alone might really need encouragement at the door on their way to 6th period when the teacher just needs a moment to debrief with her neighbor. The student who just lost the math game and felt like a failure might need a chance to show their teacher a strength in gaming, rapping, or art and that demonstration might take a few minutes away from instruction. And that student who so desperately wanted to tell their best friend about what Susie said to Rachel about Megan in class because it’s going to completely change prom court nominations (but she would have been tardy if she went to the commons to find them), might just need that one minute at the start of class to send a snapchat or pass that quick note.
I think the biggest thing I can say that I learned is that each teacher projects different energy onto their students, and the students take that with them throughout the day. I left feeling a different way after each class and each teacher fulfilled a different need of mine as a student. I think teachers need to remember that throughout the day on top of all of our other responsibilities, we have to figure out what our students need from us emotionally and how exactly we give that to them. Afterall, a student will do anything for a teacher who truly cares.
I documented my experience through pictures and videos throughout the day. Big shout out to one of our senior production students Troy Thomas for editing my videos together!
About Victoria Fricke
Victoria Fricke is an English Teacher at Warren Central High School. She teaches sophomore English at both the core and advanced core level. She has been at Warren Central for four years. She is the senior class sponsor, a member of the Blended Learning/Personalized Learning (BL/PL committee), and is the English representative on the school’s CORE committee that works to inspire the township values with students and staff.