Shadowing a Student

It all stemmed from one of the weekly meetings that we 10th grade homeroom advisers have. We were talking about how little we actually knew about what it was like to be a 10th grader — and the ups and downs of going to school everyday as a 10th grader. One idea we had was inviting a panel of students to come in to talk to us frankly about their experiences. We did that. Listening to these kids — it was incredible. They were kids from all across the personality and academic spectrum, but they all were so articulate and honest and thoughtful. Their maturity, the way they think about teachers and about school and about learning, the way they handle their frustrations… let’s just say that although I usually think our student population is great overall, I don’t always get to see or remember how great they are.

I said it all got started with this 10th grade meeting. Well someone, I don’t think it was me, came up with the idea of shadowing a 10th grade student for a day. To see what it was like to run from class to class, to experience all the daily things that a 10th grader might go through.

If you know me, and probably by now you’re getting a sense of me, I jumped at the chance. I asked to be paired with a student I had never met and knew nothing about. And last Wednesday, I became her shadow. We did separate once. My student had to change for gym in the girl’s locker room.

What I expected:

  • The day would be hectic, and I would end the day at 3:10 exhausted.
  • I would be jolted as I bounced from class to class with different teachers with different expectations.
  • I would enjoy learning.

That’s it. I didn’t go in with a ton of preconceptions.

What I discovered:

  • The day was strenuous, but not overly so. Even though the student I shadowed didn’t have a lunch period on the day I shadowed her, I wasn’t dead at the end of the day.
  • It was easy to go from classroom to classroom, teacher to teacher, and deal with the changing expectations.
  • Doing any strenuous thinking (reading, answering tricky multiple choice questions, etc.) before 9:30am was tough. I had to read and re-read the passages assigned in the AP US History course multiple times.
  • I need to be given instructions twice. Because even though I try to listen, focus, and take everything in, I sometimes missed what I was supposed to be doing. Having instructions written on the board, or repeated, would have helped me out in those cases.
  • It is not a good feeling to be answering multiple choice questions and think that the rest of the class is ahead of you and that you don’t have enough time to finish them all. I resented it when I was told “Even if you aren’t done, stop. We’re going to go over these.” [1]
  • It is hard to take good notes in most teachers’ classrooms. Many don’t design their classes with notetaking in mind, or give students the time to write down notes.
  • Dodgeball isn’t as scary as when I was in high school. They don’t use the tough rubber red balls anymore.
  • Students do a lot of running around, and don’t have a lot of down time. (At least not on this day, where my student had no free periods.)
  • Taking tests is scary. I took the last-period chemistry exam on the Ideal Gas Law. Finishing it in time was scary, as well as that moment of panic when I was still on question 7 of the multiple choice and a student raised his hand and asked the teacher about the 5th short answer question. (In case you were wondering, I got a 67% on this test, which highly impressed the teacher. I would have definitely broken into the C range if I had remembered the conversion from Celsius to Kelvin.)
  • Teachers in general aren’t good at handling class discussions, or synthesizing the information from these discussions into a digestible format useful for everyone.
  • I like being lectured to. I learn a lot in a short amount of time.
  • Some classes (e.g. chorus) are like vacations from the stresses of the day. Not that work doesn’t happen there, but chorus was really enjoyable and relaxing to be an environment where everyone loved what they were doing.
  • At least on this day, there wasn’t a lot of group work. Actually, in none of the academic classes except math were students asked to talk with anyone but the teacher. Conversations were mainly between teacher and student.

It was worth doing. If you can convince your school to get you a sub so you can do this, I highly recommend it. Plus, the other kids in my shadow’s classes thought I was so cool for trying to learn what it was like to be in their shoes. Okay, not so cool. But they definitely respected me for it.

(And the best part: my shadowee and I got to invent our own special handshake.)

[1] That was especially painful, because I know as a math teacher I do that a lot. I’ll put up 3 problems for students to work on — the last one being the hardest. When I’m sure everyone has gotten the first two, and I’m running low on time, I’ll stop everyone and we’ll go over all the problems together.




  1. How were the desks? I remember doing this when we were going through accreditation one year. The desks were horribly uncomfortable…no wonder they want to sharpen their pencils all the time.

  2. Wow, this sounds awesome! It hasn’t been THAT long since I was in high school (or so I like to think), but I think I’ve already forgotten much of what it’s like to be a high school student. And what you shared has already given me much insight on a few things that I may have forgotten about.

  3. sounds like you had fun (and learned some stuff). I just wish we visited each other’s classrooms — that would be only a fraction of what you did, but an easy start (or should be)


  4. @David: The desks were different in each room. But I didn’t find them noticeably uncomfortable.
    @Justin: Yeah, it hasn’t been *that* long for me too, but it’s all those little things that I forgot about. And of course all the emotional social stuff that piles on, I didn’t experience that.
    @Jonathan: Yeah, I am going to start visiting other teachers’ classrooms next year. It was really awesome to do that. I felt weird this year about visiting other teachers’ rooms because I didn’t feel totally comfortable having teachers come to mine. I mean, I let a few teachers come, and of course I was evaluated, but I don’t know if I would have been comfortable having an open door policy. I think next year, I’ll be ready for that.

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