Teaching

After visiting classes, 5 reflections on the life of my students

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It’s a busy, complicated life being a student. I got to witness it first-hand on recent visits to other classes at my school. Here are my observations about the lives my students lead. (Flickr / The Wharton School)

I’ve been a teacher for nearly 11 years now.

It’s been more than 15 years since I’ve been a high school student — moving from class to class, trying not to arrive late, doing my best to let several diverse subjects sink into my brain in one day.

Yesterday, I got a great opportunity. For part of the day, I got to observe other teachers at my school. I got to sit in on two English classes and a chemistry class at my rural west central Indiana junior/senior high school.

It was huge for me. Here’s why:

I never get to see other people teach kids. In fact, I’ve very rarely seen other people teach kids in my entire teaching career.

Before I was a teacher, I graduated with a journalism degree and was a newspaper reporter. After several years of part-time jobs, interships and three months of full-time journalism, I realized it was NOT a good fit to my personality. So I went back to school a semester after graduating to become a teacher. (So glad I did, too.)

Eight months after that, I had my first teaching job. I didn’t have a teaching license, though. I was hired on an emergency teaching permit (which the school applies for if they can’t find licensed candidates for the job and must hire someone that’s unlicensed). Instead of watching and learning and practicing with a veteran teacher in my student teaching experience, I was in my own classroom, learning through trial and error.

Long story short: I’ve almost never gotten to observe other teachers teaching kids.

I got to see greatness in action, and I highly encourage any educator to spend some time visiting other classes just to watch. Although I could go on and on about the ideas and inspiration I saw in the teachers, that’s not what captured my attention most.

It was the students.

These class visits taught me about teaching, but they also gave me valuable reminders about who these kids are that walk through my door every day.

The day reminded me a lot of this great post by Grant Wiggins about a teacher who shadows a student for two days and the lessons she learns about what it’s like to be a kid in school. If you don’t read anything else all day (even the rest of my post), read this. It’s worth it.

In that post, we see that teacher’s reflections about life as a student. Here are some of mine. I know that some of them are very basic, but I lose track of them at times when I’m teaching the same content all day in the same classroom. (I know that you have observations, too, so please be thinking about what you could add to this list in the comments!)

1. Students are exposed to such a wide variety of content in a single day. In back-to-back classes, I shared a class with almost the same group of 16-year-old sophomore students. I saw them first in English and then followed them to chemistry. I was impressed to see the quality of their questions and insights in both classes. I was even more impressed when I realized how they had to switch between such vastly different content in a four-minute passing period.

2. Students sit a lot. And they take notes a lot. This isn’t a jab at any of the teachers I saw at all. I just got a small taste of that reality being with students. Sitting and taking notes can be a very efficient way of collecting and digesting lots of new knowledge in a day. But it doesn’t always connect to what we want kids to do in the real world post-graduation. Plus, some blood flow from moving around is good for the brain.

3. They have several teachers to learn. This goes for the junior high and senior high students at my school. In my room, they have to learn how I run class. They learn about me — what I’m looking for in their work, what I expect them to do, when to behave certain ways at certain times. Then, when they leave my room, they must learn it all over again with a completely different teacher — again and again several times.

4. They have a lot of homework. I know that as teachers, we realize this — at least on some level. We know that they have other classes and that they get assignments in those other classes. As I watched students add assignment after assignment to their lists of things to do that evening, the amount of homework they have a times was visually obvious. As we assign, we must remember how our homework time multiplies with every class.

5. Humor and student interest is huge. It was clear to me how a quick joke, a funny insight or a pop-culture reference could draw students’ attention back if it was wandering. These little brain breaks are like a breath of fresh air. For students swimming in rigorous academic content all day, quickly mentioning a funny YouTube video or telling a relevant joke can bring them back to live — and back to focus.

[reminder]What realities of the lives of our students do we need to remember? What’s something about their lives that you can easily forget?[/reminder]

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