Only The Shadow Knows

As a middle school principal I live in the world of “and.” Yes, he said that he wanted to hit you, and earlier you pulled down his shorts in gym. Yes, you have a D in History right now, and last week you didn’t turn in two assignments. So when I read the article suggesting that teachers would benefit from shadowing a student for two days my first thought was: yes, and how would people look at education differently if they shadowed teachers for two days?

I ask that as I sit at my desk at 6:30 in the morning having walked in with several teachers half an hour ago. They’re in their classrooms now, grading and planning lessons, preparing to teach when the kids arrive for first period in another hour or so. More will arrive as I type this post, welcoming each other by the mailboxes outside my office, talking about how best to help kids (I just heard a PE and English teacher asking each other about what’s working for a student who just moved to the school), and getting ready to engage in the challenging and rewarding occupation of teaching.

If someone were to shadow the teachers at my school, from prepping to parent meetings, from grading to collaboration with colleagues, and into the classroom where they face phalanxes of twelve and thirteen year olds, I think they’d be impressed.

Teachers often arrive early and stay long past the final school bell. A teacher’s shadow would need to be here before the students, coffee in one hand, a pen in the other, be ready to put in a full day, and then follow that teacher home, where after she has made dinner for her own kids she brings out the stack of essays to grade or notebooks to comment on.

Someone shadowing one of my teachers would be amazed by the passion for working with students they’d see, even when kids haven’t yet realized how much they like the particular subject being taught. They’d see careful planning that leads to hands on learning in Math and English classes, experiments in Science, and active learning across disciplines. They’d see activities that get students out of their seats and collaborating on projects that engage them in critical thinking and problem solving.

A shadow might see a teacher putting in extra time to go to an EdCamp on a Saturday, participating in our district’s SDUHSDchat on Twitter on Tuesday evenings, or staying late to set up a science lab or art project. The teachers do these things not because they have to, but because they want to. They want to do the best job possible to help students learn.

Being a student is not an easy job. Nor is being a teacher, or being a parent for that matter. The more we can understand each other, the more empathy we can feel and show. As a principal, who was a teacher and is a parent, and who gets to spend significant time in classrooms every day, I hope that we all can make the efforts to see the world from each other’s points of view.

If shadowing provides a starting point for discussion, it has my support, but I’d like to broaden the lens to take in that mom who puts aside her own time to help with homework, the dad who rolls his tired sleeves up to pack lunches, and the teacher who spends his own time and money to buy flowers for plant dissections. Seeing school from a student’s point of view is important to understanding how we make school relevant and effective, and recognizing how we all work together to help kids is vital to supporting the important adventure of teaching and learning.

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