Thursday, March 26, 2015

Pursuing a Student

I read an article last semester about a teacher who spent a couple of days shadowing different students around.  For a full day, she went to their classes and did what they did.  I remember thinking that it was a brilliant idea.  Despite having gone through the school system, by the time teachers start teaching, they are far removed from elementary and secondary school life.  What they remember may not accurately represent what their students feel and think.  Teachers expect their students to arrive on time and ready for their classes but are then ignorant of what drama might be brewing or what happened the period before (or what might be coming the period after!).  Going from physical education to English will not be the same as going from math to English.

In her article, the teacher said that by the end of the day she felt exhausted.  It was a lot more tiring than she expected and a lot more sitting than she remembered.  (For the full article, click here).  At the time, I remember wanting to have that kind of experience.  It's important, I think, to be reminded of what it's like and to not distance ourselves from the students.  The elementary/high school routine is quite rigid and after going away to university and living "adult" life, it's a bit hard to get back into the structure.

I had the pleasure of "pursuing" a year seven (Ontarian grade 6 equivalent) last week and found it quite fun--probably more so because I am currently in a different school system and find a lot of things interesting.  The faculty coordinator told me that all Trainee-Teachers are required to follow at least one student, maybe even two, during the course of their practice teaching.  I really like this practice and found it so helpful.  I think that it should be mandatory in the Ontario system as well.

There are different advantages of pursuing a student.  As aforementioned, it is a good reminder of what school is like for a student. There are two other main reasons that I really enjoyed the experience.

The first being that in following a student, you might go to different places in the school--places that you wouldn't normally frequent.  All of the schools that I have visited have subject areas.  In following a student, you are then forced to see more of the school.  This is a way to learn a bit more about other departments and about teachers that you don't know. At my current host school, I am in the humanities department and have seen pretty much all history.  On my pursuit, I saw:

  • an English class where they were studying the Tempest
  • a religious education class (they were doing a test so I didn't really do much here)
  • a geography class (it was the solar eclipse which was fairly appropriate)
  • a music class (piano things and terms that I don't remember were used at length!)
  • a "Textile" class.  This was the most interesting for me, all though they were all fun and interesting to watch, this was completely new to me. I asked the students a lot of questions in this class and learned that it was a rotation class.  Over the course of the year, they do a unit on baking/cooking, an electronics unit, a construction unit, and their present textile unit.  Currently in the textile portion, they were making what they called puglies (click for a rough idea). Each student had to design, prepare the fabric and other materials and then create.  It was so cool to watch as they progressed toward their goals.

Second, related to this is seeing expectation levels across disciplines.  I am ever amazed at what we as humans can accomplish when we start a task.  As teachers, we set expectations of achievement for our students.  I think that in being locked into our own disciplines, we can lose track of what students are capable of--fall into old and degrading expectations.  Seeing what other teachers and other subject areas expect can help push forward.  During my pursuit, I saw students showing strengths in different subject areas and was reminded of all their potential.  There is so much that they can do when we raise the bar and push them further.  We just have to remember that they are capable of so much more than what we see in one period.

All in all, a wonderfully educative experience.

2 comments:

Rebekah said...

That sounds like a really interesting way to spend a few days. How do they choose which student to assign you to follow? Or is it your choice?

Rae said...

I didn't choose. The department made the choice for me and I'm not sure how they chose.