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It's been more than 20 years since Jennifer Stewart has sat at a desk in a classroom listening and learning as a teacher leads instruction.
Stewart, an academic specialist at Quaker Valley Middle School, and nine of her colleagues, went back to the classroom for one day each this month as part of Shadow a Student Challenge — a national school educator event geared toward letting school staff see from a student's perspective what happens in the course of one day.
“I mostly just wanted to see what a student's experience during the day is like,” Stewart, 35, said a day before her Feb. 15 shadow experience. “I think, as teachers, we often get caught into our subject area or our period of the day. I just wanted to see it through the student's point of view, instead of being limited to that one viewpoint.”
Each of the staff were paired with a student, said Principal Anthony Mooney, who discovered the challenge online and wanted to have staff at the Sewickley school participate.
Mooney said part of his goal was to see what's working within the building, what can be improved and to learn more about the daily experience of a student.
Stewart, who taught middle school classes for most of her career before coming to Quaker Valley, said her shadow day was “complex.”
“Exhausting in many ways,” she said after her day of shadowing a student. “I have a lot more empathy for the sheer logistics of getting through a day in middle school now. Overall, it was a great opportunity to view our classes through the eyes of our students.”
Mooney said he was surprised to see how much middle school students have happening.
“I was taken back by how much they have on their plates,” he said. “I don't recall as a middle school student having that much to worry about.”
And Mooney wasn't talking exclusively about the curriculum, but extra curricular activities such as the school musical, sports and other clubs.
“They're worried about how they allocate their time,” he said. “Students are often spread thin and they're often stressed out.”
For Stewart, getting to each class proved difficult.
“In between classes was a blur,” Stewart said. “We just had to get where we were going so fast and there wasn't much time for anything to be awkward.”
A challenge Stewart said kids face today is social media, which can be beneficial and a detriment.
“I've talked to people my age and we all agree that we're thankful that we didn't have those things growing up,” Stewart said. “All of our mistakes weren't broadcast to our peers through social media.”
Ten middle school teachers and administrators took part in the project, and it has spread to others as Edgeworth Elementary School Principal Carol Sprinker and Assistant Superintendent Andrew Surloff shadowed students.
Mooney hopes to make it an annual project for staff, and wants to get more teachers involved in the future.
“It's one thing to have administrators do it, but I'm not the one coming up with assessments and projects,” he said. “So for teachers to go through the day in the life of a student would be particularly valuable.”
Matthew Peaslee is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.
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