For my shadowing activity, I decided to follow a student that is identified as a student with special needs. This student has autism and though she is not necessarily a “bad” student, she is a “different” student (and I do not mean different in a bad way). Picking a student that I considered different was important to me because I wanted to see what the school day is like for someone that does not necessarily fit into the norm and someone who is completely different from myself. I find this last factor very important, not only in my shadowing activity, but in my every day interactions with the students as well. I would not necessarily say it is a negative on my part, but I have found at times I have to stop and realize not every student, if any, are like I was when I was going through school. This is especially true when students do not do their work because for me (and even as a student today), it was never an option of not doing—I always did my work and then some when the option was there. For this reason, understanding that my students (and the student I shadowed) are very different than I am is an imperative part of my teaching practice.
Before I discuss my own personal reflection on my interactions, I do want to focus on the student I shadowed. I have to admit that going through the school day was so déjà vu for me; it is funny how I remember the hustle and bustle of the hallways and little things like what is was like to have to go straight from gym to class or getting to lunch late. With that said, my student’s day started out with gym and I was really interested to see how she interacted, especially in a more laid back atmosphere versus a more lecture based class. To my surprise, she was very active even though her athletic ability was not at the same level as her peers; however, she kept trying and never gave up. Back up in the pod (which includes civics, English, math, and science), I was not surprised by her actions in the classroom since I have had her in class already. She had one peer in each class, usually her desk mate, that she relied on for help and who she talked to regularly. However, what I would never have known if I had not observed her in her other classes is her immense passion for reading and writing. In English class, she was very animated and responsive. She was willing to step up and speak her thoughts and opinions while making comments that showed she definitely analyzed and utilized her critical thinking skills. I knew that she liked to read (as evident by her book bag full of books), but I never realized how much she liked to read and enjoyed reading until I saw her in other settings. The only class that I saw a true disconnect would be in her French class, and to be honest, I do not know how well I would have done in that class based on the teacher’s teaching style. The student had been absent the previous day, and though I understand the teacher kept repeating the information to help others in the class, I think the student thought she was pointing her out because every time the teacher made a point, she mentioned her name—and every time her name was mentioned, the student rolled her eyes and sighed heavily. Her eyes were distant throughout the class and again, I really think it was due to the teacher’s teaching style.
Overall, I was fortunate to shadow a student different from myself because it really provided me with a different perspective of what a typical day encompasses. Furthermore, this activity really helped me narrow in and realize that students have very different interests and strengths (though this student’s strengths did end up being in English) that are not necessarily noticeable to teachers unless they are willing to interact and get to know their students.
Now, in regards to my own interactions with students, I have found it ironic that students think I am “strict” because though I do expect a lot, I do not consider myself extremely strict by any means! I think this apparent “strictness” comes into play because I do expect a lot from the students, but they are not unfair expectations. For example, again, though I know students are not going to be like me, I do expect them to do work. However, some of them do not. Then I have to take a step back and realize that they do not do it because they do not see the point in the assignment. After all, some of these students are already planning on dropping out of school as soon as they can—and if that was today, they would already have dropped out. I think this experience/realization will help me down the road to make sure that I really emphasize a “real-world” connection to help students make better meaningful connections for a more effective, successful, and positive learning experience.
Another thing I noticed would be how some students approached me more during my shadowing activity then they normally do in the English classroom. They were very interested in what I was doing and all were asking if I was following them. (The funny thing is no one ever caught on to who I was following which I liked!) With that said, I think it showed that students like something “new” in their daily routines. It keeps them engaged in their learning, even if it is a new face in the room. Though I cannot have a new face necessarily every day in the classroom, I can try to bring a fresh approach that will help keep students engaged.
In the end, by shadowing the student with autism, I was able to better see (or relive) a typical school day for someone who is different from myself. As I mentioned in the beginning, I think this activity also reminded me that again, since my students are very different from myself, I need to keep this in mind and really make a point of getting to know my students as individuals and to learn about more than just their unique learning styles.