Teacher Attends Class As A Student For Two Days -- Here's What She Learned

| by Jonathan Wolfe

Kids have incredibly high amounts of energy. Everyone knows this. With that in mind, isn’t it a bit counterintuitive that we force them to sit still in a desk for hours every day? High school teacher turned education coach Alexis Wiggins wrote about just that and other pertinent issues in a recent viral column.

Wiggins’ article is a recap of an experiment she carried out for work recently. Wiggins works as an education coach at a private school, and one of her key responsibilities is improving the student learning experience. For her experiment, she shadowed two students at her school for two days. She did everything the students did, be it taking tests, jotting down notes, or following class readings. After the experiment, Wiggins wrote a post detailing three key things she learned from it.

Key Takeaway #1: Students sit all day, and sitting is exhausting.

“I could not believe how tired I was after the first day,” Wiggins says. “I literally sat down the entire day, except for walking to and from classes. We forget as teachers, because we are on our feet a lot – in front of the board, pacing as we speak, circling around the room to check on student work, sitting, standing, kneeling down to chat with a student as she works through a difficult problem…we move a lot.”

Wiggins compares the feeling of sitting through class all day to the feeling of being glued to a chair for an all-day work conference. By the time you’re done, she writes, you’re drained and need to check out for the rest of the day. Wiggins says that by the end of the day, she wasn’t comprehending anything she was being taught – an experience that students around the nation can no doubt relate to.

If she could go back in time to her teaching days, Wiggins says she would have a mandatory stretching period halfway through class, put a Nerf basketball hoop in her classroom and encourage students to use it at the beginning and end of class, and schedule hands-on activities for every class session.

Key Takeaway #2: High School students are sitting passively and listening during approximately 90% of their classes.

“In eight periods of high school classes, my host students rarely spoke,” Wiggins writes. “Sometimes it was because the teacher was lecturing; sometimes it was because another student was presenting; sometimes it was because another student was called to the board to solve a difficult equation; and sometimes it was because the period was spent taking a test…But still, hand in hand with takeaway #1 is this idea that most of the students’ day was spent passively absorbing information.”

Wiggins says she would plan more engaging, interactive assessments if she were teaching again. She also says she would set a timer every time she talked to prevent herself from rambling for too long. Finally, she would start every class with a 15-20 minute session where students can ask any questions they have about class readings or topics.

Key takeaway #3: You feel a little bit like a nuisance all day long.

“I lost count of how many times we were told be quiet and pay attention,” Wiggins says. “It’s normal to do so – teachers have a set amount of time and we need to use it wisely. But in shadowing, throughout the day, you start to feel sorry for the students who are told over and over again to pay attention because you understand part of what they are reacting to is sitting and listening all day. It’s really hard to do, and not something we ask adults to do day in and out.”

Wiggins says it’s easy for teachers to become snarky and sarcastic when student’s repeatedly ask the same questions. Once in you’re in the student’s shoes, though, it’s easier to understand why this happens.

“Of course it feels ridiculous to have to explain the same thing five times, but suddenly, when I was the one taking the tests, I was stressed,” she says. “I was anxious. I had questions. And if the person teaching answered those questions by rolling their eyes at me, I would never want to ask another question again. I feel a great deal more empathy for students after shadowing, and I realize that sarcasm, impatience, and annoyance are a way of creating a barrier between me and them. They do not help learning."

To fix these problems, Wiggins would make a deliberate effort to be more patient with kids. She speaks of drawing on the wells of patience she discovered as a parent that she never knew she had. She also would implement a strict “no sarcasm” policy for herself. She would have students hold her accountable to the policy by forcing herself to put money into a “pizza money” jar every time a student called her out for being sarcastic. Finally, she would schedule a period into each test session for students to ask any questions they had about the exam material.

Wiggins post has been read well over 650,000 times since it was posted, and was also shared in its entirety on the Washington Post.

Photo: Montgomery County Public Schools