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Quaker Valley Middle School teachers shadow students for a day

| Monday, Feb. 19, 2018, 11:00 p.m.

By second period, Anthony Mooney — as a “student” at Quaker Valley Middle School — already had lost his pen, gym clothes and binder.

And he's the principal of the school.

He raised his hand, got a pass, and went back to first period to retrieve his gym clothes, just like any kid in the school would do.

In each of those moments, there are lessons.

“Can you imagine as a professional if every 45 minutes you were expected to pack up your office and move to another location? It brings some perspective,” Mooney said of his experience last year living the life of a student for a day. “Sometimes we get caught up in our daily routine and we miss out on the little things that affect the people with whom we work.”

For the second straight year, teachers at Quaker Valley Middle School had the opportunity to shadow a student for a day.

While shadowing students around school has become more commonplace in education for administrators, Mooney said he wanted to take it a step further and provide the opportunity for teachers.

The hope is they build empathy for their students, learn from their peers and find out what a day is like for a child at the school. Each also must have a goal they want to accomplish.

Nine staff members participated last year. Another nine will participate this year.

Maribeth Hayward, a sixth-grade science and language arts teacher, shadowed a student she taught last year.

For Hayward, it was important to see if she's preparing her students for seventh grade.

The day was fast paced, she said. Immediately after meeting the student she was shadowing, they opened their computers and began studying for a quiz.

What struck Hayward was how quickly the day moved. It seemed, at times, like just when she started cutting things out for art class, the teacher was reminding students there was only five minutes left.

“As a teacher, we plan our lessons and what we want the kids to do, but when you're sitting in their shoes, it's like you get into the room and that 42 minutes goes by so fast,” she said.

After going through the day, she realized, she needs to be cognisant of that and not plan up until the bell.

Nikki Olson, a sixth-grade language arts teacher, also learned about the fast pace environment her students live in daily.

She shadowed a student on a two-hour delay schedule, which made the classes even shorter.

“I was thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, these kids.' We finally get in the groove of thinking and it's like ‘Bye, gotta head to the next class.'”

Olsen said one of her goals as a teacher is to keep students engaged — trying to find ways to keep them moving throughout the day, working in groups or even getting up to go to the other side of the classroom. She observed how other teachers do this.

She also tried to see what student interactions throughout the day are like and remember to be the positive in their lives.

“It really just gives us a chance to remember why we are teachers. It motivates you to be the best that you can for the kids. You could be their only sunshine for the day,” she said.

And even though the board in front of her classroom reminds students of everything they need for the period, Olson said she's going to be a little more forgiving if they forget.

She saw what it was like to not have a locker for her gym clothes or to take longer than the students to change after gym, feeling more like she's running behind for class.

Mia Strelec, 11, a sixth-grader, had teacher Karen Smearman follow her for a day.

For Mia, whose mom Nina is an art teacher at Edgeworth Elementary, the experience is important for teachers, she said.

She spent the day answering questions for Smearman. At lunch, Smearman, as the new girl at Mia's table, got to know another new girl who was on her first day of school at Quaker Valley Middle School.

Mia, who said she acted normal and wasn't nervous for a teacher to shadow her, said she hopes teachers learned that even when students are having fun in class, that they still want to do well.

Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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