I put on khaki pants, Sperry's, and a navy blue Woodward uniform polo I borrowed from the infirmary. It's Friday, October 28, and today I am a Woodward student. Junior August Stowers has kindly agreed to let me shadow him for the day. After taking German (taught by, er, myself), I have statistics with Ms. Webb, history with Ms. Bounds, study strategies with Ms. Stephenson, English with Ms. Emerson, and writer's workshop with Ms. Ratliff. I am very excited—far more excited, I'm sure, than most Woodward students are at 7:35 a.m.
I'm sure that's because, unlike real students, I didn't have to do homework late last night, and I won't be getting a grade on my work today. Instead, my goal is to see Woodward from the student perspective and, I hope, find ways to connect my German curriculum to the curricula in other disciplines.
Early in German 1, students learn to say what subjects they have and when. Usually it's something like "German, English, History, Art, Math, and Biology." When it's my turn to tell my schedule, the students always laugh when I say "German, German, German, German, and after lunch, German." But it's true. Unlike students, faculty have a pretty uniform daily experience. We stay in one classroom and teach one or two subjects every day.
My first new experience during my shadow day is stats. Appropriately enough, we're learning about different methods of tallying votes. Depending on which statistical method you use, the same election with the same voter choices could produce three different winners. Whoa. For instance, the Borda method... wait, what was the Borda method again? I think I was drifting for just a moment. I wish the teacher would repeat the definition or that I had one of the handouts. Does that make me a slacker? Probably not. Instead, it's a good reminder for me as a teacher to scaffold my instruction with multiple input channels (e.g. visual, auditory, etc.) and to spiral material so that students who miss something the first go-round can catch it the next time. (For the record, Ms. Webb was spiraling and scaffolding, but for obvious reasons, I had missed the previous lessons.)
I thoroughly enjoy Ms. Bounds' history class. She is dynamic and friendly, and we're learning about the Mexican-American War. I didn't know that General Zachary Taylor brought an army to the doorstep of Mexico City. At the end of class, the students say I can't keep my coffee—no outside food or drink in the building! Reluctantly, I drop it into the trash on the way to my next class.
When we walk by Dr. Freer on the way to lunch, he yells for Dean Thomas to inspect my shaving job. Definitely not up to standards. Thankfully, Dean Thomas must have been busy with someone else because I don't get any hours.
We get lunch in the cafeteria, but we don't eat there. August says the lounge is less hectic, and he's right. Woodward's long lunch is great. It gives enough time to walk to the lounge, enjoy lunch, and talk with other students before going back to tutorial or class.
Our last class of the day is writer's workshop. This is one of those classes I've heard of but have no clear picture or understanding of. Ms. Ratliff reviews exercises for some of the finer points of grammar and mechanics and teaches a handy structure for research papers. I enjoy drafting an imaginary research paper introduction on German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Ms. Ratliff's outline definitely makes it easier.
Then we're done, and I thank August for being such a gracious host for the day. It's been a day like no other I've ever had at Woodward. Maybe I can incorporate Ms. Webb's statistical concepts into an upcoming unit on the German electoral system, or borrow from Ms. Ratliff's research paper outline for writing assignments. That way, students taking German will reinforce useful skills in other disciplines at the same time. Most importantly, I've gained a clearer understanding of the student experience at Woodward. I hope that will make me a more empathetic teacher and leader.
Ben Shivers teaches German 1, 2, 3, and 4 at Woodward Academy. In 2016-2017, Mr. Shivers also will teach the addition of AP German.
Mr. Shivers offers his thanks to Upper School Debate Director Maggie Berthiaume, who pioneered a similar shadow a student project two years ago. He also thanks Assistant Principal Dr. Jonathan Merrill who suggested a shadowing program to the Upper School Innovation Team and made the shadowing experience possible.
For more on Mr. Shivers' experience shadowing, review his tweets from the day @benshivers.