RelPhil Teachers Shadow Students for a Day

After finishing a chemistry test second period, Andrew Housiaux, Instructor and Chair of Philosophy and Religious Studies, took out his phone and started vlogging his experience. Like other teachers in his department, Housiaux became an Andover student for a day by following a student, in his case, Robert De Jesus ’20, to all of his classes.

“As a department, we all decided to shadow a student. We wanted to better understand what it was like to be a student here, and we thought a great way to do this would be to follow a student for their academic day,” wrote Housiaux in an email to The Phillipian.

Kurt Prescott, Instructor in Philosophy and Religious Studies, said there is a drastic difference between simply looking at a student’s schedule and actually shadowing the student’s experience.

“I think that even though we were all students at one point, it’s really easy to forget what it is like to be a student… I think that the reality is that, as teachers, we’re tasking our students with doing certain things, and in order to understand how those impact our students individually, we need to have a better sense as to how that fits within the whole,” said Prescott.

Prescott completed his shadow day last May at Andover as a part of an assignment through the Klingenstein Summer Institute at the Columbia University Teachers College. From his shadow day, Prescott learned from both teachers and students and even began to implement new teaching methods into his own classes.

“When visiting the Astronomy Research course, I was immediately struck by the level of student autonomy on display in the classroom. Despite the fact that there was no prescribed agenda for that particular class meeting, each student knew exactly what they were supposed to be doing at that point in time. It was a different sort of engagement than I had encountered previously, and it was one that students had bought into,” wrote Prescott in an email to The Phillipian.

Prescott also started to model his course on monotheism around more project based-learning after seeing it at work in the Astronomy Research class.

As a new faculty member, Kiran Bhardwaj, Instructor in Philosophy and Religious Studies, shadowed Ishaan Mundra ’20 in October. According to Bhardwaj, she saw the shadow day as a good time to reflect and empathize with students. She also noted the drastic differences between the lives of teachers and students at Andover, and how these discrepancies can greatly contribute to one’s perspective of the school.

“Your life going through the world at Andover is really different than my life going through the world at Andover. You walk from class to class, I stay in the same place. You’re sitting most of the time [in class], while I’ll be moving around and pacing. So I think it’s just generally helpful to be able to think about the pace of life and what it looks like from a student’s eye view… It’s been a long time since I’ve been a high schooler… It’s just a nice reminder, even for teachers who are really good at their craft,” said Bhardwaj.

He continued, “I was tired by the end of the day, and I didn’t even follow [Mundra] to sports or after school activities or anything along those lines. You have my sympathies. You’re all amazing at what you do.”

According to De Jesus, shadow days are a great way for teachers to gain a better understanding of students’ lives.

“I think it’s a great experience, and I think it’s important for teachers to understand the things that every student goes through every day and the stress and what goes on in the classroom, how we interpret it, and how we understand what’s going on while [living] at Andover,” said De Jesus.

Housiaux was especially struck with his experience in Rob’s advising period.

“[Terrell Ivory, Assistant Director of Admissions], is Rob’s advisor, and he had us write and reflect and talk to each other. It was clear that there was a warm community in that advising group, and I valued it a lot. It made me wonder how we might provide more opportunities for students to reflect and build community in that kind of low-pressure setting,” Housiaux wrote.

Both Prescott and Bhardwaj were surprised to find out what students did during conference period. For teachers, it’s a time for students to get help and ask questions, but many are unsure of what students do when they’re not going to conference.

“I was not expecting how useful conference period is is as a block of free time. So on my end, I view it as this is the time when students come talk to me… But the reality is that not every student needs to use conference period to go meet with teachers. To have forty minutes of unstructured time in the morning I think is really important, one because it gives students a break from just going from class to class to class to class,” said Prescott.

Bhardwaj said, “Of course, the students who go to conference are going to conference et cetera, but you all go to [Paresky Commons]. I never thought about it until I was following Ishaan around, and we went to commons. We got coffee. Things like that, thinking about the pace and the rhythm of the school day for you all, it was really helpful.”

Mundra said that he thinks all teachers should try to shadow students.

“Often teachers have one opinion of how students feel during the day, but they don’t have the whole perspective. Teachers could even use the information they learn during the day and incorporate it into their teaching styles,” wrote Mundra in an email to The Phillipian.

In the future, Prescott has another shadow day planned for February, and Bhardwaj has made it a goal to go through at least one shadow day every year.

Prescott said, “Part of it is just recognizing that there are almost twelve hundred students here who all have very different experiences of this place, so shadowing one student is going to give me one snapshot. Another one’s going to give me a very different perspective.”