Thursday, February 16, 2017

This One Day, In Sixth Grade...

Back in 1973, I started 6th grade at Guardian Angels School in Clawson, Michigan. My teacher was Miss Schaldenbrand, and I was the luckiest kid in the world. You see, she had been my 5th grade teacher, too, and because our class was so big, she moved up to 6th grade with us. Miss Schaldenbrand was the young, cool, hip teacher who actually listened to us, and took us on learning adventures outside of our classroom and school walls.

Yesterday, I spent the day shadowing a 6th grade student at Knapp Forest Elementary as part of the national Shadow a Student Challenge initiated by School Retool. The purpose is to develop empathy for students, and to drive action for improvement in our schools.

My host student (let's call her Phoebe) was so welcoming and included me in everything, even the bus ride to school:


My school did not have school buses, so in 6th grade, just like the years before, my mom drove us to school. Phoebe's mom actually works in the district, so she doesn't have to take the bus, but as she shared with me, "I love riding the bus!"

Well, that was a good thing, because once we got to KF, we didn't even get to go inside. We waited outside for another bus, one that would take us to the middle school for music. We had a little fun during the wait:

Thankfully, I had the right cold weather gear. Not as colorful as that of the other kids, but hey, at 54, I'm all about not freezing to death.

You might think that Phoebe plays the violin. Nope, one of her buddies had his violin out and played while we waited, and then let her take a try. This scene did not last long; we were asked to put the instruments away. In hindsight, perhaps not a good idea to be passing the violin around on a concrete area. In the moment, I was disappointed, and almost started with "why"? However, sensing that I had not yet acquired enough allies for a full-blown musical revolt, I bit my tongue.

Phoebe is a flute player, and really seemed to enjoy the moments of making music:

Once music was over, we boarded the bus and went back to KF. As we entered the classroom, it was like 1973 all over again: I was the luckiest kid in the world -- I was in Miss Kittridge's class. I say that with only a slight smirk on my face; the parallels between Miss Schaldenbrand and Miss Kittridge (as well as the other members of the 6th grade teaching team) are plentiful. 
[Side note: not so much between my principal, Sister Margaret Moran, and KF's Scott Haid.]
Miss Kittridge made me feel most welcome. I had my own desk, right next to Phoebe, and materials for Language Arts:

At this point, the 44 year gap in my 6th grade education became evident: I was not sitting in a row, and I was not in the back of the class because my last name begins with "W". I was in a quad, 
[Side note: would "squad" be appropriate here? Somewhere, my daughter just cringed.]
and when we lined up, I was #8.5 in line! No more last or near last (always grateful for the Zalenski family).

And we did line up pretty quickly -- it was time to go to Spanish. Hola -- didn't we just get here??? So, we went to Spanish. Here's a big change. We had no foreign language in my 6th grade. Well, except for the Latin we heard in our weekly school mass.  And of course, the pig Latin we all were fluent in. During Spanish, I had to use the restroom. I asked Phoebe where it was, and if I had to ask permission. Phoebe directed me to Senora Neely's handy poster ("Puedo ir al bano"), I raised my hand and tentatively uttered the words. Whether or not I was clear, she responded with "si." 

After Spanish, we headed back to Miss Kittridge's classroom. Finally, a little time to relax! We sat on the floor for read-aloud, and enjoyed a snack. I forgot my snack, but Phoebe graciously gave me a box of Nerds. We listened to Miss Kittridge read from So B. It, and just like my classmates, I was devastated when she stopped. I wanted to know more! But before she stopped for good, she did stop earlier, and let us process our learning with a partner. Such rich conversations! We then moved into Language Arts, and worked on finding evidence to support our third body paragraph in that great debate of whether school be year-round.

Next, it was time for Science. 
[Side note: the Nerds made me hungry. When is lunch? An hour from now???]
I appreciated that in making our individual brainstorming chart, Miss Kittridge gave us several choices. I got right down to work, and I also found myself giving Phoebe some ideas on our two big questions: 1) How does the world around us impact my daily life? and 2) How does my daily life impact the world around us? A few minutes in, my (s)quad mates complimented me on my nice printing. Take that, Mrs. Leinenberger.

We finished up Science, and it was time for lunch. Hooray! Seriously, hooray! I never went to a school with hot lunch. This was my time. Spicy chicken patty sandwich and baked tater tots. Yes! As we were going through the line, we got to the salad and vegetable bar. Phoebe clued me in: "you have to take a vegetable, but you don't have to eat it." Good to know. I chose carrots and cucumber slices. By the time I got to the table, serious eating was already in progress. See, the faster you eat, the more time you have outside for recess. Unsure if I even chewed, the food and chocolate milk were consumed by me. I also wondered if perhaps Phoebe needed a break from her shadow at this point. I offered to let she and her friends just do whatever at recess without me, and quicker than a 6th grader eats lunch, she said okay. I needed to massage my esophagus anyway.

After lunch, the rest of the day was spent in Mrs. Stiles' room for math and social studies. Phoebe told me that math is her favorite subject. She asked mine. I replied "sociaI studies." Phoebe and the others gave me the look. Apparently, one does not just say that in 6th grade. So I quickly added, "I like Language Arts, too!" Heads began nodding. I'm ok.

In math, I experienced our new math curriculum (CMP3), and for the first time in my life, really "talked" math with others. As my two partners and I grappled with questions around surface area and volume in rectangular prisms, I found myself using my hands to create a shape to help us talk about the formulas. Pretty darn cool.

As social studies started, Miss Boles brought her class in, for a joint review for the micro-entrepreneur test. After directions were given, we broke up into groups of 5. 
[Side note: why did it have to be economics? I'm a social studies teacher, but that is the one thing I never taught. Seriously? Throw me a bone here. Ahhh, looking at gender disparities in certain African countries. Now I have a shot at pulling my weight.]
Here is what our group came up with:

Each group presented some information to the large group. Time for a confession: I totally sprawled out on Mrs. Stiles' bean bags. Exhausted! Mrs. Stiles and Miss Boles took pictures of each group's board, and shared them on the 6th grade website so that everyone could study from all work. I'd like to think that if we had such technology back in 1973-74, Miss Schaldenbrand would have done the same. Perhaps not Sister Agnes, but you never know.

Oh my gosh. It's the end of the day. 
[Side note: Phoebe looks excited to go to her after school civic theatre activity. Me, I plan on begging a ride from Miss Kittridge to get back to my car so I can go home and collapse. If I take the bus (Phoebe tells me it's 45 minutes on the way home), I will slump to the floor and wake up at 2am in the bus garage.]

A big thank-you to Phoebe, her classmates, Miss Kittridge, Senora Neely, Mrs. Stiles, Miss Boles, Mr. Haid, and everyone else at KF who made this experience possible and awesome. I cannot wait to debrief with the other district-level administrators who shadowed in different schools, and then take next steps!

Join the conversation...
Did you or anyone in your school take the SAS Challenge this year? If yes, what did you learn? If not, what are you waiting for?


  1. Both my host student and my shadow day experience were amazing! I wish I would have taken more pictures, but I didn't know what the rules were about using cell phones in 6th grade, and I didn't want to get called out in front of the other kids. I learned that I actually can exercise in the morning, albeit against my better judgement, and that basketball drills haven't changed since 1976. I also learned that the large, wooden circle structure on a playground that looks and sounds like a cockfighting ring is really something called octoball. Wow, I need to get out more often :) And I also learned that I rely on Google much more than I realized. I was exhausted at the end of the day, but am so glad I took the SAS challenge!!

    1. Yeah, I only used my phone in strategic situations. Probably stretched it!

  2. Your day sounds like fun, and all the kids seem so good-natured! Clearly my college students didn't learn the drill in 6th grade because they always look at me like I'm from Mars when I ask them to partner up or work in groups!

  3. What a great experience for staff and students. We do have a lot to learn when we listen to and experience life through our students.