With the holiday break coming to an end, students are bracing for the tough schedule that lies ahead. And it's not just the academic challenges they are preparing for, but also mundane ones like keeping up with constantly changing schedules and getting to classes in time. What if teachers could start the New Year by switching sides and experiencing what their students go through? That is exactly what some educators at Burr and Burton Academy, an independent high school in Manchester, Vermont, did and what they discovered, can only be described as eye opening.
The unusual swap idea suggested by students from the school's Tech Research class as a way to better the overall school experience, occurred in early 2013. Five teachers bravely volunteered to take on the Student for the day Challenge and see for themselves the hardships the kids faced every day.
Their life as students began the prior night, with homework. While some enjoyed it, Social Studies and Psychology teacher Dave Mirceli, was not as enthusiastic. This was not surprising given that he spent two hours doing the AP Calculus assignment only to discover the following day, that it was all wrong!
The school day was no better. While most thought getting in at 7.30 am was a luxury, it went downhill from there. First, there were the hard uncomfortable chairs that got even more so, as the day progressed. Then, there was the pressure of making it from one class to another within the allotted five minutes. The half-hour long lunch break that provided barely enough time to eat and almost none to socialize, did not make things any easier. Then there were the backpacks that got increasingly heavier as they rushed from one class to another. But worst of all was staying focused for the entire day. Most of them admitted that the 90-minute sessions, especially for subjects they did not enjoy, were excruciating to get through. All in all, though they had fun swapping for a day, none of the teachers seemed to want to repeat the experience.
It is not clear whether the realization of all the 'hardships' faced by the students led to any permanent changes but the teachers that participated all agreed that going forward, they would have more empathy for their students.
Though no other US school has followed Burr and Burton's lead, Stanford researcher Denise Pope who has personally shadowed high school students at over 100 institutions for her book - Doing School: How We Are Creating a Generation of Stressed Out, Materialistic, and Miseducated Students, is a strong proponent of the experiment. She believes it will help educators better understand the constant pressure the students are under and thinks that just a few minor tweaks could help make their overall school experience a lot better! Hopefully, more educators will decide to take up this challenge in 2014!