Pleasant Hills teachers are students for a day to remember what it's like
Sitting behind eighth-grade students Julia Horvitz and Mikayla Horick, both 13, in a social studies class, science teacher Christina Becker reacts to a student's attempt at reading the news like a "town crier."
Melissa Gambino, right, a science teacher at Pleasant Hills Middle School, sits Wednesday with sixth-grade students in gym class == from left, Kaley Kuzma, Morgan Newton and Sierra Henning, all 11.
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On a normal school day, Pleasant Hills Middle School teacher Jim Benedict would be teaching science to students during first period.
But on Wednesday, he started his day belting out holiday songs in choir class, where students were preparing for a concert.
"I don't know if everybody else appreciated my voice, but I was really singing," Mr. Benedict said.
From the robust choir practice, Mr. Benedict went to a more sedate language arts class where he worked on verb phrases and then to a reading class where the topic was the Great Depression and the national recovery, and then it was time for lunch at 10:30 a.m.
Mr. Benedict was participating in the "Day in the Life" program created by Pleasant Hills principal Daniel Como, who said he thought it was important for teachers "to remember what it is like to be a middle school student."
"Our [West Jefferson Hills] district mission statement is that students are the primary focus, and I think this really fits right in with that," Mr. Como said.
So from last week through Thursday, teachers in groups created by subject matter are choosing a student from one of their classes to follow through a daily schedule. On Tuesday social studies teachers followed students, on Wednesday science teachers participated and Thursday math teachers attended class.
The district is paying for substitute teachers to take over classes for the regular teachers during the program.
While Mr. Benedict was singing away his first period, his colleague Melissa Gambino was doing push-ups and sit-ups, running dashes across the gym and playing badminton in physical education class.
"I'm really excited for this opportunity to see what my students do before and after they are with me," said Mrs. Gambino, also a science teacher.
Later, she admitted she was embarrassed when she showed up for reading class without a pencil, an offense for which she normally scolds students.
"I tell them they should come prepared," she said. "Now I know how they feel when I say, 'How can you come without a pencil?' "
Another teacher without a pencil was Christina Becker, who whispered to other students in algebra class until she was able to borrow one. When a set of equations was posted for students at the beginning of class, Mrs. Becker asked if she could use her cell phone calculator.
"No cell phones," was the response.
So she borrowed a calculator from another student. She was able to finish the work just before math teacher David Hiller was preparing to call on students for answers.
Mrs. Becker confided to the students sitting near her: "I'm nervous, I think I got them but I'm not sure."
Twice, Mrs. Becker was called to the whiteboard with other students to solve equations, and both times her answers were correct, though her methods were questioned by Mr. Hiller.
Mrs. Becker said she expects the experience will make her a more understanding teacher.
"Just the fact that the kids are scrambling from one class to another through the day and losing things. I would maybe be a little bit more understanding of the fact that there are a lot of requirements for the kids in each of those subject areas and be a little bit more understanding if they don't have everything they need for science class," Mrs. Becker said.
The teachers who participated said the exercise opened their eyes to the experiences of their students.
"I think it makes you remember what you went through as kids. You see it through their eyes," Mr. Benedict said. He said singing in choir class made him remember what it was like to put himself on the line in front of other students.
Mr. Benedict and other teachers said it was interesting to see how students react differently to different teachers. "You can certainly see their likes and dislikes by the way they react and participate in the different classes," he said. He found that some students who are quiet in his science classes are outspoken in other classes.
Robert Kerr, a social studies teacher who traveled a student schedule Tuesday, said the experience made him realize how long a student's day is.
"It's a long day, and if a kid has multiple tests it could be a really long day," Mr. Kerr said.
Other teachers said the long day made them think about the way they conduct classes at different times of the day.
"We take it for granted that you are ready for science class when you come in, but they are also pulling in some frustrations or other experiences into the class," Mr. Benedict said.
As the teachers-turned-students walked through the halls between classes, they had to fight the urge not to correct students for loud behavior or moving too slowly or too quickly through the halls.
Mr. Benedict said he had fun greeting students but refrained from getting too rowdy.
"I don't want to find myself in the office," he said.
First Published October 13, 2012 12:00 am