Five years ago, a teacher at Doull Elementary School in Denver found the perfect way to connect with her students. As part of a trust-building assignment, Kyle Schwartz asked her third graders to complete the sentence, “I wish my teacher knew …”
The responses were more powerful than Schwartz ever imagined. “I wish my teacher knew I don’t have pencils at home to do my homework,” wrote one child, while another revealed, “I wish my teacher knew sometimes my reading log is not signed, because my mom is not around a lot.” Some show hope for the future: “I wish my teacher knew that I want to go to college.”
Schwartz tells Us Weekly 90 percent of the student body qualifies for free or reduced-price lunch. “That means they are living below or very close to the federal poverty line,” she says. Which is why she was inspired to create the fill-in-the-blank exercise. “I wanted to know more about their lives and how I could better [support] them,” Schwartz explains. “Instead of making assumptions about them, I decided to let them tell me what I needed to know.”
Though the third graders are allowed to answer anonymously, most are willing to include their names. And some are even excited to read their notes out loud, like one shy girl who bravely shared that she was lonely. “There was a moment after she told the class, ‘I don’t have friends to play with me,’ where I worried what their reaction would be,” Schwartz tells Us. “I was encouraged to see how much support the other kids offered her. They invited her to play at recess and sat with her at lunch. Children have a remarkable capacity for empathy.”
In July, Schwartz published I Wish My Teacher Knew, which is full of handwritten student notes as well as research on child poverty. Schwartz also shares messages on Twitter using the hashtag #IWishMyTeacherKnew.
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