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“I Wish My Teacher Knew” Class Assignment Reveals the Heartbreaking Realities of Students’ Lives

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Kyle Schwartz was having trouble understanding her third grade students, many of whom were living below the poverty level, so she decided to ask them in an incredibly creative way. In 2011, during her first year in teaching at Doull Elementary School in Denver, Colorado, she handed them a piece of paper and asked them to finish the sentence, “I wish my teacher knew …” The answers she received were so eye-opening that they started a movement, and eventually, she turned them into a book.

“I was searching for a way to connect with my students and understand the realities they were experiencing,” Schwartz tells Babble.

“Instead of making assumptions about them, I decided to invite students to tell me what I needed to know.”

The kids could respond anonymously or with their names to the question, and surprisingly, most of them opted for the latter.

Initially she started sharing the responses on social media with the hashtag #IWishMyTeacherKnew, which quickly went viral. Here are just a few of the emotionally charged responses she received to the seemingly simple question:

Image Source: Kate Schwartz via Twitter
Image Source: Kyle Schwartz via Twitter
Tweet2
Image Source: Kyle Schwartz via Twitter
Tweet3
Image Source: Kyle Schwartz via Twitter

Other teacher’s started sharing their students’ responses, as well. What started as a simple classroom assignment has transformed into a lesson in sociology, and is totally changing the game of education and how we understand children.

“The biggest lesson that I learned from this was how important it is to listen to students’ voices in the classroom. Too often students aren’t considered experts in their own education. Adults in schools have just as much to learn from the children we teach.”

She believes that the project has not only helped teachers understand students, but has also impacted the way kids see each other.

“The notes my students have written served to inform me of a situation or circumstance a child was dealing with. But, there has been another aspect to the lesson,” she continues.

“When students began sharing what they wrote with each other, it became an incredible exercise in compassion and empathy. The kids in my class really did seek to understand where the other students were coming from. After the notes were shared, students began to see themselves as advocates. Even though my students are 8 and 9 years old, they understand that they are speaking for so many kids just like them. It has been so empowering. “

Her book, aptly titled I Wish My Teacher Knew: How One Question Can Change Everything for Our Kids was published in July 2016 and is already a #1 best seller on Amazon. Here’s a peek at a few of the notes you’ll see in this new book:

Image Source: I Wish My Teacher Knew: How One Question Can Change Everything for Our Kids by Kyle Schwartz
Image Source: I Wish My Teacher Knew: How One Question Can Change Everything for Our Kids by Kyle Schwartz
Image Source: I Wish My Teacher Knew: How One Question Can Change Everything for Our Kids by Kyle Schwartz
Image Source: I Wish My Teacher Knew: How One Question Can Change Everything for Our Kids by Kyle Schwartz
Image Source: I Wish My Teacher Knew: How One Question Can Change Everything for Our Kids by Kyle Schwartz
Image Source: I Wish My Teacher Knew: How One Question Can Change Everything for Our Kids by Kyle Schwartz
Image Source: I Wish My Teacher Knew: How One Question Can Change Everything for Our Kids by Kyle Schwartz
Image Source: I Wish My Teacher Knew: How One Question Can Change Everything for Our Kids by Kyle Schwartz
Image Source: I Wish My Teacher Knew: How One Question Can Change Everything for Our Kids by Kyle Schwartz
Image Source: I Wish My Teacher Knew: How One Question Can Change Everything for Our Kids by Kyle Schwartz
Image Source: I Wish My Teacher Knew: How One Question Can Change Everything for Our Kids by Kyle Schwartz
Image Source: I Wish My Teacher Knew: How One Question Can Change Everything for Our Kids by Kyle Schwartz

“I really want families to know how intentional teachers are about creating a sense of community and creating relationships with kids,” Schwartz told The New York Times.

“Kids don’t learn when they don’t feel safe or valued.”

I think what all of us can learn from Ms. Schwartz is that there is a lot we too can learn from our children, just by asking them instead of assuming. Giving kids the opportunity to be open and honest is the key to understanding and emphasizing with them, and therefore, being able to teach — or parent them — accordingly.

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