Not too long ago, third grade teacher Kyle Schwartz shared a classroom experience on Twitter. She had her students complete the sentence, “I wish my teacher knew…” Some of the responses were simple, like “I wish my teacher knew I liked nachos.” Others, however, were heartbreaking and helped this teacher learn about what her students thought about school, dealt with at home, and needed in their lives. And by sharing this experience with other educators, Ms. Schwartz opened the door for more communication and empathy between teachers, students, and families.
In I Wish My Teacher Knew: How One Question Can Change Everything for Our Kids (which I read courtesy of NetGalley), Schwartz further explores this experience and expands on what it helped her discover about students’ lives…and how she–and other educators–can work to make sure students receive the emotional, physical, financial, social, and academic supports they need to become motivated, engaged learners.
While much of this book falls into the realm of “best practices,” it does shine a light on things that many educators–myself included–may not always realize. For instance, sometimes we may think that all of our students are well-fed, have sufficient school supplies, or have adults at home that are willing and able to assist with homework, read bedtime stories, sign permission forms, or pack a school lunch. In too many instances, that’s just not the case. Some of our students aren’t having their most basic needs met. They may be living in horrible situations that we can’t even fathom. Learning may actually be the last thing on their minds. As educators, we may realize this on a basic level, but how can we learn what our students need (without grilling them and doing even more harm) so that we can being working to help them overcome these obstacles to meaningful learning?
In I Wish My Teacher Knew, Schwarts discusses issues like poverty, trauma, family dynamics, and many more, and she provides ideas and tools that teachers can use to address these issues head-on. Educators may not always be able to “fix” the problems students are facing, but we can let them know that they have allies in their teachers and other educators. We’re on their side, and, even on the worst days, we want them all to succeed.
The class experience that prompted this book is a good starting point for opening the lines of communication and establishing connections between students and teachers. It allows students to see that teachers really do care what they think, and it gives teachers a glimpse into their students’ lives. That’s no small thing.
I think this book is a great read for any educator, particularly as we get ready to start a new school year. It could lead to a greater sense of community and empathy within classrooms, schools, and entire school districts. It reminds all of us that we should be in the business of teaching students, not subjects. Even with states’ emphasis on standardized test scores (which is a whole other issue that I’ll save for another day), educators need to remember that our focus is the kids we serve, no matter what they bring into the classroom with them. If we can do that, everything else will fall into place.