I Wish My Teacher Knew. How One Question Can Change Everything for Our Kids, by Kyle Schwartz
One day, the third-grade teacher at Dull Elementary in Denver –Kyle Schwartz, asked her students to “fill in the blank” in a very simple sentence:
“I wish my teacher knew _____.”
She asked all for he children to write down one thing they wanted to tell her, but wouldn’t normally in the classroom situation. The first note that Schwartz shared on Twitter was from a student who said they didn’t have pencils at home to do their homework.
Some of the answers were humorous, others were heartbreaking -all were profoundly moving and enlightening, and opened her eyes to the need for educators to understand the unique realities their students face everyday. It all started with one simple exercise: Ms. Schwartz asked a question…and she listened for the answer.
In a culture of distraction -where we are increasingly disconnected from the people and events around us, often unable to empathize with the realities people face- it’s easy to ignore that our schools are more segregated by race and socioeconomic status than they were before the civil rights movements.
For the first time in at least 50 years, a majority of U.S. public school students come from low-income families, according to the latest data collected from the states by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). The Southern Education Foundation reports that more than half of the children in our nation’s schools qualify to receive special education services. Today poverty and education are inextricably linked, and educators cannot shy away from this.
What would happen if we just ask -even the simplest question- and actually take the time to listen? What would happen if educators actively build communities and meaningful relationships with students?
Like Ms. Erin Gruwell -the Woodrow Wilson Classical High School teacher known for her unique teaching method, which led to the publication of The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them (1999) and also inspired the 2007 film Freedom Writers, starring Hilary Swank, Scott Glenn, Imelda Staunton and Patrick Dempsey.
When she was assigned low-performing students in the school, Ms. Gruwell had to face a class that seemed determined to make her life miserable. But behind those tough faces, she realized there was a burning need to be heard. By giving them composition books to record their diaries -in which they talk about their experiences of being abused, seeing their friends die, and being evicted- she gradually begins to earn their trust, and her students started to behave with respect.
The Freedom Writers journey began in 1994 in Long Beach, CA. With the use of Gruwell’s engaging teaching techniques, 100% of her students graduated from high school, and exceeded expectations by pursuing higher education and advanced degrees. In order to replicate the success she had with her students, Gruwell founded The Freedom Writers Foundation.
When Schwartz shared her experience online, #IWishMyTeacherKnew became an immediate worldwide viral phenomenon. All teachers want to support their students, and #iwishmyteacherknew was a powerful way to do that.
I Wish My Teacher Knew is a touching portrayal of a teacher who brings inspirations to the lives of students, and cares to build meaningful relationships by giving them a voice in her classroom. Because all it takes is someone who really cares!
They say I gotta learn, but nobody’s here to teach me.
If they can’t understand it, how can they reach me?
I guess they can’t, I guess they won’t, I guess they front.
That’s why I know my life is out of luck, fool!
– Gangsta Paradise, Coolio –