As a new teacher at Doull Elementary School in Denver, Kyle Schwartz devised a simple way to get to know her third graders, many of whom came from underprivileged homes. She asked them to complete the sentence “I wish my teacher knew …”
Their honest responses gave the teacher a glimpse into her students’ struggles. “I wish my teacher knew sometimes my reading log is not signed because my mom is not around a lot,” wrote one student. “I wish my teacher knew how much I miss my dad. He was deported to Mexico when I was three years old,” wrote another.
One note that particularly stuck with Kyle was “I wish my teacher knew I don’t have pencils at home to do my homework.”
That’s the one she posted to Twitter in March with the caption “Reality check” and the hashtag #IWishMyTeacherKnew. Over the next few months, tweets from eager teachers poured in.
“My students are silent as they write #IWishMyTeacherKnew letters to me,” wrote a teacher from Australia. “I’m nervous to read them.”
Other professionals followed suit. Vice Adm. William Lee of the U.S. Coast Guard held an “I wish my admiral knew …” session. A counselor of adolescents in Tennessee tried “I wish my therapist knew …” Advocacy groups used the prompt to shed light on how people cope with disease (“I wish people knew that diabetes …”).
“The results have been shocking,” says Kyle of the overwhelming response to her idea. “It speaks to the importance of giving other people a voice and really listening to them.”