Sammy Nickalls
April 17, 2015 9:41 am

The best teachers aren’t just there to lecture, they’re there to listen.  This lesson was made perfectly clear thanks to Kyle Schwartz, a third grade teacher who launched an inspiring hashtag movement with a simple assignment.

Schwartz, who works at a Denver elementary school, is the woman behind the Twitter hashtag #IWishMyTeacherKnew, a viral statement that is simultaneously breaking our hearts and giving us hope.

Many of Schwartz’ students come from underprivileged homes. “Ninety-two percent of our students qualify for free and reduced lunch,” Schwartz told ABC News yesterday. “As a new teacher, I struggled to understand the reality of my students’ lives and how to best support them. I just felt like there was something I didn’t know about my students.”

So she decided to do something about it by creating a new lesson plan called “I Wish My Teacher Knew,” where she had her students write down something that Schwartz doesn’t know about their lives. The responses she received were honest, heartfelt, and at times, heartbreaking.

Moved by the messages she received and hoping to share her exercise with other teachers, Schwartz took to Twitter to post the notes, keeping them anonymous. Here are some of them:

“Some notes are heartbreaking like the first #iwishmyteacherknew tweet which read, ‘I wish my teacher knew I don’t have pencils at home to do my homework,'” she told ABC News. “I care deeply about each and every one of my students and I don’t want any of them to have to suffer the consequences of living in poverty, which is my main motivation for teaching.”

“I let students determine if they would like to answer anonymously,” she explained to ABC News. “I have found that most students are not only willing to include their name, but also enjoy sharing with the class. Even when what my students are sharing is sensitive in nature, most students want their classmates to know.

Schwartz inspired others to try the same with their students, who have taken to Twitter to share them as well.

“I think it caught on so fast because teachers are highly collaborative and freely share and explore resources,” Schwartz added. “In the end, all teachers want to support their students, and #iwishmyteacherknew is a simple and powerful way to do that.”

One teacher shared her student’s note, “#Iwishmyteacherknew that I try hard, but I’m stressed out.” Another shared, “#Iwishmyteacherknew it’s hard for me to sleep.” These are the kinds of messages that could help teachers learn more about their students’ needs and better understand what they’re going through.

The exercise has been even inspiring the kids to help each other out. “Building community in my classroom is a major goal of this lesson,” said Schwartz. “After one student shared that she had no one to play with at recess, the rest of the class chimed in and said, ‘we got your back.’ The next day during recess, I noticed she was playing with a group of girls. Not only can I support my students, but my students can support each other.”

The exercise has been even inspiring the kids to help each other out. “Building community in my classroom is a major goal of this lesson,” said Schwartz. “After one student shared that she had no one to play with at recess, the rest of the class chimed in and said, ‘we got your back.’ The next day during recess, I noticed she was playing with a group of girls. Not only can I support my students, but my students can support each other.”

Keeping an open dialogue between teachers and students is an essential and often overlooked aspect of communication, but #IWishMyTeacherKnew is out to change that. This movement is incredible for so many reasons: it shows how one teacher can make a huge impact, and also serves as a reminder that kids can teach us just as much as we can teach them.  We just have to listen.
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