After sharing how her students completed a sentence, third grade teacher Kyle Schwartz created a movement.
About five years ago, Schwartz asked her Doull Elementary class to fill in the blank: “I wish my teacher knew ______.”
Her students’ answers shocked her. She shared some notes on Twitter.
One read: “I wish my teacher knew how much I miss my dad because he got deported to Mexico when I was 3 years old and I haven’t seen him in 6 years.”
Another read: “I wish my teacher knew sometimes my reading log is not signed because my mom is not around a lot.”
Others talked about having no friends, being bullied and lacking school supplies at home. The exercise taught the teacher something.
"When students feel like they have a voice, that they're heard, they're really more open,” she told KUSA last year. “They're more able to take risks in school."
The majority Schwartz's students live close to or below the poverty line and 50% are learning English at school, she said. About 44% of children in America live in low-income families, according to the National Center for Children in Poverty.
When Schwartz started sharing the notes two years ago, people responded – teachers, parents, child advocates and more. Instructors, even one working with Syrian refugees in Greece, began implementing the exercise in their own classrooms. Many share responses using the hashtag #iwishmyteacherknew.
“In my classroom, I can impact 30 students,” Schwartz said. “When I share, I can impact classrooms around the world.” Schwartz told USA TODAY.
In July, Schwartz published I Wish My Teacher Knew, a teacher's guide to address poverty, grief and home life in the classroom. The book is full of student notes and stories, as well as Schwartz's experiences and research on child poverty. Each chapter includes "teacher tools — actionable steps that teachers can take in their classrooms to make change," Schwartz said.
These include having a food drawer with granola bars available to students who might be hungry and creating a memory book with students grieving a loss.
"My students are very aware that their notes are being a powerful force for advocacy," Schwartz said. "They know they are speaking up for kids who aren’t always listened to. That’s been a beautiful thing."