I Wish My Teacher Knew started out as a classroom assignment gone viral. Teacher Kyle Schwartz, wanting to know her students better and teach them more effectively, handed out sheets to her third graders that said, “I wish my teacher knew _______” and the responses she got were fascinating, ranging from the mundane (“I wish my teacher knew I want to learn more about history” or “that I’m smarter than they think I am”) to the profoundly sad (“I wish my teacher knew that my dad died this year and I feel more alone than ever before” or “that I’ve been without a home three different times this year”). She shared her students’ responses anonymously on Twitter, and the assignment caught on around the country and the world, with other teachers finding out things their students wished they knew and sharing the surprising results.
In the book, Schwartz delves into the hard topics that teachers have to grapple with in the classroom: poverty, family troubles, food insecurity, grief and loss, and the whole gamut of human experience that is represented in an average public school classroom. She has – if you’ll pardon the phrase – done her homework. The book isn’t just about her students’ responses (although more examples of those would have been welcome, in addition to the ones sprinkled throughout the text and on the cover), she has also consulted experts on child development and education, many of whom write guest essays that are included throughout the book, making I Wish My Teacher Knew a well-researched compendium of expert advice for teachers.
Any teacher, whether just starting out or a veteran of many decades, will find something helpful in this book. In the chapter “Welcomes and Farewells,” Schwartz has wonderful tips on how to make new students feel welcome, as well as dealing with kids’ grief when their friends have to move away. She discusses her “Daily CQC,” which stands for celebrations, questions, and concerns, where she provides a space for students to be listened to. She has age-appropriate answers for students’ questions about death, and how to help deal with the death of one of their fellow classmates. Her tips about calming activities for traumatized children can be applicable in many situations. Later chapters, particularly the one on character education, get a little too heavy on educator buzzwords, but overall the substance of the book is valuable.
The chapters on poverty and domestic violence have sad and eye-opening statistics, and will make you realize that when parents don’t or can’t address certain issues at home, it falls to teachers, making our public school teachers’ duties of care very difficult indeed. Schwartz is a believer in inclusiveness, because for children not being included or seeing themselves represented can be devastating, whereas inclusion (through using more inclusive language, or making activities accessible for all students) can be relatively easy and make a world of difference. Schwartz herself is from a middle-class East Coast family, and she examines her own privilege when discussing her low-income and minority students’ lives.
There are no easy solutions to the issues public school students and teachers face, but the compassion and wisdom Schwartz models in both this book and her classroom surely go a long way toward alleviating her kids’ struggles. For teachers and parents, I Wish My Teacher Knew could be an invaluable toolkit.
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