‘I wish my teacher knew…’; Speaker challenges teachers, staff to create meaningful connections with students

Kyle Schwartz, third-grade teacher and author of "I Wish My Teacher Knew: How One Question Can Change Everything for Our Kids," speaks during Iron County School District staff meeting at Canyon View High School, Cedar City, Utah, Aug. 9, 2018 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

CEDAR CITY — As they prepare to embark on the start of a new school year, Iron County School District teachers and staff were challenged Thursday to focus on the theme “Every Child, Every Day … Whatever it Takes.”

Kyle Schwartz, a third-grade public school teacher in the Denver area and author of the book “I Wish My Teacher Knew: How One Question Can Change Everything for Our Kids,” was the featured keynote speaker at Thursday morning’s district-wide meeting at Canyon View High School.

Kyle Schwartz shares some sobering statistics during her presentation at Iron County School District staff meeting at Canyon View High School, Cedar City, Utah, Aug. 9, 2018 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

During her nearly 60-minute presentation, Schwartz shared various examples from students who had completed the sentence “I wish my teacher knew …”

Written on index cards and Post-it notes, the candid responses ranged from funny to heartbreaking. Among them were the following:

  • “I wish my teacher knew that none of my friends from my last school are like the people I go to school with now.”
  • “I wish my teacher knew my family and I live in a shelter.”
  • “I don’t have pencils at home to do my homework.”

Schwartz’s simple but effective prompt soon caught on and spread like wildfire, with the hashtag #IWishMyTeacherKnew trending widely on social media sites. Her story ultimately received national and international attention and was covered by several major media outlets.

Schwartz said she’s received responses and feedback from various countries, ranging from Albania to Japan.

More than 500 copies of Kyle Schwartz’s book “I Wish My Teacher Knew: How One Question Can Change Everything for Our Kids” were handed out to district staff following Schwartz’s speech at Canyon View High School, Cedar City, Utah, Aug. 9, 2018 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

“There’s a universality to this,” she said, noting that the applications of “I Wish My Teacher Knew” extend beyond the realm of teaching.

She said she received a phone call one night from an unlisted number.

“When I answered it, it was a vice admiral of the United States Coast Guard,” she said. “My reaction was, ‘I’m sorry, sir, we don’t have any Coast Guard in Colorado.'”

The vice admiral replied that he’d recently tried the exercise with his own troops and was gratified by the results.

“He said, ‘I’ve learned so much from this and I won’t forget this,’” Schwartz recalled. “He said, ‘Young lady, leadership is listening.’”

In another example, Schwartz spoke of a teacher who conducted the exercise and received numerous responses from kids saying they were hungry.

“Because of that, he started a feeding program at his school and he feeds all the kids at his school breakfast,” she said.

Audience members stand and applaud at the conclusion of teacher Kyle Schwartz’s remarks during Iron County School District staff meeting at Canyon View High School, Cedar City, Utah, Aug. 9, 2018 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

Schwartz also shared anecdotes about teachers using the prompt to spur enlightening and meaningful classroom discussions on a wide range of topics, including cancer, homelessness, dyslexia and other disabilities.

“Relationships save lives,” Schwartz added. She said she recently received a message from a teacher of a middle-school student who’d written that she was considering suicide. Thanks to the teacher’s intervention, the student was able to receive help.

“That’s how critical our work is,” she said. “It gives us a chance to talk about what really matters.”

Schwartz said the idea can be used as a resource for teachers in many positive ways. She said:

There’s a lot of challenges for kids, but we need to focus on the resources that they have, too. They say things like, ‘I wish my teacher knew I want to learn more about history.’ We all have curiosity. We can use that in our classroom. They say things like, ‘I wish my teacher knew I love my family.’ It’s such a resource for us.

Ultimately, she said, teaching is about creating a sense of community in the classroom.

“Students crave connection,” she said, adding that research has shown the No. 1 indicator if students are going to like school is “if they feel like they belong there.”

“That’s what it’s all about. That’s why we’re here. That’s why you would do this at all, is to say, this is a class community. We are here for you. I am your teacher. If you have something to say, tell me,” she said. “If you’re open to them, if you provide this space, community space, you can support them.”

Iron County School District Superintendent Shannon Dulaney reads excerpt from Kyle Schwartz’s book “I Wish My Teacher Knew: How One Question Can Change Everything for Our Kids” during a district-wide staff meeting at Canyon View High School, Cedar City, Utah, Aug. 9, 2018 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

That responsibility extends to all school staff, not just classroom teachers, Schwartz said and shared anecdotes about principals, secretaries, counselors, lunch servers, janitors and other staff members striving to build positive relationships with students.

Iron County School District Superintendent Shannon Dulaney shared that sentiment during her brief remarks welcoming district employees to the meeting.

During her introduction of Schwartz, Dulaney read aloud a few excerpts from Schwartz’s book.

“’Each student brings a lifetime of memories, thoughts and feelings. As teachers, we need to honor this,’” Dulaney said, quoting Schwartz’s book. “I’m going to add anybody working in a school, our custodians, the lunch room, our secretaries, our maintenance. We need to honor this. We must recognize how these widely diverse experiences shape our students and impact their academic development.”

All of the district’s employees were given their own copy of the book after the meeting, with Schwartz having autographed all 530 copies.

Toward the end of Schwartz’s talk, she asked those in the audience to flip the question around and ponder the things they wished their students knew.

She then concluded with a message of encouragement.

“I am going to leave you in good hands. I know that there are some really, really hard-working people who value this work,” Schwartz said. “I’m taking back that ‘Every Child, Every Day’ with me, but I would just encourage you to know I wish you all know the difference that you can make for kids.”

Schwartz’s presentation was well-received; at the conclusion of her remarks, audience members stood and applauded.

Iron County School District’s school year begins Tuesday, Aug. 14.

Email: jrichards@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

 

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