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Commentary: I wish my teacher knew...

Kyle Schwartz is a third-grade teacher at Doull Elementary in Denver who wanted to get to know her students better, so she asked each of them to finish the sentence, "I wish my teacher knew..." The responses she got were so startling that Schwartz, now in her fifth year of teaching, put them in a book, "I Wish My Teacher Knew: How One Question Can Change Everything For Our Kids." Other teachers are now doing the same thing. The answers that kids give help the teachers to understand what they are going through, enabling the teachers to support them and help them cope.

Here are some of the answers:

... "that my family and I live in a shelter."

... "I don't have pencils at home to do my homework."

... "that my dad works two jobs and I don't see him much."

... "sometimes my reading log isn't signed because my mother isn't around a lot."

... "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 six years."

... "I don't have a friend to play with me."

... "we are low on money and we have to go to a food bank to get food."

... "how it feels like when the class picks on me. I hate that."

... "she is like a mom to me. I don't get to see my breath (birth) mom a lot."

... "that I want to go to college."

... "I want her to notice me."

... "that he's a good teacher."

... "the reason I laugh and talk a lot in class is because school is really the only place I can be happy."

... "I'm smarter than she thinks I am."

... "I'm quiet. The teacher should smile a lot because her smile makes days go better."

... "that I'm not very good at school and my brain doesn't work like all the other brains and that makes me sad."

... "that my parents fight all the time and my dad barely utters one word to me."

... "she gives too much homework in math."

... "that I get bullied on the bus and it makes me feel sad."

... "I wish my teacher knew how to do a backflip."

The answers prove how much kids need to be noticed, understood, appreciated, cared-for and have their individual circumstances considered. God bless the teachers who care.

What Kyle Schwartz demonstrated with her third graders should not be limited to third graders only. Not only could the exercise be productive for students in any other grade, but the technique could be employed to open the channels of communication in many other situations.

For example, in employer-employee relationships, each employee could be invited to complete this sentence: "I wish my boss/supervisor knew..." Now admittedly, there would need to be certain limitations and understandings. No thin-skinned supervisor would dare ask for suggestions. And no employee could be penalized for a critical comment. Nevertheless, if an employer earnestly wanted to learn what the employees were thinking and welcomed comments and suggestions, some good ideas might just be waiting to be invited.

It would work in families too. Maybe it shouldn't be necessary to make a project of it, but many things are not said or encouraged to be said in families without a nudge or suggestion. So, the following sentences could invite the beginning of a new dialogue:

• I wish my mother knew...

• I wish my dad knew...

• I wish my brother(s)/sister(s) knew...

• I wish my husband/wife knew...

• I wish my mother-in-law/father-in-law knew...

• I wish my grandparents/grandchildren knew...

The results could be eye opening. I can imagine a conversation like this: "I never knew you felt that way." − "Well, you never asked before. I didn't know you even cared."

There's always the chance for a negative answer that hurts feelings or makes things worse, but how do we move forward in a relationship without taking risks? Even if the inquiry isn't productive, it shows that we care. And don't we all want to know that somebody cares?