An Unexpected Gift

I had been striking out consistently in terms of students submitting asynchronous work. So, to increase the likelihood of students responding to the “I wish my teacher knew…” prompt, I made it a classroom activity. I classified it as “social-emotional learning” in case my principal asked what we were doing. Each student had their own document to open and submit in Google Classroom. I opened up the document I had created about myself and shared it with the class to provide an example of what I was looking for.

I wish my teacher knew that I am upside-down, topsy turvy. My parents fight all the time, my mom never smiles anymore and I want to stay with my grandma. I wish my teacher knew I have a hard time focusing when we are doing long division because I just think about what’s going on at home. I wish my teacher knew I stay up at night watching my little sister because she cries a lot. They call it “colic.” I wish there was a cure for colic so we could all get some sleep. I wish my teacher knew I love to read and write — that writing is my freedom and reading is my savior. I wish my teacher knew that my words never fail me, but I have learned that people you trust do.

I didn’t know what to expect, but I did know that I wasn’t getting much student engagement, we had collectively gone through 4 or 5 different curricular and schedule changes, and I was at the end of my rope. Why don’t I serve up a dose of stark honesty and vulnerability to the students? What do I have to lose?

There were a TON of questions — many more than I had anticipated or had time to answer. Did my parents split up? (Yes.) Did I ever manage to learn long division? (Yes!) What did I mean by “writing is my freedom?” (What do you think I meant by that?)

I had them HOOKED for the first time since the beginning of the school year! Then it was their turn to write. I gave them 10 minutes. I opened my latin jazz playlist and let the kids type. I didn’t check what they wrote until the end of the day. And wow… I had a lot to learn about my students. What did my kids want me to know about them?

  • They feel bad about themselves when they don’t know the answer to something.
  • They have experienced the death of a loved one from COVID and they don’t feel like themselves.
  • They are experiencing health issues (cancer, diabetes) and their quality of life feels “bad.”
  • They are going through puberty (and it sucks).
  • They feel like coronavirus has robbed them of all their milestones and joy.
  • They are bored.
  • They have nothing going on in life.
  • They love school.
  • They love math.
  • They are shy and don’t want to be called on.
  • They were born in different countries.
  • They love to be organized.
  • They have a lot of chores to do at home.
  • They help out with their family daycare business, so sometimes they have the camera and sound off because it’s loud.
  • That students have been hurt by many previous teachers and they are happy that this year they have a nice teacher.
  • They are learning a lot.

And SO much more!

My heart was so full… I could only read a few messages at a time. This was a good lesson for me. Our students have so much they want to share — we need only give them the opportunity. And now it’s my job to listen to what they have to say and create a classroom space that affords them the opportunity to thrive.


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