What kids wish their teachers knew | Kyle Schwartz | TEDxKyoto

What kids wish their teachers knew | Kyle Schwartz | TEDxKyoto

November 17, 2019 100 By Stanley Isaacs


Translator: Kanako Miyabayashi
Reviewer: Peter van de Ven One evening, after a long day
of teaching eight-year-olds at my Denver elementary school, I found a crumpled
orange piece of paper in my kitchen. And as I unfolded it, I noticed that it was a note
that a student had written to me. And as I read the shaky handwriting, I felt the same twinge of pain
as the first time I had read those words. The note said, “I wish my teacher knew I don’t have pencils at home
to do my homework.” Now that student, she’d written those words to me in response to a lesson
I’d been doing in my classroom where I asked students a question
and I invited them to respond. But I’ve been doing this
for years in my classroom and never told anyone. But this time, when I saw those words,
I saw something worth sharing. And I took a picture of the note,
and I put it on my new Twitter account, and I hoped that other educators
would ask their students the same beautifully simple question: “What do you wish your teacher knew?” Now, right away, teachers saw the note,
and they asked their students, and then more teachers saw it,
and more people asked their students, and as it went viral, it transformed. It became much bigger than just
sharing a simple lesson in my classroom. My students’ voices were amplified, and they became powerful advocates
for their community. And in this way,
we swapped our traditional roles, and my students became the ones
with something to teach – that is, if we are willing to listen. You see, in the five years that I’ve done
this lesson with students, the students in my classroom
have come and gone, but I’ve noticed three distinct lessons
that they’ve taught me. And as we look at notes
from my students and other students, I hope you learn those same three lessons. The lesson of connection, the lesson of complexity, and the lesson of reflection. Now, first of all, students really wish we knew
just how deeply they crave connection. Like this note that says, “I wish my teacher knew I love my family.” You see, no matter where you are in the world, your family is always your first
and your most important teacher. And our schools can harness
the power of this by creating strong partnerships
between our families and our schools. And then there’s this note that says, “I wish my teacher knew
I want to learn more about history.” You see, we all have curiosities. Isn’t that why you are here today? We are more productive and fulfilled
when we follow them. That’s why I view it
as my role as a teacher to recognize and cultivate
my students’ passions, and connect what we’re doing in school
to what they actually care about. Well, this next note,
we can all too easily relate to. It says, “I wish my teacher knew
I don’t have a friend to play with me.” You see, those words, they touch
a special place in our hearts because we all know
what loneliness feels like. And the truth is, what we value most – more than wealth,
more than success – is connection. And if we agree on that, then shouldn’t the priorities of school include helping students
build and maintain relationships? Because a student that’s connected
is a student that can learn. Well, those notes, they share with us the universal joys
and growing pains of childhood, but there’s another lesson. You see, our students really wish
you knew just how complex their lives are. You see, there are students
who are struggling with things just as real and complicated
as we adults are. This note says, “I wish my teacher knew
that my dad died this year, and I feel more alone and disconnected
from my peers than ever before.” There’s this note that says, “I wish my teacher knew, my mom
might get diagnosed with cancer this week, and I’ve been without a home
three times this year alone.” Imagine. These kids sitting in our classroom, their heads are full with ideas much more complicated
than solving a math problem. And maybe, maybe
you’ve been that kid before. Maybe there’s been a moment in your life where your world
overshadowed the day’s lesson. Yes, we all have difficult times, but when children do, it affects their learning
and their development. And as much as we wish we could, we can’t prevent every tragedy
in a child’s life, but we can make our schools
soft places to land, places where kids feel safe
and cared about and valued. And that happens when our students,
they know that they can bring in their celebrations, their questions,
and their concerns. It happened in my class
in the middle of a reading lesson when a little girl raised her hand and as earnestly as she could,
she said, “Can cancer kill you? Because my grandma has cancer, and
I want to know if she is going to die.” See, when I heard those words,
I stopped everything, but that doesn’t mean I stopped teaching. I took the time to listen to her, and I answered her questions
as directly and as honestly as I could. And there was a powerful lesson that day when she realized her whole class
would be there for her no matter what. Because in a complex world, compassion
and empathy are powerful teachers. Well, there’s a third lesson, and that’s the lesson of reflection. You see, children have the remarkable ability
to reflect the truth about our society, and in doing so, they can make
our world a better place. There’s this note that says, “I wish my teacher knew
that my family and I live in a shelter.” And this one says, “I wish my teacher knew
how much I miss my dad because he got deported to Mexico
when I was three years old, and I haven’t seen him in six years.” This note says, “I wish my teacher knew I’m not going
to college, because I cannot afford it.” You see, when social and political issues, like housing insecurity,
like broken immigration systems, and access to education, when those come in the form
of a statistic or a political-attack ad, most of us can remain
comfortably disconnected. But in seeing those words, suddenly, those complex issues,
they become painfully personal because we view them
through a child’s lived experience. Which means it’s our job to invite the voices of our most innocent
and our most vulnerable because they can really show us
how to improve our society. And if we’re listening to them, if we’re listening, our children can tell us exactly how they are impacted
by the decisions that we adults make. They can remind us that
when we fail to solve societal issues, it is our children who pay the price. And I know from my own classroom, the cost of those failures is often paid for
with a child’s education. You see, these notes, they demand that we acknowledge
and challenge the inequitable systems that threaten to overshadow
our students’ assets and talents. Because a community
that is reflective is powerful. You see, on one level, these notes
they can help a teacher, like myself, better understand the realities
that their students are going through. But on whole other level, these notes can be a powerful tool in teaching us just how essential
community is in education. You see, as a teacher,
I know my role is to build community. The work of teaching
is relationship building because we are not teaching subjects, we are teaching students. And the great news
is we don’t have to choose. We don’t have to choose
between academics and social development. We don’t have to choose
between achievement and human connection. The beautiful truth is that each are deeply
dependent on each other. And we can honour this duality by creating
relationship-centered classrooms where we stop thinking
of developing a child’s character as a nice complement
to the academic goals of school, and we start, we start thinking
of developing the whole child – emotionally, socially, intellectually –
as the requirement for learning. We can do that by giving
our students our unrelenting empathy and our indestructible faith. So, let us view our students
with a new lens. Let us see our schools in a new light. Because the goal of education
is not merely the passing on of knowledge; the goal of education is the holistic development
of each of our students. And that, that is what our students
really wish we knew. Thank you.