I recently read a piece in the New York Times about Kyle Schwartz, a Denver-based teacher who began asking her students to complete the following sentence: I wish my teacher knew… The responses were astounding, heartbreaking, inspiring, and enlightening. They gave Ms. Schwartz new insights into her students’ challenges and motivations. One student wrote: I wish my teacher knew I don’t have pencils to do my homework. Another wrote, I wish my teacher knew I really want to learn more about history.
Reading this article reminded me of some of the conversations I’ve had over the years with the young people in our program. I remember sitting with Rafael one afternoon as he told me that his father had given him an ultimatum a few days earlier – to quit school and come work in the fields or leave the family home forever. He looked me square in the eyes and said, “I love my father but I am now living in the home of my aunt and intend to complete my high school education.” Our Community Facilitators sprang into action, meeting with the father and making sure that Rafael had what he needed to complete his final semester of high school. I smiled when at the end of the school year I received an invitation to Rafael’s graduation celebration hosted by none other than his father.
At Reading Village, we believe that every teen has a unique and important story to share. There was Alicia who had not seen her father since she was 5 years old because he lives in America. And Daniel who was taunted by macho school mates because he was pursuing a degree to become a nurse. The more we understand their stories, the better we are able to support them in their development. We train our Community Facilitators to make sure every young person in our program feels seen, heard, and affirmed.
Ms. Schwartz’ new book, entitled I Wish My Teacher Knew is a great reminder of a simple yet too often overlooked truth – that we must actively inquire into the realities of the kids with whom we work so that we can give them what they need to thrive.
By: Larry Dressler, Founding Board Member of Reading Village