By Ellen Sturm Niz

"I wish my teacher knew sometimes my reading log is not signed because my mom is not around a lot."

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

"I wish my teacher knew 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 6 years."

Did you have to grab a tissue yet? I sure did.

These heartbreakingly honest notes were written by third-grade students at Doull Elementary School in Denver as part of a lesson plan created by their teacher Kyle Schwartz. As a new educator struggling to understand and support her students, many of whom come from underprivileged homes, Schwartz asked each student to jot down something they wanted her to know about them, starting with "I wish my teacher knew." While she told them their notes could be anonymous, most students wanted to share with the whole class.

Because of the amazing things she learned and the way it helped bring her class together, Schwartz then shared some of her students' notes on Twitter with the hashtag #IWishMyTeacherKnew, encouraging other teachers to try the lesson with their students. The hashtag soon went viral, with support and notes coming from around the world. Schwartz told ABC News she also hopes her lesson can help her connect students and their families with the resources they need.

As I read through the #IWishMyTeacherKnew notes from Schwartz's class and others, I was struck by how important it is for teachers to know their students as people and in the context of their lives. What kids are dealing with at home has such an immense effect on their ability to learn in the classroom and do their homework. We know that intellectually, of course, but it is powerful to be reminded of the real issues some children are facing.

So much of the conversation about education lately has focused on whether the Common Core standards are appropriate, or if the standardized tests are fair, but maybe we're overlooking the more basic issues that could really help students in the real world, right now. Perhaps the time and energy spent marching against the Common Core or talking about opting out of tests would be better spent focused on instituting a living wage, creating affordable childcare, increasing parental leave benefits, or reforming immigration laws. Then children's home lives could provide the foundation they truly need to succeed in school and get the education they deserve.

My hat's off to Kyle Schwartz. Thank you for caring enough about your students to learn about them and how you can really help them. The world needs even more people like you!

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Ellen Sturm Niz is a New York City-based editor and writer who thanks all of the amazing teachers who have helped her daughter learn and grow. Follow her on Twitter and Pinterest.

Image: Teacher with students via Shutterstock



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