DENVER, Colo.—

Kyle Schwartz, a third grade teacher at Denver public school Doull Elementary, started a unique initiative to understand her students better, calling it a “reality check.” She had her students write something they wished she knew, and the results have gone viral.

The majority of the students at Doull are Hispanic, and 92 percent are eligible for free or reduced lunch programs. “As a new teacher, I struggled to understand the reality of my students’ lives and how to best support them,” Schwartz said. “I just felt like there was something I didn’t know about my students.”

Her idea became an activity she called “I Wish My Teacher Knew.” “I let students determine if they would like to answer anonymously,” she said. “I have found that most students are not only willing to include their name, but also enjoy sharing with the class. Even when what my students are sharing is sensitive in nature, most students want their classmates to know.”

She was blown away by the responses. “Some notes are heartbreaking like the first #iwishmyteacherknew tweet which read, ‘I wish my teacher knew I don’t have pencils at home to do my homework.’ I care deeply about each and every one of my students and I don’t want any of them to have to suffer the consequences of living in poverty, which is my main motivation for teaching.”

Among the things students wished she knew include:

“Sometimes my reading log isn’t signed because my mom isn’t around a lot.”

“I don’t have a friend to play with me.”

“How much I miss my dad since he got deported.”

“Vietnamese because then she can say words I forget.”

“She gives too much homework.”

“I love school.”

“I want to go to college.”

Schwartz’s idea began catching on with teachers around the world who want to connect with their students. “I think it caught on so fast because teachers are highly collaborative and freely share and explore resources,” she said. “In the end, all teachers want to support their students, and #iwishmyteacherknew is a simple and powerful way to do that.”

Many students shared their notes with the whole class, which helped to build community. “Building community in my classroom is a major goal of this lesson,” Schwartz said. “After one student shared that she had no one to play with at recess, the rest of the class chimed in and said, ‘we got your back.’ The next day during recess, I noticed she was playing with a group of girls. Not only can I support my students, but my students can support each other.”

Besides writing, R. McKinley loves reading (especially historical fiction and science books), playing piano and flute, being involved in politics and community, working out, enjoying nature, and hanging out with four wonderful cats.