Let me start this by saying that I have nothing against the Denver teacher who started the phenomenon that captivated hashtags and Facebook posts in the past year. (If you don't know what I'm talking about, here's one of many stories that explain: #IWishMyTeacherKnew.) It's imperative for teachers to know their students as humans, and I've made it clear on this blog that relationships with my students matter more to me than just about anything else. But since the first time I saw this story on Facebook a few months ago, it's left a bad taste in my mouth that I haven't been able to articulate. I think I'm finally ready.
It comes down to this: teachers already do know the things students have listed on this hashtag. We know better than anyone what's happening in our students' lives. Just this month (through reading my students' writing), I know students who hate snow days because it means no meals; students who hate it when the weather warms up in the spring because it means no power at home; a student who is shy because her uncle used to molest her every time he babysat; students who are struggling with their sexuality and don't know how to tell people; students who don't know if their parents have been arrested during the day because of meth raids on their houses. I know all that stuff (and more) because middle school kids, despite their angsty bravado, still desperately look for someone to confide in. And many times, the people they turn to are teachers, counselors, and principals. So this hashtag pisses me off. Because teachers do know, and we aren't the ones who need reminding of what kids face every damn day.
This hashtag should say #IWishMyPoliticianKnew or #IWishThePeopleofMyCommunityKnew or #IWishJudgmentalParentsofOtherKidsKnew, but it damn well shouldn't say #IWishMyTeacherKnew. The people who would benefit from reading the struggles of kids' lives, the people who need to know exactly how terrifying and difficult many of those lives are, are the people who aren't teachers. The people who pass laws requiring more standardized testing that disproportionately punishes kids of color and those with low income families. The state legislators who refuse to pass adequate funding for public schools. The people who complain about families who qualify for free and reduced lunch. The people who are full of opinions about kids these days. Those are the people who need the wake up call #IWishMyTeacherKnew provides. Not teachers. Teachers know. We know what demons and hurdles our students tackle every day. I am there every day. I give hugs, I wipe tears, I raise my voice, I don't accept mediocre effort, and I do not allow a bad home life to be an excuse for not trying because I know that beyond sharing a Facebook post or using a Twitter hashtag there are very few people who actually take the needs of kids (who aren't their own) into consideration in the "real" world.
So don't tag me when you see #IWishMyTeacherKnew on the internet. Don't share it and think you are doing something helpful or extraordinary. Don't think that it's a new perspective to realize that kids out there are struggling. If what you see breaks your heart (as it should), then do something for kids in your community. Teachers already know. The good ones do their best to make up for those challenges and develop kids into adults that can break the cycle of hopelessness and hurt.
I teach 7th and 8th grade English in rural Iowa and hope to reflect, connect, and share with other English teachers. Iowa Council of Teachers of English Executive Board member. Iowa Writing Project superfan. UNI MA:TESS graduate.