I saw this activity on Facebook. And Twitter.
Ask your students a simple question:
What do you wish your teacher knew about you?
I love this idea.
Students, my students at least, tend to be much more honest in writing.
With high schoolers, add an ounce of anonymity: you get gold.
Instead of having them hand write this, I decided to use Google Classroom.
This is an on-going experiment for short writings I have been testing.
I create a Google Form with a prompt and/or a picture prompt.
The spreadsheet makes grading easy so I can see exactly who wrote what when.
I like everything about it with two caveats.
One: kids can't really revisit their writing.
Two: In individual view on Forms, I have to scroll down for each kid to see the answer.
Those caveats are pretty darn minor.
Anyway, I stole a picture of the "What you wish your teacher knew" prompt from the internet.
Then I dropped it into Google Drawings and adjusted it to meet my specifications.
The day of conferences, I started class with this as my Do Now (Bell Ringer to the rest of the world).
Google Classroom provided some real advantages in this situation.
I didn't ask for student names, but I did collect email addresses.
This provides the illusion of anonymity, but I can figure out who wrote what if need be.
Because answers are typed, I can print or cut and paste to share with others.
Only if absolutely necessary and usually to a counselor.
I got some amazing answers: some heart-breakers, some surprises, and a few hysterically funny quips.
The heart-breakers are exactly what I would have anticipated:
I wish my teacher knew there is no one at home to help me with my homework.
I wish my teacher knew we don't really have a place to live right now.
I wish my teacher knew how depressed I get when I don't know how to do my homework.
I wish my teacher knew my dad left last week.
I wish my teacher knew everyone I love dies.
I wish my teacher knew school is the only place I feel safe.
I wish my teacher knew my parents are addicted to heroin and now my mom's in jail.
And so forth and so on.
I wish I could say that sort of response is surprising or shocking.
They aren't. They are all too common.
But knowing which kids face such challenges allows me to support them a little better.
The surprises are usually less intense:
I wish my teacher knew I hate homework (from a straight A student).
I wish my teacher knew this is the first time I ever liked school (Awwwwwwwww).
I wish my teachers knew I hate when they try to get in my business.
I wish my teacher knew how to talk to kids.
I wish my teacher knew I will be the first in my family to graduate high school.
I wish my teacher knew I wish I had a male name and I prefer male pronouns (this one was completely unexpected).
And then there is the occasional joke:
I wish my teacher knew how to round a 68 to a 94.
Bahahahahaha. Me too!
Or I wish my science teacher knew what to do. Like ever. This is her first year.
(About a ten year veteran who is an awesome teacher, just saying).
What!? Ok, well, that's funny and weird.
I read through every response.
And as promised, I only check names on those that concern me or deserve feedback.
So the kid with no home is passed to the social worker.
The kid with no one to help academically is passed to an administrator to help find a tutor.
The kid who is scared outside of school has an SRO quietly poke around to find out why.
The kid who has lost everyone is referred to the crisis counselor.
The kid who prefers male pronouns was a tricky one.
Before I did anything I asked for her permission, in private of course.
I was actually really nervous about this.
This is not a student I know well yet.
She (I am going to switch to male now) says very little and smiles even less.
I know he prefers to work alone and does NOT speak in front of the class.
I know he is a decent student and a brilliant artist.
That's it. I don't know if he likes school or my class or me.
I don't know if he is struggling with his gender preference.
I don't know if he has a group of trusted friends.
I just don't know.
He keeps to himself. Maybe this is why, but maybe not.
The one thing I do know is that he shared this very personal aspect of himself with me.
He wished I knew.
I want to deserve that trust, and build on it.
When we talked, I just jumped right in and hoped for the best.
"So, I don't want to embarrass you or anything, but the school has a LGBTQ group, and I thought you might want to participate?" I said, "but I didn't want to say anything to the counselor without talking to you first."
Then I saw the most incredible thing.
He lit up. I mean, megawatt smile, direct eye contact, strong posture.
This is the first time I have seen him look genuinely happy, enthusiastic even.
"Yeah. Yeah, I would. I would like that. A lot." he replied.
It was a great conversation. And I turned her, I mean his, name in the counselor that same day.
This particular exercise was stolen from the internet.
It is usually used with elementary students.
And the results that are the most heart-breaking and tragic go viral.
None of that matters to me.
To me, what makes this so powerful is the potential to stop trouble before it starts.
To avert tragedy.
To catch a kid before s/he falls.
To support a kid willing to reach out.
All good things.