aha moment, Be the change, being a teacher, being me


I read the note cards and my heart sank; the what I wish my teacher knew note cards coming from a 3rd grade classroom that spoke of lives so much harder than that of my own children.  Of wishes that seem so basic yet mean so much to the life of a child; a pencil, a friend, a parent.  After spending many hours thinking about it while gardening, I realized that my heart is sad that these are the stories of those children and so many others.  And even sadder that, as Rafranz Davis pointed out, no concern has been given to the privacy of the parents of those children or what the full story is behind the note cards, yet what upset me the most was how surprised people are that kids may have these stories to share.  That these are the things they wish their teachers knew.

So what I wish America knew is that when we speak of children living in poverty, children whose families have split apart, or children who have no friends, we are not speaking about children in other countries.  We are not speaking of some kids that live somewhere, but children that are in our communities, attending our schools.

What I wish America knew is that when poverty comes out as the biggest cause of educational failure the researchers are not joking.   They have not made up the data that says that poverty is one of the biggest inhibitors for any child to be successful in life.

What I wish America knew is that we should be ashamed that we live in one of the world’s richest countries, yet we have 30 million children living in poverty

What I wish America knew is that none of those note cards should have been startling.  We have kids with lives that we cannot even fathom residing in our classrooms every day.  Why are we so surprised?  We seem to forget the stories of the children we teach when we leave our classrooms.  At least we bear witness, it is a lot harder to pretend that poverty, loneliness, or broken apart families do not destroy lives when you aren’t faced with it every single day.  Trying to pick up the pieces and help a child find success.

In the end, the prompt has spurned on so many to ask their students what they wish their teachers knew, yet I wonder where the bigger story is.  Are we in an educational time where the mad rush for covering content so deeply, testing so much, and always pushing kids to do more, be more, dream more, that we have no time to speak to our students?  That building community and really getting to know the kids we are lucky enough to teach is something we simply don’t have time for anymore?  So I wish America knew that we only get one chance to raise these kids.  And even if a kid is not ours, we all share the responsibility for trying to help them find a better life and help them pursue their dream.  That is what I wish we all knew.

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children.  The second edition of my first book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” will be published by Routledge in the fall.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Join our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

7 thoughts on “#WhatIWishAmericaKnew”

  1. Oh man.. do I ever agree with this. And I wish that parents who complain about other people’s kids would realize that some of those kids went without dinner, didn’t get the same attention with homework, etc. as their own children did, and didn’t get tucked in at night.

  2. Your writing is full of reflections and truth. I wished sometimes that I could have taken friends to a teacher, so they had an adult to talk with about things that were going on. This didn’t happen because, as far as I could see, teachers were just too busy so it wouldn’t have been fair (as I saw it) to take their time and ultimately; if I didn’t feel able to connect with a teacher beyond a surface/labels level, then I just wasn’t confident enough that a vulnerable friend would be treated as a whole-real-wonderful person by that teacher. In the end my friends had me, and I did my best, and I was lucky with a stable home and parents to support me. Often a teacher/headteacher would say in our assemblies: “we are all here for all of you” without realizing they’ve just reduced themselves to one ‘teacher’ group and reduced me to a member of a ‘student’ group. Connections are person to person… not group to group. Keep up the good work Pernille! I’m working one-to-one with teachers who have lost confidence in themselves after trying for so long in a system that doesn’t seem to recognize the importance and gifts of the people teachers are.

  3. I do not live in America but live in Africa and I cant help commenting on the impact of poverty on educational attainment. I see it around me every day and I totally agree with you. Thank you for making me pause as a teacher and reflect on why my children behave the way they do. They are crying out for help and I must do something about it. I dont know what to do yet but I must be part of the solution.

  4. Pernille, I just recently heard of the #whatiwishmyteacher knew but have not checked it out. But, I know in my class there are several with back stories that would break my heart if I knew it all. I totally agree that America needs to stop denying these are the stories of students in our classes and do right by all the students. We don’t get a second chance with a child’s education if we blow it the first time.

  5. My heart sank as well. Every day I hear these stories from my own kids in my classroom. The biggest gift we can give them is to listen to their stories and honor them. Honor the stories, the children, their worth in just being. Thank you for your words.

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