Last week we were all sharing a New York Times article around the office about teacher Kyle Schwartz’s experiment in her third grade classroom, where she asked her students to finish the statement “I wish my teacher knew…” The responses from this exercise are both heartwarming and heartwrenching.
This forced me to dig deep into my boxes of teacher stuff, because I used to do something similar on the first day of school. My prompt was different – “The most important thing you should know about me is…” – and I can’t remember if this was my own idea or inspired by Harry and Rosemary Wong (as I used to reread The First Days of School every August), but my purpose was the same: I wanted to get to know my students. Activities like these give children the opportunity to let their teacher know what inspires them and what causes them to shut down, and you realize that most students start the school year optimistic and with a desire to be academically successful.
So here are the responses my students gave during my fourth and seventh years in the classroom, which represents freshmen and sophomores in Brooklyn and juniors and seniors in New Mexico. I transcribed these from the first batch of emergency contact cards I could find, in the exact order they were in when I took the rubber band off of them this morning, and as typed each one I could see the student's face and hear their voice saying the words.
I shall call this found poem...
TO UNDERESTIMATE ME WOULD BE A MISTAKE
The most important thing you should know about me is…
I have respect, I’m a chill person.
I space out a lot/sometimes late for class.
I laugh a lot.
I work and go to school, and sometimes kick it.
I’m shy and quiet and I LOVE to play volleyball ♥
I talk a lot & most of the time late.
I talk a lot.
I am a very athletic person.
I love volleyball and hate homework.
I talk too much!
I just like to chill out.
I’m allergic to mushrooms.
I love to party/rave.
I listen to old school rap and I like blue.
This class is kinda boring when we were doing the reading.
Basketball. My favorite basketball team is San Antonio.
I’m very funny and random.
[Top Secret] I’m in a band or a group that sings (sssshhh).
I like to jam.
I don’t stay on task and I talk a lot sometimes.
I have a bit of an attitude, and I have asthma.
I LOVE to read, more but I can’t think at the moment.
I may be late in the morning.
I am an outgoing person and I like to listen to music when working.
I am a teenage mother.
I am lactose intolerant.
I dislike English because of essays and poems.
English is my best and favorite subject. I love to read.
I respect all my teachers and I try to do my work.
I am super-strong/talk a lot/participate a lot.
I am very outgoing and am a non-violent person.
Once you get to know me I can be nice and kind.
I have read all of your books for this semester.
I love dogs, hate cats.
I’m a very shy person.
I can do the work but just do not like doing it.
I love ice cream.
I’m a diabetic. I don’t like reading out loud.
I can speak up when I want to and I could just keep my opinions to myself – so don’t worry if you think I’m not paying attention – just remember I am.
I get sick a lot, but besides that I like to do fun projects and write essays on topics I can relate to.
I play basketball and soccer well.
I’m funny, and I have a very short temper, but I am working on it. This might sound like a lie, but English is my favorite subject.
I don’t like to stand in front of the class. Also I don’t like to read aloud. I guess I’m shy.
I am a very friendly person.
I love to read.
The most important thing I should know about you is your background.
English is not my favorite subject.
I am a shy person.
I’m a nice person. I’m also smart and respectful to others.
There’s nothing important you should know about me.
I really like English.
I’m very talkative.
My favorite color is green.
I do not like a lot of homework.
I say what’s on my mind.
English is my best subject.
I like to read and I am very cooperative.
I find it hard to stay focused if the topic is uninteresting.
I’m easily bored.
I like to listen to music while doing my work.
I like to have fun while doing my work, but I always get it done on time.
I don’t like to speak or read out loud.
I want to do really well in school.
I have mood swings.
I prefer [nickname] over [full name]! If someone hits me, they will get hit back!
I like to talk a lot and I can be lazy at times.
I will always give the best of me no matter what and I am very hard working.
I am talkative.
I love to write about basically anything.
I don’t like attention and being forced to do things I don’t want to do.
I love entertainment.
I always have a comment.
I am aware of my intelligence and for you to underestimate me would be a mistake.
I always try my best and I set high standards for myself.
I’m very shy.
You should not yell at me.
I fall asleep when the A/C is on sometimes.
I’m very respectful and responsible.
My favorite subject is math.
I love to go shopping.
I like to play sports and do all of my homework.
I am very shy and I am kinda nice.
I like vacation.
I’m very quiet.
I can be outspoken.
I love math and I don’t like people that scream, because it hurts my ears.
I like to draw and read. I don’t really have a passion for writing, sorry.
I have very serious headaches and when that happens I tend to vomit the rest of the day.
I’m not allergic to anything.
I’m a very kind, respectful, and shy person. Another thing is I don’t like people laughing at me.
I have an attitude and I’m very impatient.
I like English.
I am a very intelligent person but XXXXXXXXXXXXX and I am going to be a good student.
I like fashion, like to talk, love English.
I am person who is easily distracted.
I need to improve my vocabulary.
I’m ready to learn.
I have asthma.
I take school really seriously.
I’m very jolly and always happy.
I’m very persistent; when I see something I want I’m going to get it.
I hate to be bored.
Allergies – seasonal.
ELA is my favorite and I love to write poetry about anything. I came here to learn & graduate moving on to good success, so you will be getting good work from me all year.
English is not really my favorite subject.
I really do not like reading but I want to get better at it.
I love reading interesting books.
I like to read.
I do not like to read out loud.
I’m always sleepy.
I’m a very funny and loved person.
I get allergies from a lot of perfumes or lotions. I like to write.
I have asthma.
I like to get my work done on time. I always have a comment.
English is my next best subject after math.
I have a bad temper.
I am a smart person.