Connections: Linking Talented Educators
Connections: Linking Talented Educators

May 5, 2015

What I Wish My Students Knew

May 5, 2015

By Rebekah Schilperoort

Last month, one third-grade teacher’s simple lesson plan turned into an eye-opening look at the lives of her students, most of whom struggle with poverty. Kyle Schwartz, who teaches at Doull Elementary School in Denver, CO, asked her students to anonymously finish the phrase “I wish my teacher knew” as a writing exercise to get to know the children better.

Their poignant replies—which ranged from honest statements like "I wish my teacher knew I don't have pencils at home to do my homework" to gut-wrenching admissions like “I wish my teacher knew sometimes my reading log is not signed because my mom is not around a lot"— provide a glimpse into what life is like for the more than 16 million kids who live in poverty in the United States.

The story sparked a nerve across social media and quickly went viral, resonating with teachers and parents across the country. We decided to see what Milken Educators would say if the question was reversed: What would the replies look like if teachers answered “I wish my students knew?”

Milken Educators from all over the nation weighed in with their thoughts on Twitter, Facebook and email. Read on for their touching responses and keep the conversation going on Facebook and Twitter (be sure to tag @Milken and follow us if you haven’t already).


nardi routten facebook

— Nardi Routten (FL '14) — Fourth-grade teacher at Frances K. Sweet Elementary School, Fort Pierce, FL


amy braswell facebook

— Amy Jenkins Braswell (AR '02) — Fourth-grade teacher at College Hill Elementary International Studies Magnet, Texarkana, AR

 allyson vitato facebook

— Allyson VanVeelen Vitato (KY '14) — Principal at Breckinridge-Franklin Elementary School, Louisville, KY


sam morgan facebook

— Samatha Morgan (TX '14) — Fifth-grade teacher at Clifton Elementary School, Clifton, TX


greg oconnell facebook

— Gregory O'Connell (IA '04) — Principal at Coolidge Elementary School, Cedar Rapids, IA


#IWishMyStudentsKnew how amazing they truly are and how limitless their future can be.

Karen Teff (MN '05) (@KarenTeff) — Teacher at Deer River High School, Deer River, MN


#IWishMyStudentsKnew that I want 2 take them home & give them love & attention they need & erase their pain. It's not fair or 4 kids!

Shasta Looper (SC '12) (@ShastaLooper) — TAP Master Teacher at North City School, Athens, TN


#IWishMyStudentsKnew @Milken My motivation each day is that they ALL know - they are special, gifted, beautiful, & powerful 2 create change!

Robert O'Donnell Jr. (NJ '13) (@odonnellPS28) — Science teacher at Christa McAuliffe School (P.S. # 28), Jersey City, NJ


that they are not the future. They are the present. They don't have to wait to matter. They matter today.

 Nader Twal (CA '03) (@nadertwal) — Innovative Professional Development (iPD) Program Administrator at Long Beach Unified School District, Long Beach, CA


“I wish my students knew that I am because we are. I love them beyond measure. Together with my own children, their love and words of inspiration gave me the strength I needed to battle and beat breast cancer. I thank God every day for allowing me to live and continue to serve them in this capacity.” Shekema Silveri (GA '11) @mrssilveri — Founder of The Pink Apple Initiative and IFE Academy for Teaching & Technology in Atlanta, GA.


“I wish my students knew how much I care about their success!” Dr. Marsha Carr-Lambert (MD '94) @doccarr — Assistant Professor at University of North Carolina, Wilmington NC


“I wish my students knew how amazingly capable they are.” — Mary Nell Anthony (SC '05) @MaryNellAnthony — Ninth-grade Academy Director at T.L. Hanna High School, Anderson, SC


“I would like my students to know that I care about them so much!  I often lay awake at night worrying and wondering about my students.  I know that many of them have very challenging and stressful lives.  I am thankful that I get to be a part of their lives at school and often times out in the community as well.” — Alayna Siemonsma (SD '12) — Fourth-grade teacher at South Park Elementary School, Rapid City, SD


 "I wish my students knew that when my father passed away and my husband lost his job, THEY were the joys in my life. THEY were the ones who gave me a reason to get up in the morning, who gave me the strength to face each day one at a time and who helped me remember to never give up hope. Their hugs, their smiles and their energy sustained me emotionally, and because of THEM I will always be grateful. Mary Robertson (KY '00) — Next Generation Science Teacher at Malcolm B. Chancey Elementary School, Louisville, KY


“I wish my students knew, when you accidentally call me Mom, my heart grows bigger because I know that in our classroom, we are a family.”
“I wish my students knew, my mind NEVER, EVER stops thinking about each of you and how I can help you learn better.”
“I wish my students knew, my family hears stories about you…night, after night…and year, after year.” 
“I wish my students knew, sharing and using polite manners are and will be important throughout your life.”
“I wish my students knew, you truly CAN be anything you wish to be in your life.”
“I wish my students knew, scores on standardized tests will never define who YOU are.”
“I wish my students knew, you ARE and will always be AMAZING YOU!”
“I wish my students knew, I have faith in you and I believe in you.”

Anna Catherine Hull (FL '10) @coolbamagirl —Teacher at Patronis Elementary School, Panama City Beach, FL


 “I wish my students knew how much I care about them, and how much I want them to grow up and be “successful”, whatever “successful” means to them!” Gina Oellig (CO '10) — First-grade teacher, at Soaring Eagles Elementary School, Colorado Springs, CO

And from her students:
“I wish my teacher knew that I struggle in school”
“I wish my teacher knew that I like being with her”
“I wish my teacher knew that I sleep with 4 stuffed animals at night”


“I wish my students knew that it's okay to struggle and not get the answer.” — Alex Jaffurs (MD '05) @ajaffurs — Supervisor of mathematics at St. Mary's County Public Schools, Leonardtown, MD


“I wish my students knew that they are NOT a statistic, and that their zip code does not define their success!” Yanaiza Gallant (RI '12) @YanaizaGallant — Principal at Orlo Elementary School, East Providence, RI


  • Milken Educator Cagney Weaver is swarmed by her fourth-grade students at North Bay Elementary School in Biloxi, Mississippi.
  • Milken Educator Nardi Routten helps her students work through a lesson at Frances K. Sweet Elementary School in Fort Pierce, Florida.
  • Milken Educator Robert ODonnell Jr. smiles with his science students at Christa McAuliffe School in Jersey City, New Jersey.
  • Milken Educator Nader Twal walks with his students down the hall at Millikan High School in Long Beach, California in this file photo.
  • Milken Educator Samatha Morgan accepts hugs from her fith-grade students at Clifton Elementary School in Clifton, Texas.
  • Milken Educator Alayna Siemonsma poses with her students at South Park Elementary School in Rapid City, South Dakota.



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