Teaching kids to be sympathetic is extremely important. It isn’t always easy, however. An Oklahoma teacher decided to take the task to hand with her middle school students.
She shared the results of her experiment on Facebook, where half a million people were amazed by the results.
Karen Loewe began teaching her 22nd year of middle school on August 22. She spoke to her students about baggage and introduced them to the “Baggage Activity.” She had her students write down whatever baggage they were carrying around with them — the things that weighed on their hearts and minds. Students were told not to write their names on their papers.
When they finished, they were told to ball up their papers and throw them across the room.
Then Karen had each student pick up a random paper and read what was on it. She gave the person who wrote it the opportunity to speak further if they felt comfortable doing so. She watched in amazement as students revealed heavy things going on in their lives and found a way to sympathize with one another.
Teaching children the importance of kindness and sympathy isn’t always easy. During the middle school years, where bullying and self-esteem issues ramp up significantly, it can easily feel like an uphill battle.
Despite the struggle involved, millions of kindhearted parents and educators take on the task of teaching those fundamental values. An Oklahoma middle school teacher recognized that the best way to start off the school year would be with a lesson in empathy.
Karen Loewe has been teaching middle school for 22 years. She decided to start off the year with what she’s calling the “Baggage Activity.” She took to Facebook to share her experience with others, because she was in awe of what went down.
“This starts my 22nd year of teaching middle school. Yesterday was quite possibly one of the most impactful days I have ever had,” Karen began the Facebook post. “I tried a new activity called ‘The Baggage Activity.'”
Karen had a discussion with her students about the meaning of baggage. “I asked the kids what it meant to have baggage and they mostly said it was hurtful stuff you carry around on your shoulders,” which shows that they had a good grasp of what she was getting at.
“I asked them to write down on a piece of paper what was bothering them, what was heavy on their heart, what was hurting them, etc,” she explained. “No names were to be on a paper. They wadded the paper up, and threw it across the room.”
When everyone was done, Karen had them each take turns reading a random note out loud. “They picked up a piece of paper and took turns reading out loud what their classmate wrote. After a student read a paper, I asked who wrote that, and if they cared to share,” she explained.
By giving students the opportunity to speak about their issues without forcing them to, Karen got a lot of kids to open up. “I’m here to tell you, I have never been so moved to tears as what these kids opened up … about and shared with the class.”
We often forget that kids don’t just deal with the baggage of their own lives and social interactions, but they are also deeply affected and sometimes helpless to being impacted by the baggage of the people around them.
“Things like suicide, parents in prison, drugs in their family, being left by their parents, death, cancer, losing pets (one said their gerbil died cause it was fat, we giggled😁) and on and on,” Karen detailed.
The kids felt it as deeply as she did. “The kids who read the papers would cry because what they were reading was tough. The person who shared (if they chose to tell us it was them) would cry sometimes too,” she revealed.
It may sound like a lot to take on, but Karen felt it was important for students to understand that everyone is going through something. “It was an emotionally draining day, but I firmly believe my kids will judge a little less, love a little more, and forgive a little faster.”
As for the notes, Karen decided to keep the collection in a bag on her door. “This bag hangs by my door to remind them that we all have baggage. We will leave it at the door. As they left I told them, they are not alone, they are loved, and we have each other’s back,” she concluded. “I am honored to be their teacher.”
Karen’s experience went viral, with over half a million people sharing her story. While many praised her for her job as an educator based on just this story, an impressive number of Karen’s former students reached out.
Many expressed how much she had impacted their lives and how much they enjoyed being taught by her. Karen is one of many educators putting her all into her job and changing lives as a result.