Adoption and Your Child's Teachers
America's understanding of adoption has changed from one of secrecy and denial to openness and understanding over the last 40 years; however most people still develop their understanding of adoption from information gleaned by the media - which often still presents sensationalized and stereotyped views of adoption.
Since our children spend a major part of their day in school and the experiences they have there impact largely on their self esteem it is important for parents to make sure teachers
have an accurate understanding of adoption.
Most teachers care a great deal about their students and are happy to learn information that will assist them in educating their students. Establishing a supportive and congenial relationship with your child's teacher n the beginning of the school year will go a long way in making your child's school experience a positive one.
In sharing adoption information with your child's teacher remember that the teacher most probably has not had any training about adoption. There are virtually no courses in any area of professional education regarding adoption issues.
Here are some facts that you want to make sure your child's teacher understands:
- Adoption is one of the many ways a family is formed. A family formed through adoption is a real family whose members' commitment to each other is lifelong.
- Language is an extremely important element in conveying attitudes about something. Give your child's teacher a list of positive adoption language (e.g. birth parent as opposed to 'real' parent; make an adoption plan as opposed to give away.)
- Encourage the teacher to take opportunities in the general curriculum to provide accurate information about adoption. Keep in mind that the topic of adoption doesn't have to be a special lesson - it can be part of lessons about families, literature, and even mathematics.
- Help your child's teacher be aware of lessons that might be difficult for children who were adopted (as well as for children whose parents are stepparents or single or grandparents or gay). Lessons involving family trees, genetics, Mother's/Father's day or geography for instance need to be presented creatively and sensitively.
It is important to let your child's teacher know that you do expect them to be prepared to assist children if they are asked intrusive questions or to handle negative comments/teasing if it comes to their attention.
It is always helpful to provide teachers with some written material regarding these suggestions.Question & Answer Session:Question:
My daughter is three and just started preschool. We have told her teacher that she is adopted, but haven't said anything more. Do we need to? She loves her teacher, and I don't want to make an issue where there is none.Rita:
I believe that it is good to have a chat with the teacher to find out if she understands about positive adoption language and feels comfortable addressing questions other children might ask.Question:
How would you suggest I broach the subject?Rita:
If you have a good basic article (which you can find in Adoptive Families
or other places), bring it to the teacher and offer it to her as a resource. Most teachers welcome any help they can get.Question:
OK. My concern is that I don't want to come off like I have some huge problem related to my daughter's adoption. I don't want her to be thought of as ADOPTED, and I worry that talking about it might cause that reaction. By that I mean, I don't want her to have that label on all the time. Right now she is just her cute self.Rita:
It's how you present it - adoption isn't a problem but it is greatly misunderstood and many people still have stereotypes. It's not about your daughter only; it's about establishing a classroom sensitivity to the variety of family types that exist today. I agree that we don't want to label or put our kids on the spot. That is why a private chat with the teacher is proactive and well private.Question:
What are your views about going in as a parent teacher and having a special talk with the young kids about how families are made up in different ways and explain some things about adoption? And bring candy of course.Rita:
I think that if you and your child are comfortable with that, go for it. If kids are young they usually love the idea. Just make sure your child is part of the plan.Question:
So she could hold the pictures, help prepare, and take part? Hand out the candy right?Rita:
Exactly. She can pick out the pictures she thinks you should use, and maybe bring in something that is special to her about her adoption, etc.Question:
How do you handle assignments that might be tricky for adopted children, like bringing in baby pictures or birth stories?Rita:
That is why I always suggest establishing a working relationship with the teacher early, before assignments like that come up so he or she will present them sensitively. For instance, the baby picture thing... what is the goal of the assignment? If it's to learn about how we grow, you can just ask them to bring in the youngest photo of themselves. Lots of kids don't have baby pictures. Instead, some teachers bring in cameras and take photos of the kids in the class at the time.Question:
If the child would like, do you think it is appropriate for her to bring in her lifebook that we made for her to share?Rita:
Absolutely - as long as your child wants to do that. Just remember: your child will be more interested in talking about herself than the others will be in listening about her. Kids have a short attention span and are egocentric. It would be nice if there were a class project for all the kids to make a lifebook and then display them and share parts of them during the year. That also avoids the concern about singling out adoption as an issue.Question:
My daughter has a field trip coming up and the class is going to Canada. To do this, they need copies of her birth certificate. The adoption was just finalized and we don't have the new or old b/c yet. I do have the adoption certificate
though, and am going to check to make sure this will work... but my daughter doesn't want anyone to know she is adopted. She is 12 now and really wants to go on the trip, but is upset because we will probably have to use the adoption certificate. What would you suggest?Rita:
Well, you have to discuss her options with her. She can not go to Canada or you can use the adoption certificate and only show it to the teacher or administrator who needs to see it and ask that they keep it confidential. It is time to have a discussion about how life doesn't always give us the choices we want. Since it's her story, it's her decision how to handle it - but her options in this case, like other life situations, are limited. Growing up is tough, especially preteen age.Comment:
I know. Her biggest problem is that, in her last class, the teacher literally made fun of her because she was in foster care and being adopted... in front of her classmates.Rita:
Oh, that makes me crazy! That is so irresponsible of her teacher. Does she want you to talk to the teacher? I would also suggest you share the adoption certificate with an administrator then, not the teacher if possible.Comment:
We needed to use the adoption certificate to register in this school (we recently moved), so administration does know about her adoption status.Rita:
So who holds the certificate for the trip? And has anyone spoken to the teacher, or does your daughter not want anyone to?Comment:
So far, we have been discussing it with her and the options. We haven't talked to the teacher yet. Of course, this may all be for nothing anyway if customs won't accept it. I am calling them tomorrow.Rita:
True, but they should. They did with my goddaughter, but these days it's hard to tell.Question:
My son has many special needs and acts out with major behaviors. I do not want teachers saying that his behaviors are due to being adopted or his past. Also, how do you handle it when a child that is adopted acts out (has behaviors) for whatever reason and the teachers (or others) make negative comments or say it's because they are adopted, or negative things about their birthfamily?Rita:
I think it's time for a major sit down with the teachers if they are hanging his behaviors on adoption. Kids have major behaviors because of sensory issues or frustration with learning disabilities
, etc., NOT because of adoption.Comment:
I have found this to be common though... child acts up, teacher says something negative about birthmom or something similar.Rita:
They need retraining and re-education. There are curricula and books out there. I would suggest for the school to have an inhouse training. I go in to schools all the time for staff training.Comment:
I did try on numerous occasions last year to deal with this to no avail.Comment:
I've known parents who change their child's class because of teacher attitudes like that.Rita:
Absolutely, because teachers get their info about adoption from the media, which is often sensationalistic, and they often operate out of myths and stereotypes, especially if they are not open or exposed to different families. But if your child's behavior is being labelled as adoption issues, it is a problem because it is not addressing his real issues and therefore not helping him. Unfortunately schools can be tough fortresses to crack.Question:
Have you known of cases where the child is bullied in class because of being foreign adopted? And how can the teacher handle it?Rita:
Yes, teasing and bullying is often a problem. Most kids in transracial families say this happens to them. I would suggest you speak to the teacher and let him or her know that you expect him/her to intervene if that happens, and make it clear that mean teasing and bullying are absolutely not tolerated in the school. Honest questions can be answered, but if there is racial teasing then teachers need to start doing some curriculum work around tolerance and diversity. CASE
in Maryland has a good curriculum and so does www.dontlaugh.org
, and the Child Welfare League of America