Inspired by my friend and collegue Jenny Kales, aka “The Nut-free Mom,” who wrote a wonderful post about having a teacher who has not dealt with allergies, I’ve written on how adoptive parents can approach teachers who have little or no exposure to adoption. Here’s what you can do:
Introduce yourself, preferably person-to-person. You can write a letter, but speaking face-to-face with someone establishes a connection. When meeting, briefly explain your family’s background and share that your family celebrates adoption. My personal experience has been that my kids’ teachers have been overwhelmingly supportive.
Offer to be an available resource for your child’s teachers and school. Make sure the teacher understands that you are his or her partner. Provide the teacher with appropriate language to use when speaking about adoption in class or when the kids speak about it or have questions—because they will.
Educate the teachers and your child’s classmates. Speak about or read a story (for younger kids) about adoption. I have always invited all of my children’s teachers and other faculty, including the school counselors and nurse, to be part of my presentation. Be general. DO NOT share your child’s story. Your child’s story is theirs.
- Expand the conversation to include nontraditional families, i.e. blended families, families headed by gay or lesbian partners, or families with only one parent.
- If you have adopted internationally and/or transracially, encourage the exploration and celebration of diversity and culture. Again, I have found that my kids’ teachers, classmates and parents embrace all of this with enthusiasm.
Ask for flexibility on those “tricky” assignments. Also request that the flexibility extends to ALL children in the class, so that your child is not singled out. Tricky assignments are those that can be minefields for the child who has been adopted, assignments that inquire about the child’s past. For example:
- The family tree: Ask if your child can be the trunk and put loved ones (names, pictures, drawings) in the branches. My kids have also added pets and best friends who are called “aunt” or “uncle.”
- Timeline: Ask if your child can focus on significant events in the child’s life instead of each child’s year. My kids have done this and loved it.
- “Star of the Week:” Ask if your child can just share their favorite pictures, things they like to do, and/or special people in their life. One of my daughters chose to weave red thread throughout her project, explaining the folklore of the red thread. Her teachers were riveted.
Parents: What else can you think of? Please share what has worked successfully for you and your child within their school setting.