November is National Adoption Month, and there are some easy things that you as a teacher can do to make adoptive families feel accepted and appreciated in your classroom. Chances are good that if you have been teaching for a couple of years, you have taught a child who has been adopted. It’s not as uncommon as some believe.
Out of ten Scholastic Top Teaching bloggers, two of us have children who are adopted! My family was formed through international adoption. My wife and I adopted our daughter, Ella, from Guatemala. Fellow Top Teaching blogger Lindsey Petlak and her husband adopted their son, Grayson, domestically. This website offers a good review of the different ways that families form through adoption.
This year Ella started a new school, and my wife and I were shocked but thrilled that one of the information sheets we had to fill out asked if the student was adopted and if so, if the child is aware of his/her adoption. These two tiny questions made us feel that Ella’s background was as important to the school as it is to us.
There are cases where adoptive families are formed at the hospital at the time of the child’s birth, but Ella was 5½ months when we first held her. Many adoptive families are formed when children are toddlers, preschoolers, and older.
When a family is formed later in a child’s life, there are different ceremonies that a family can celebrate. Our family celebrates our “Gotcha Day” on March 17. "Gotcha Day" is the wonderful day when parents first hold their child and become a forever family. Because this is such a big deal in our family’s life, Ella asks her teacher every year if she can get up and speak to her class about why March 17 is so special. Offering to give a student five minutes to talk about his/her “Gotcha Day,” “Family Day,” "Adoption Day," “Homecoming Day,” or “Happy Day” can be a huge acknowledgement for the student and her family.
I once had a mom approach me the spring before her child started kindergarten to ask if my daughter knew she was adopted. I told her we had always talked about adoption openly in our house, but I knew that wasn't the case in every family. This family had not shared their adoption story with their child at that point, and was planning on doing it over the summer.
Adoption is identical to every other issue in the fact that every family handles it a little bit differently. A teacher’s best bet is to talk to the parents and take the lead from them. Remember that even if a family’s adoption story is something that they are comfortable talking about, it’s their story to share. It is not a teacher’s job to share any family’s personal information at lunch or while waiting for the faculty meeting to begin.
Be prepared to help a child answer questions that may be uncomfortable. When peers learn that a child is adopted, they may ask natural questions that can seem insensitive because younger students often lack sensitivity. This can often be a child’s way of understanding the concept of adoption and if it could ever happen to them. Questions can vary from: “Where is your real mommy?” or, if a child was adopted from China: “Why don’t you speak Chinese?” Parents need teachers to know how to assist their children to answer these questions. Talking with parents early on in the year is how a teacher will learn how to best handle the situation for each child.
Creating a family tree or student time line, researching genetics, or bringing in baby pictures for a bulletin board can be difficult assignments for families who have adopted. Before giving the assignment, simple but deliberate rewording may alleviate many issues. Discussing these types of assignments with parents before giving them to the students will let you know how that particular family might handle the task.
Make sure that your classroom library includes books that children who are adopted can find themselves in. Here are a few titles to get you started if you need to find some books for your shelf:
Books for Younger Grades
Books for Older Grades
There are a thousand other tips that I could write about adoption in the classroom, not to mention about helping and supporting students in your classroom who are in foster care, but one last tip for this post is to make sure that you are using acceptable language when working with families formed through adoption.
This handy chart was found in a 2005 copy of Adoptive Families magazine.
Every child pictured in this post is adopted, and each one serves as the perfect example of what adoption in the classroom can look like.
I can’t wait to see you next week.