Children in classrooms today come from much more diverse households and families than ever before. Think about all the children that are part of a blended family through divorce and remarriage, not to mention children brought into a family through non-traditional means like assisted reproductive technology, foster care and adoption.
If you are a teacher, you know how important is to consider these backgrounds when teaching your children. So, what are some ways teachers can support adoptive families and their children in their teaching curriculum and in the classroom?
If you want to learn about how a teacher can support adoptive families, we encourage you to review the “Adoption Basics for Educators” booklet from the Iowa Foster and Adoptive Parents Association. Below, you’ll also find a few important ways teachers of young children can supportive adoptive families.
1. Understand the history of adoption and modern adoption practices.
Many people today don’t really understand how modern adoption works. Instead, they base their knowledge of the adoption process on what they see in pop culture and media — that a woman “gives away” her baby, adoptees never know their birth parents, and all members of the triad are harmed by their experience.
Before teachers even begin to talk about adoption in their classrooms or consider it in their lessons, they will need to understand the realities of modern adoption. When completed with a professional agency or attorney, adoption is a beautiful process. In domestic infant adoptions, a birth mother is always in charge of her adoption decision, and she can have an open adoption with the family and her child during and after the adoption is complete. Even in foster care adoption, biological parents are treated with respect and children are placed with an adoptive family before their parents’ rights are officially terminated.
Seeing adoption in its true, positive light is one of the best ways teachers can supportive adoptive families and adoptees.
2. Know which children in a classroom are adopted — but don’t identify their background to others.
Teachers will often explain that the best way to teach their particular students is to know a lot about them — not only their learning strengths and weaknesses, but also who they are as a person. Being an adoptee is an important aspect of a child’s identity, and it can be extremely helpful to be aware of any adoptees in a class to provide a welcoming environment.
However, it’s important to address this topic with care. Rather than asking children if they are adopted, consider sending home a “get to know me” sheet for parents to fill out. On it, parents can help give you the information you need as a teacher — including important aspects of a child’s background like adoption.
Remember, this information should always be kept confidential, unless a child decides to share their adoption story themselves.
3. Use positive language for adoption and other related terms.
As part of educating themselves about adoption, teachers should learn the proper terms for adoption and other related processes. Using positive, warm language about this family-building is crucial to how a teacher can support adoptive families.
Take these terms, for example:
- Instead of “gave up for adoption,” say “placed for adoption.”
- Don’t call a child an “adoptee”; focus on other aspects of their identity, too.
- Instead of “real” parent, use terms like “birth parent” and “adoptive parent.”
Using appropriate terms is a simple but monumental way to create more positivity about adoption — and support those directly affected by adoption.
4. Consider adoption in classroom lessons and activities.
Adoption doesn’t automatically get considered in traditional classroom activities. However, assignments like a family tree or genetics lessons are often based heavily on a child’s biological connections. For adoptees who may not have access to their birth family records, these assignments can be near impossible to complete.
When you assign projects to your students, stop and think about how they may affect children with a non-traditional family. Think about ways the assignment can be tailored to them (without excluding them). The best way teachers can support adoptive families? Update their curriculum to avoid uncomfortable assignments and assign only those that are inclusive for every child.
5. Promote positive lessons on adoption and other non-traditional family-building methods.
How a teacher can support adoptive families goes beyond just avoiding discomfort and call-outs. Teachers should also consider taking steps to positively and proactively teach about adoption, as well.
For example, during National Adoption Awareness Month or National Foster Care Month, consider teaching a lesson about famous adoptees who have made a difference in the world, or about the realities of the modern adoption process. Even a small lesson can be incredibly useful in changing people’s opinions about how adoption really works — and promote tolerance among your students for those who may be affected by this process.
6. Never use an adopted child as an example.
Just as you would never call out a single child of one race in your classroom, do not use an adopted student as an example. While being an adoptee is an important part of their identity, there is so much more to them. It’s also not their responsibility to share their story and comment on the adoption process, just because it is part of their history.
Young children often focus especially on the differences in their peers, and pointing out what makes one student different (regardless of what it is) can inspire some students to emphasize that difference — because an adult already did.
7. Respect a child’s right to privacy, but be prepared to act if a child is treated differently because of their adoption.
Along the same note, remember that a child’s adoption story is always theirs to tell — not yours. If you know a child is adopted, great; you can
be more inclusive in your teachings. But never press a child for more details on their adoption story, no matter how curious you may be or how the information may affect your teaching.
Keep in mind your responsibility to maintain a welcoming learning environment, as well. Young children can be rude and insensitive, so if you notice a student being pestered or bullied for being adopted, always step in to teach tolerance and understanding to your students. An adoptee has just as much right to learn safely as anyone else.
Want to better identify ways that classroom teachers can support adoptive families and infants, as well as older children? Talk to members of the adoption triad. Join adoption support forums and groups to learn more about this process and what you can do as a teacher to better educate about adoption.