Telling the Teachers: Adoption & School

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Part 1: The Argument For

At the beginning of every school year, the volume is turned up in discussions about whether or not parents should tell teachers and administrators that their children joined their families through adoption.

Of course, for many the issue of telling or not telling is a moot point. Some children are extraordinarily vocal and delighted to tell anyone and everyone. And some multiethnic and multicultural families jump past the first question of telling or not to the subsequent questions of "how" and "when."

The question is one to which parents give careful thought, and can broaden to include talking about adoption itself with teachers who may have had little or no experience with adoptive families.

The Argument to Tell

In her book "Raising Adopted Children", author Lois Melina writes of the fine line parents often walk between feeling their family is laid open to public scrutiny if they do tell, and being viewed as not totally comfortable with adoption if they don't. However, while she believes that everyone doesn't need to know, professionals who provide services to children should be told, and she includes teachers in this group.

She writes (p.87),
...I realized that a child's adoptive status is part of his social history and that schools need to know the social histories of their students. At the same time, parents should not expect that teachers or administrators are informed enough about adoption to know when it may be an issue for a child. So, at the same time that we inform the teacher of our child's adoptive status, we should also take a few moments to ask if the teacher has any classroom assignments coming up that deal with families or genetics. We should discuss with the teacher how he plans to handle those assignment in such a way that our child is able to complete them without being singled out as an "exception". In many cases, when children are given enough flexibility, they can come up with their own creative and insightful ways of completing an assignment so they satisfy the teacher while maintaining a sense of privacy and control.
There has been much debate about class assignments such as family tree projects, and tracing physical characteristics like eye color, which have the potential to be exclusive, rather than inclusive, of adopted children. This would tend to support the argument to tell.

One adoptee, whose adoptive family has long since died and who has no knowledge of her birth family, writes,
I am a grandmother now and my grandson had a project to do for school. It was to do a family tree. He received a C minus because it was incomplete as far as the teacher was concerned.
Another adoptee tells this story from her school days:
I'll never forget the day I whispered to my teacher in confidence that I wouldn't be able to trace my eye color, etc. through my ancestors because I was adopted. She immediately called the class to attention and announced that I needed a 'normal' person to volunteer to let me observe him trace his family tree since I was a bastard who didn't have a real family.
A teacher and adoptive parent writes,
I never had to mention anything to my daughter's teachers. She would always tell them when necessary. She is very proud of being adopted and handles the situation nicely. I am a teacher and I have never run across any sterotyping that many have experienced. Many of the teachers in my district are adoptive parents as well. So I think we have educated many others just by sharing our experiences.
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