Adopted parents may feel uncertain about the messages kids receive in school about their family, their unique story, or the child’s individual needs or experiences. If you are like many adoptive parents in our community, you might find it helpful to start the school year with a letter to your adopted child’s teacher.
Parenting an adopted child quite often requires that we dig into a different level of advocacy than that in which we see our peers engaging. In many circles, how we’ve built our family is not typical and thus not always well-understood, even by the educational professionals in our kids’ lives.
Why Write a Letter to My Adopted Child’s Teacher?
1. Create a Partnership
It’s not uncommon for teachers to request an “introduction letter” from parents within the first few weeks of school. This introduction gives a peek into your child’s personality, strengths, and weaknesses from a parent’s perspective. It’s a tool many teachers and parents use to create a partnership between home and school. This year, more than any other time perhaps, that bridge will be a necessity. The pandemic has created many additional concerns about mental and emotional health, both at home and school — regardless of how your district is starting the academic year.
2. Set a Positive Foundation
Another reason to write a letter to your child’s teacher is to set the stage early for positive, normalized language and interactions around the additional issues that adoption brings to your child’s educational experience. Many of us know that kids who have experienced trauma, abuse, or neglect often learn differently than their peers.
3. Be a Resource
Finally, we adoptive parents understand that there are many tools and resources available to parents and educators to gain a trauma-informed approach to parenting and educating. Writing a letter to your adopted child’s teacher can set you up as a resource for your child’s teaching team. You can benefit your child’s experience and expand the school’s ability to serve the needs of the many other children in the building who are coming from complicated, hard starts to their lives.
What Should the Letter to My Child’s Teacher Say?
We’ve created a template for parents to personalize for their child’s unique set of circumstances. The key elements that we’ve included are the basics that will help the teacher understand the positive culture you have crafted around the formation of your family and how you are teaching your child to process his adoption story.
This template is written to elementary-level teachers. Feel free to add and tweak it to suit your child’s age and voice about his story. Take into consideration the relationship you may already have with the teacher or your understanding of the culture in your child’s school.
For example, the motto in my children’s elementary school is that we are a “caring community.” When I craft a yearly letter to my children’s teachers, I use that language and talk about how we’ve created expressions of care and community at home and how my child will carry that into her interactions at school.
The Template for A Letter to My Adopted Child’s Teacher
Johnny is excited about this school year, and so are we. I wanted to share some information about our son that will help you get to know him.
Johnny was adopted at (age), and we have (limited information on his early life, are in an open adoption with his birth family, etc.).
You are in a significant position to send a message about adoption to the other children in this class.
Our hope is that students will receive a positive message about the many ways that families are formed. Some children are born to their parents, and sometimes children are adopted by their parents. Regardless of how families come about, they are all “normal,” and all are good.
I thought it might make your job easier if I shared some appropriate responses to common questions children may ask about adoption. These are questions that our child has already heard, and we practice answers together that feel most comfortable to Johnny.
- Where are Johnny’s real parents?
Johnny has two sets of real parents: the parents who gave birth to him and the parents who will raise him and be his mom and dad forever. That’s Mrs. and Mr. Smith, whom you know.
- Why didn’t Johnny’s birth parents keep him?
Johnny’s birth parents were unable to parent him (raise him, be his parents, whichever fits your classroom) when he was born.
- Why doesn’t Johnny look like his mommy?
Children usually look like the parents that gave birth to them, don’t they? Johnny probably looks like his birth parents.
Some school assignments may be hard for us. I’m not asking that you change the task, but I would appreciate an advanced warning and some flexibility to adapt the assignment to fit our family’s circumstances. Some examples of school assignments that might be challenging for Johnny would include:
- creating a family tree
- bringing in baby pictures
- sharing birth or young infancy stories
- discussions of inherited traits
I would welcome an opportunity to meet with you after you have had a chance to get to know my wonderful boy. Can we schedule a time to talk in about three weeks? I would also love to read some books about adoption to the class (or provide some books about adoption for your personal use or for the classroom library). Our family has quite a collection that we read together. We find books to be excellent conversation starters and helps increase Johnny’s understanding of his own story.
We are looking forward to working with you to make this a great year for Johnny. Thank you so much for being on our team.
Johnny’s Loving Parents
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What Else Should Be In The Letter?
Depending on your child’s unique life experiences, it might be helpful to present additional information upfront. If putting it down in a letter doesn’t feel right, consider offering it to the teacher at your first in-person meeting. Adapt the following information to fit your child, but always start with the positive.
For example, if your child struggles with stress and anxiety, you could add something like this:
Johnny is enthusiastic about everything and loves school. He tries hard to please – especially the adults in his life.
- Due to his early life experiences or ______, he carries around a lot of stress. When his stress levels escalate, you may see him _______. Johnny usually responds well when you _____.
- Johnny struggles to remember boundaries, and you may see him ____. He usually responds well when you _____.
- He has some developmental gaps (or delays) that make learning hard.
- English was not his first language, and that makes language arts harder for him.
- Johnny does not have an IEP. We have found that the following techniques work well to help him learn: _______.
- We use the following resources to be of excellent support for understanding his stress (developmental gaps, etc.). I’m happy to share my copy with you (or send the link, etc.).
Keep the Lines of Communication Open
Once you’ve crafted your letter and set a meeting, be consistent in communicating with the teacher. Offer yourself as a resource if she is looking for additional opportunities to learn about adoption. If the teacher is open to it, suggest podcasts or parent training that addresses the educational issues adopted children commonly face. Share what you are continuing to learn about trauma-informed practices and education.
Be your child’s biggest cheerleader to the teacher. Make sure that the teacher also knows you will support and encourage her as she grows a relationship with your child.
Writing a letter to your adopted child’s teacher will require an additional layer of intentionality on your shoulders. It’s worth it as a way to advocate for your child. Your efforts will speak volumes about your belief in and commitment to your child’s preciousness — to the teacher and your child.
Originally posted in 2014; Updated in 2020 Image Credit: Ryan Duglash; Nenad Stojkovic