Friday, November 7

Adoption and Teachers and Watching What You Say

by Ajike Akande

The weirdest thing happened the other morning when I dropped Z at school ON TIME!  Yes, I realize the fact that I managed to get him to school on time is, in itself a weird thing, but it’s not the weird thing I’m referring to.   (You’ll be happy to know if you read my posts about my encounters with the Late SlipLady last year, that Z has been late only five times this school year!)
The weird thing took place when I ran into his teacher who has been on parental leave since last January, when Z was in grade 1, and will be returning as his teacher this coming January.  We started chatting about Z’s struggles in math, which are significant and out of the “everybody learns at their own pace” range.  She said, “Well you don’t know the family history, right?”  Wait, what?  Come again? 

If you are new to my almost weekly blog posts, Z is adopted.  He came home at four months.  He was born close to Toronto, where we live and our adoption was through the public system.  He is awesome.  He is also a kid, so sometimes he hides his awesome.  I am happy to tell you all of these things.  On most days, Z is happy to tell you these things.  What I am not happy to share, nor do I appreciate be asked about, are the details of his family history.  I also do not appreciate the assumption that the more challenging things about him, such as his inaptitude for math, are connected to his family history, which, of course, is assumed to be bad. 

I am not saying that family history, medical and otherwise, is not significant, but as Z’s parents, Wife and I can, with or without asked-for support, consider the role of our son’s birth family’s history play in his current abilities and share what is necessary.  Where he comes from is important.  It’s part of his life story.  His entire life story has and will always be important but it his personal story. 

Interestingly, in this same conversation, I mentioned (bragged) that our Z will be playing a mouse in the professional production of The Nutcracker this year.  Not surprisingly, the teacher did not look sympathetically at me and say “Well you don’t know the family history!”  So his special talent in and unwavering love for, dance could not have possibly been a gift from his birth family?  Can we please stop demonizing the birth parents that place their children for adoption?  Can we please stop assuming that they have influenced their children negatively?  Please stop assuming you know where my kid comes from.  And please stop blaming his birth family.  It’s really nobody’s business what Z’s history is until he or we invite them to make it their business.

2 yr old Z ready to garden...obviously
And yes, there are occasions when a child’s history, biological and otherwise, is essential to supporting them in school, but I just wish that people would simmer down with the assumptions and trust that all parents want what’s best for the children and will share information that is relevant and important to help their children learn.  (I do know that there are parents who have kept truly pertinent information about their child, be they adopted or not, from teachers and caregivers but this is not the norm.)

Reflecting on this exchange, I wish I had told his teacher that her question/comment was inappropriate.  I also wish I had said, “What difference does his family history make? He is a student who is almost two grade levels below in math, what are you going to do about it?"  Instead of playing detective and trying to find answers for who or what caused this problem, spend some time trying to understand his needs as a learner and just teach him.  Start where he’s at (not where he should be) and teach him until he learns it.  Not easy, but kinda simple, right? 

Phew, glad that’s off my chest!  Thank you for reading my rant!

XO Ajike

* Some of you reading this may be thinking about race being a factor in the teacher’s comments.  For the record, I think it is, but I just don’t have the capacity or time to grapple with that issue in a blog post.  Additionally, I know that I really only skimmed the surface when it comes to issues around disclosure and adoption.  I hope you understand that my lack of depth here is not for lack of understanding of the issues. 


Anonymous said...

Congrats on Z's being a Mouse in the Nutcracker!
My son was a Mouse last year and the year before and he loved it!
With regard to Math... Don't give up. Effort pays off.
All the best!

Dave said...

so cute. I want that dress! What a dude. Math math math. Well. We had Seb tested and he was all about math supposedly but, you know, that didn't really turn his crank in the Tedious Bee. Now he's doing philosophy in Montreal, or something. Zeke's just a real special person, and not just in the sartorial way. He's master of the gaze, the nod, and a whole range of interactive subtleties. I just love cross-gazin with him in the nabe. Also, I love how that Late Slip Lady is like a character in the Wizard of Oz.

Anonymous said...

What a ridiculous comparison. You acknowledge when you say that Z's struggles in math are out of the range of "everybody learns at their own pace" that it is a problem and you need a solution. Nobody asks about family history when you announce an accomplishment because you don't need a solution for that.

When it comes to diagnosing a problem (perhaps a disability), family history is the single most important thing that can help with that.

Would you be offended if Z was faced with a physical ailment and your doctor asked about the family history? Maybe your child has an intellectual disability. Maybe he inherited this from his birth parents. The teacher asking about family history is in no way "demonizing" the birth parents, he is only considering ways to find the root of the problem.

In fact, it seems here that the only one "demonizing" the birth parents here is you, by being offended that there might be some history of something like an intellectual disability. Reactions like yours to such a suggestion only serves to perpetuate the stigma around disability. You think that if a birth parent had a disability that this is "negative" and that there is something "wrong" with them, and this might translate to something being "wrong" with your child.

Before going on the defensive, please consider the true intention of the person you're speaking to. And before you react, think about what YOUR reaction is saying about other relevant parties.

Jovana said...

Does it make a difference whether a learning disability is inherited or not? Aren't the kinds of things that the teacher should be doing the same regardless whether or not the LD is inherited? I think that's the main reason why it was so surprising for a teacher to make that comment. Because it really makes no difference in helping Z learn math. And Ajike has been expressing her concerns regarding his math skills to the school for years now, so it's not like they're talking to a parent that doesn't want to hear that her child might have an LD, a parent that *might* need a wake up call with such a comment (and even then it would be rude to make such a comment in passing, during a hallway conversation). It's not like this was Z's full assessment, where maybe it makes sense to bring this up as part of the overall picture. Ajike has actually been the one advocating for him, and they've been dismissive up until this point. Now that they're finally on board, their lack of strategy so far can't be replaced by unhelpful and unrelated comments, but action to address Z's specific needs, inherited or not.

JL said...

How did The Nutcracker go?