I wrote this letter in a fury last week and had it ready to publish, but couldn’t click the button. After shelving it for a week, I looked it over, trashed it and started the letter again. I feel the rewrite deals with the same concerns but with a more palatable delivery.
Update: Elementary teachers are, as far as I am concerned, angelic beings sent from God Himself to do what it is that I cannot do – teach large groups of small children for extended periods of time. I cannot adequately express enough admiration for them, except to say thank you for what you do. Please read the following with the understanding that I am a parent willing to partner with you to make a better school.
Last week my 3rd grade daughter, F, came home feeling very anxious about a homework assignment. She had no idea how she was going to complete it satisfactorily without making herself look “dumb.” She pulled out a half sheet of copy paper and handed it to me.
It looked like this:
I could see the source of F’s anxiety immediately. And I know that F saw the problem immediately, also. F, African-American, was adopted by and lives with us, Caucasian parents. It is obvious, even to an 8-year-old, that she couldn’t do this assignment.
She was in tears because the assignment reminded her that her family was different; she wished just once that her family could be normal, and was it too much to ask to know who she looked like? All of these insecurities came pouring out of her once she saw me look up from the paper. We had a short cry together that ended with me expressing that I understood why she was feeling anxious: she couldn’t answer any of the questions because we are not biologically related. I explained that I didn’t know a lot about her biological parents either, but we could be creative and imagine what they might look like. (This is where it wasn’t particularly fun for me. I wasn’t ready to have her imagine out loud what her biological parents look like. I realize that we would have had this discussion soon or later, but I wanted it to come from her curiosity not a place of anxiety.)
I explained that I did know that both of her parents were African-American, so she could note that each of her biological parents shared her color of hair and eyes. I also explained since a widow’s peak was an inherited trait, and she didn’t have one, it was probably safe to say that neither did her biological parents. F has a small dimple in her right cheek, so I let her decide from which parent she wished to inherit that gene. She wanted her biological mother to be the one to have a dimple, so she noted it on her assignment sheet. Next came her height. She wanted to know if she was tall. I said, yes, she was tall, and she chose her biological father to be from whom she inherited her height. She chose to make him 6’5”.
The smile that she had while imagining her biological parents faded as she put the assignment in her binder. She looked at me and asked me to write a note to her teacher explaining how we had to do the assignment and to please not down grade her because her answers were not true. I wrote the note.
My husband and I are more than willing to have tough discussions with our children about any topic. We didn’t go into this blindly. We prepared ourselves as best we could for a time such as this. My request is for educators to be mindful that the assignments dealing with family, even simple ones such as the one above, are no longer simple or easy for students. Although we came up with a creative solution on our own, much of what we experienced could have been avoided had the teacher considered the diversity of her students. A simple phone call, note, or email would have allowed time to ask questions, voice concerns, find solutions, or at the very least, provided time to prepare ourselves, and maybe even the F, for the emotions the assignment could (and did) ellicit.
I realize that a teacher cannot think of everything; however, it only benefits the students to have a caring teacher who is mindful of the children in his or her charge.
With much respect,