Only through our connectedness to others can we really know and enhance the self. And only through working on the self can we begin to enhance our connectedness to others. –Harriet Goldhor Lerner
It has been 44 days since I stopped being a mother. It has been 44 of the longest and hardest days of my life. Until November 18, 2017, I was a foster parent to a funny, intelligent, curious, precious, and loving 9-year-old boy. On November 17th, the Juvenile Court judge decided he and his siblings could return to their mother. He had been with me for 235 days. I was totally unprepared and devastated at the thought of no longer having him at home with me. We had gotten into a routine, and I liked that routine. As a matter of fact, I LOVED our routine. I’m not a morning person, but I enjoyed waking him up every day, helping him make his bed, giving him his lunch box, and then our short ride to drop him off at school. I would continue on to work, and then at the end of the day, I would return to the school to pick him up from the after school program. We would go home, he’d ask for a snack even though he had one in the after school program. I would check his agenda, and he would begin working on homework or finishing up what had not been completed in after school. I would cook dinner, and we would sit down at the table together and talk. We talked about all sorts of things and got to know the sweet little boy who captured my heart within the first month of living in my home. After dinner, he would do Prodigy Math or something similar, read for 30 minutes, and then he had time for a little TV. There were a lot of nights he chose not to watch TV or he would bring his book into my room and sit beside me on my bed and read to me. Before bed, he would shower, and then we would begin our bedtime ritual. Some nights, he would turn back his covers and then come tell me that the Flash had done it. Other nights, I would do it and then lay out the devotion book and Bible we would read from every night. Some nights, we both would read, and other nights I would read, and he would listen. We would take turns praying, talk a little more, and then he would quickly drift off to sleep. On Tuesday nights, we would go to Cub Scouts which he loved! He wasn’t so sure after the first meeting he attended, but he quickly fell in love with spending time with the other boys, his Den Leader, and learning new things. We even went on his first camping trip together. Weekends were different. Every Saturday I took him to his aunt’s house so he could visit his siblings and his mother. He would come home Saturday evening, we would eat, and then we might play a game or he might watch TV. It just depended on what he wanted to do. Now, I do none of that because he is home with his family.
This post is not about being a foster parent. This post is about what teachers can do to help the children in foster care. I am an instructional technology coach who just happened to feel called to be a foster parent. I did, and in doing so, I learned an awful lot about the foster care system, and how much the children in care need caring adults to stand in the gap while they are away from their families. These children often move from school to school for whatever reason. When that happens, they often miss instruction because no two teachers are teaching the content the exact same way at the exact same time. When they miss instruction in one school because they are moved to a different school, a learning gap begins to grow and it continues each time they change schools. How often do we stop to think about what is going on with the children in our classes? How often do we assume that they just don’t know the content and keep moving on figuring they will catch up? They don’t catch up unless someone takes time to stop and teach them what they are missing. How often do we assume the child doesn’t know the content because they didn’t pay attention in class the previous year? There is a lot we don’t know about the children in our classrooms, and I know that teachers are already working harder than most others, but we cannot afford to let these kids slip through the cracks. They deserve our love and attention in our classrooms just like they need love and attention in their foster homes.
Think about it this way, if these children are not getting the love, nourishment, support, and encouragement at home, where will they get it and what implications does that have on the learning that will take place in your classroom. Foster children often do not want their classmates to know they are in foster care. They feel embarrassed or ashamed because they sometimes think it’s their fault they are in the system in the first place. They also don’t want to be seen as different. As teachers, we can do something to help them feel less self-conscious about their living situation. If you have a foster child in your classroom, unless they tell their classmates, you should not. It’s not your place. For some foster children, unfortunately money is an issue because their foster parents are not going to give them money for field trips, book fairs, or anything extra. The state does not do an adequate job of providing financial support for foster parents, so there will be foster children who cannot afford to participate in everything that the class does nor will they be able to bring in goodies for parties. Don’t make a big deal about what they can’t bring to school. Instead make a big deal about what they offer to the class. Give them positive reinforcement as often as possible. Hug on them and let them know they matter. However, respect their space. If a child has been abused, they may not trust everyone, and it will take time for them to trust you. Work with their foster parent, the counselor at your school, and anyone else who can help the child. Although the child is only in your class for 8 hours a day and may not stay with you the entire school year, they need your love and support every day that they are with you. My biggest takeaway from being a foster parent is this: treat your foster child just like you would treat your own child. They need normalcy, love, and stability. As trite as it may sound, it really does take a village to raise the children in our classrooms.