I’ve been a teacher for a long time. I’ve been a foster parent for a shorter time (though on many days it’s hard for me to remember my life before foster care). While professional development certainly has its place, some of my biggest lessons as a teacher come from living with my eyes open. And if there’s one thing that foster care does, it’s open eyes. Here are a few ways I’ve grown as a teacher because of my experience as a foster mom.
Absolutely nothing else is going to get done until you can convince little people that they are in a safe place. Nothing. This is critical and non-negotiable. I must be honest and reliable. This classroom must be a place where we take care of each other. We can never tear each other down. Never.
Give the babies voice
Everyone has a story. Even the tiniest learners have lived a lot and want to share their experiences. It is so important for them to know that they are heard. We live in a world where it’s ok to shush and dismiss children. Our classrooms cannot be like this. Listen to the stories. Ask about their weekend. Remember that they have soccer on Wednesdays (write it down if you must, but for goodness’ sake, remember it) and ask about it on Thursday morning. This is important for all kids. It’s double and triple important for the kids that try hard to fade into the background. And it’s quadruple important for the kids who yell and throw stuff.
They’re having hard time
When kids are melting down, it’s not about you. Their behavior may be challenging, but they are children. They are not out to get you. It’s super helpful for me to remember in those moments that they are not giving me a hard time, they are having a hard time. I even say this to them, “I see you’re having a hard time right now, what can I do to help?” Sometimes this works to resolve the problem. Sometimes it doesn’t. But it always sends the message that I am big and safe enough to handle your emotions and behaviors and we are on the same team.
Don’t say things that aren’t always true like they are
Things like, “Don’t worry, mommies always come back.” Or, “Hurry up or we are going to leave without you.” Mommies don’t always come back. Teachers don’t leave students behind. Say what you mean. Your words matter.
I love them, but they’re not all mine
Since I’ve started teaching kindergarten, I’ve become more maternal with my students than I ever was before. Something about their cuteness and their eagerness to learn makes them super endearing to me. We spend lots of time together, my students and I. We learn and laugh and sometimes cry. I feed them breakfast and bandage their skinned knees. I help them negotiate peer relationships and cheer when they finally learn to tie their shoes. I love them, there is no doubt about this. I think about them when we are apart. Sometimes I even lose sleep trying to figure out a way to move them to the next level in guided reading. But they are not mine. The year ends. I send them on. I cannot be everything for them. And this is not my job. God has sent me two babies for whom I must give it all. The rest of them I love and let go. I don’t say stuff like, “I feel like they’re all my kids.” Or “I’d adopt them all if I could.” Because it’s just not true.
It’s not that serious
Almost all of the time, whatever feels like a gigantic problem today won’t feel like that in a year. Sometimes, not even tomorrow. We all have personalities… even when we are little. Sometimes we click and sometimes we don’t. It doesn’t matter. We all have bad days. We all throw temper tantrums (some of us are just quieter and more eloquent than others). Everyone deserves a blank slate and it’s my job to make that happen for my students every single day. Yesterday was great or terrible. Today is a new day. We’ve got this. Let’s make it happen!
Whatcha think? How has life made you a better teacher? Or foster parent? Or person?