Six Things Foster Care Has Helped Me Learn About Teaching


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.

Safety first

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?

A greater grace

Try as I might, I can’t hear it as a challenge.

It’s a sermon about forsaking worldliness and embracing Jesus only.

At other times, in other places of my life, I might hear it as a call to behavior modification.

In this season of affirmation, I hear it as the love song of a jealous God.

One in passionate pursuit of my heart, my affections.

I don’t hear him asking for more.

Perhaps I know, now more than ever, that he has to have it all, because I cannot even begin to handle it.

It’s these words that stick, that throb in my heart,

But he gives us a greater grace

(James 4:6)

In the tiptoeing balance of being in the world without being of it.

A greater grace.

In the moments when looking after orphans and widows is easy but keeping oneself undefiled by the world is not.

A greater grace.

In the conflict where it’s less right and wrong and more broken and human and messy all the way around.

A greater grace.

In the season when I ask for resolution and what I get instead is resolve.

A greater grace.

Not just more of whatever grace I can muster up on my own.

No.  Grace wholly different.

Grace made of different stuff.

Grace breathed through with jealous affection,

Not eked out with grit and willpower.

A greater grace.

For me.  For you.

For all of it.

When being pro-life is hard

I like to talk about politics.

Just, mostly, you know, with people who agree with me.

(Aren’t we all this way?)

The truth is that I tend to lean left in a church that tends to lean right.

Except for this.

I am pro-life.

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness… my brothers, this should not be.

(James 3:9-10)

Today this hits hard.

Do I see the imago dei, the fingerprints of the Creator, in the unborn?

Yes.  No question.

It’s after that that things get murky.

It’s years and decades later when brokenness and drama, addiction and despair, unfortunate circumstances and poor choices twist and bend the image.

It’s generations of poverty and abuse, vicious cycles that promise relief and refuse to be broken.

It’s arrogance and contempt dressed up in suits and high heeled shoes.  Hiding behind desks, behind benches, behind stained glass steeples.

This is when I struggle most.

This is when being pro-life is hard.

With my tongue I praise God.

I praise him for the Little Ones who call me mama.

Little Ones whose first parents chose life.

Little Ones whose imago dei shines all over my home, all over my life.

And I want to curse men.

Men who ought to know better.

This should not be.

One look at my own self and I remember again my own desperate need for rescue, for redemption.

Who am I to speak condemnation, to speak death, to men made in the image of a gracious God?

A God who is still, ever, passionately pursuing their hearts in need of rescue.

A God who is for them, who is fighting yet for their freedom.

This is when it gets really real, friends.

This business of being pro-life.

Will we step in to fight with our gracious God for the hearts of men?

Will we speak life and refuse to condemn?

Will we choose to see his image, his fingerprints, in every life?

Including the ones that are already born.