back-to-school: communicating with teachers (a sample email)

When talking with adoptive parents across the country, repeatedly they comment on how adoption inevitably comes up in the classroom setting and they wonder how to discuss adoption with their child's educators. Parents consider if they should even tell their child's teacher about their son or daughter's adoption status because they don't want to draw attention to it or because they fear assumptions will be made. Others wonder how much to share, while transracial adoptive families know from experience that their child's peers and even their educators will be curious about their family's makeup and that questions will certainly follow. Many email me during the school year and ask how to handle the family tree project that was already assigned to their third grader.

Research indicates that the media and anecdotal stories from family and friends inform most people about adoption (yikes, scary! hello, Lifetime movies and Disney storylines!). And we also know that educators are expected to have a knowledge base about so many topics pertaining to kids, development, education, etc. (not to mention, they're usually underpaid and underappreciated -- TEACHERS, PLEASE KNOW THAT YOU ARE LOVED AND APPRECIATED!).

For these reasons and because I believe educators truly desire to best care for and support each and every one of the children in their classes, I find it helpful to be informative with those who are spending so much time with our children. Along with informing about adoption and its impact on our families, we can also take the time to share about the complexities of adoption and our expectations and desires as it relates to our kids.

I've quoted from this sample email to teachers at my sessions and have been asked to share it. This serves as a basic informative "hello-this-is-our-family-and this-is-adoption" email. You may copy, paste, add, delete, and edit it as you wish. Some of it will not be applicable to your family; other parts of it you might just dislike. Some parents may want to add information about various areas impacting your child such as neurological wiring, medical diagnoses, trauma triggers, or the like.

Please use as you feel appropriate. Certainly I could have included more, but hopefully this covers some of the basics of what we want our kids' teachers to know about adoption.


Dear Mrs. Smith,
Our daughter, Sarah Jones, will be in your class this year, and we are looking forward to a fantastic fourth grade year! Sarah enjoys reading, science experiments, and playing soccer. She is excited to begin school though is going to miss her later summer bedtime.

We recognize that teachers are expected to have knowledge about so many topics affecting students and child development, and having parented Sarah for several years now, we've come to understand that many people have questions about our family. We thought it would be helpful to share a bit about us so you can best understand and support our daughter.

Sarah was born in Guatemala and was adopted by us when she was a baby. While we talk very openly with Sarah about her adoption, we don’t believe her adoption status is relevant to most conversations at school. We understand that her peers may ask her (or even you) questions about adoption and that they will notice that she doesn't "match" her parents. We are so grateful to be Sarah's dad and mom, yet we are mindful that some of these comments and questions from peers and even adults may feel uncomfortable to Sarah, given that most kids yearn to fit in with their peers rather than to stick out and be seen as different or "other". We also believe that Sarah's story is her own and that she should not be expected to share every detail about her adoption with others even though many are curious.

We acknowledge and respect the layers to Sarah's identity (as our daughter, as an adoptee, and as Guatemalan, to name just a few!), yet we don’t expect for her to be used as the example for adoption and/or for racial diversity – what a tremendous burden for any student. We also know that some school assignments may be challenging or even impossible for children who were adopted and/or have experienced trauma, early childhood transitions/losses, etc. Examples of these projects include the family tree, bringing in baby photos, timelines, genetic projects, ancestry projects, etc. Please let us know if any of these projects will be assigned this school year, as we are aware of similar assignments that accomplish the same learning objectives that are doable for all students. We are happy to provide you with information prior to assigning the project(s).

Ways to support Sarah in the classroom include simply acknowledging her adoption status when/if it comes up in conversation without expecting her to share all of the details about her adoption and/or family; keeping your ears open to her peers' sometimes repeated questions regarding her race, ethnicity, or adoption (give us a heads up if this is occurring so that we can be aware and visit the topic with Sarah); understanding that being an adoptee is certainly not her only identity yet is one that may be on her mind more than any of us realize; and keeping in mind that she's a typical fourth grader with strengths and weakness and a unique personality all her own.

Please, should you have any questions about adoption or about Sarah, call or email us, as we recognize that adoption is complex and that no two students or families are the same.

We are looking forward to a fantastic fourth grade year. We appreciate already your commitment to education and to children.


Steve and Linda Jones

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making sense of being adopted -- how?

I've lived my entire life knowing that I have birth parents, Korean parents, first parents, an Omma and an Appa.... or whatever I choose to call them... yet often I'm truly unable to conceptualize what this actually means. It's almost as if I have to pinch myself to really get through to my heart and my brain that there really are two people whom I resemble and with whom I share DNA... For I can easily say the words "birth parents", "likely abandoned", "orphanage" and "no known date of birth" aloud and really feel no pain... as these are factual pieces of my story, my narrative, and my reality as a Korean adoptee. I've owned them, I've processed (and reprocessed) them, and I've worked to integrate them into who I am.

But when I truly allow myself to go to the place of believing in and imagining these two individuals, the thoughts and feelings are deep. For there are no boundaries for the emotions of loss and grief. There is no recipe for confusion and unanswered questions. There is no five step program for trying to make sense of the ambiguous.

And while I don't think of my Korean parents on a daily or even weekly basis, I recognize that without meeting them or without even just knowing something about them, there is almost no confirmation of my existence or of my entering the world. I firmly believe that I don't need this meeting or to have this knowledge of them in order to be whole, yet these are universal rights that most possess... but ones that many adoptees and myself do not have.

How do adoptees make sense of knowing that the two people who gave them life and were supposed to be their nurturers, protectors, and unconditional loves are strangers and are completely unknown to them? How does one ever have closure knowing these birth parents are walking the same earth and breathing the same air? How do adoptees not wonder if they too are being looked for or imagined of and dreamed about? How does one not therefore search? Yet how does one search and put one's heart out there when knowing the chances are slim?

Being adopted is ongoing, multi-layered, complex, and nuanced. There are no easy answers, though there are pressures to please people, to "get over the past", or to realize "how good we've got it".

What a relief for an adoptee to hear that living in this gray and in this tension is okay. That feeling both pain and no pain is possible. That she is not alone in this walk of being adopted. That being an adoptee can be simultaneously most wonderful and most tragic.

Adoptees have no choice in living their realities of tragedy and gain and of ambiguity and unknown. But every one of us has the choice to recognize that we really don't know what it feels like to be adopted, to release all expectations and assumptions of adoptees, and to allow them the same time, support, and space any one of us would want were we also walking, racing, dancing, and sometimes even tripping down the adoptee road.

{ as posted on Facebook, 05/17/2016 }

‪#‎WhatThisAdopteeIsThinkingTonight‬ ‪#‎complexitiesOfAdoption‬

on traveling to Korea again

As posted on Facebook today.

I've traveled to Korea several times and have visited my orphanage a couple of times also. In preparing to visit again...

Posted by Tara Vanderwoude - Social Worker. Advocate. Educator on Wednesday, June 3, 2015

as shared on facebook today

I believe in the whole person -- which includes a person's complete story with all of its implications.

The reason we need to give our kids their full stories and offer them the full gamut of emotions as it relates to...

Posted by Tara Vanderwoude - Social Worker. Advocate. Educator on Monday, April 20, 2015

where i'll be: spring and summer

I've been invited to share at a number of places over the next few months. Looking forward to meeting many of you!

March 20:
Adoptions of Indiana | Carmel, Indiana
What Transracially Adopted Children Need from Their Parents

April 30 & May 1:
Christian Alliance for Orphans' Summit | Nashville, Tennessee
Multiple sessions

June 18 - 20:
Korean Heritage Camp | Fraser, Colorado
Multiple sessions TBD

June 27 - July 7:
Korean Ties Homeland Trip | South Korea
Volunteer social worker/guide

July 15 - 18:
Camp Moo Gung Hwa | Raleigh, North Carolina
What Transracially Adopted Children Need from Their Parents
Talking with Kids about Adoption