Guest post by Brandon Clayton. A Leon County teacher for 11 years, currently teaching at Bond Elementary School. Mr. Clayton was the 2013-2014 Leon County Glenn-Howell Distinguished Educator of the Year. He is also the vice president of the Tallahassee Area Foster and Adoptive Parent Association.
Eight years ago, one of my third grade students went into foster care. I wanted to do everything in my power to help him through this tough time. As an educator, I believe I can change the course of a child’s life through helping him/her identify strengths that can be used to achieve success. I am sensitive to the needs of all children especially those who are involved with the child welfare system.
Based on my experiences, here are some ways educators can help children in their classrooms who are in foster care:
BE PATIENT. Understand that the child has been through a lot, but this does not give them an excuse to get out of work or misbehave. I had a new student once who had severe issues going on in his home and he was having trouble with his school work, specifically reading. When it was his turn to read aloud in class, he refused, threw the book across the room and slammed his chair back. I immediately realized this outburst was not to cause trouble – this kid was very embarrassed and he needed my support. For the next few weeks I alternated working with him individually and pairing him with a student in my class who was a strong reader. I made it very clear to him that this was not an on-going arrangement – very soon he would be reading aloud by himself just like the other students. This process gave him the self confidence he needed and over a period of time, his reading skills greatly improved.
BE MINDFUL OF THE HOLIDAYS. Holidays can be a strong reminder for some kids that they are not with their biological families. While some children may want to be with their families during the holidays, for some children the holidays may be an emotional trigger bringing them back to a time of severe abuse or neglect. Be especially sensitive during these times.
BUILD RELATIONSHIPS. Create moments that allow you to connect with the child. You have to develop relationships with the kids so they know they can trust you and open up to you. Pull them aside to talk during lunch time, before or after school, or in between classes. Let them know you are there for them. Often times, your time and just acknowledging that you know they are going through something is the comfort they need. Even if the child does open up to you they may not ever be at a point where they want to share their story with you, but just knowing you are there for them makes a big difference in their lives. Sometimes all they need is a hug.
The third grade student in my class eight years ago inspired me to become a foster parent. I knew I could make a difference outside of the classroom just like I was doing at school. I met my wife Natalie, a managing attorney for the Department of Children and Families Children’s Legal Services, because she was a fellow foster parent. Fostering Florida’s youth has continued into our marriage as we have learned that much can be accomplished for children by a single parent, but having a partner in this work is a true blessing! We plan to continue expanding our family through fostering, as every child who comes into our home becomes ‘family’ despite where they end up going. Eventually we plan to adopt in order to give youth the forever family they need and deserve.
Here’s a video of the fostering story I shared when I won the 2014 Leon County Teacher of the Year: