families

You may be saying that about your student’s parent

Content note: This post is mostly intended for k-12 classroom teachers, but probably applies to other groups as well.

When you teach, it’s really important to be mindful of the fact that people from all walks of life have children. 

When you say something about a particular group of people, you may be saying it about a student’s mother, father, or parent. It’s important to keep that in mind when making decisions about how to discuss things. (Including things that it’s 100% your job to teach your class about).


When you express an opinion about a group of people, your student may hear it as “I think this about your mother”, “I think this about your father”, or “I think this about you and your family.” Don’t forget that, and don’t assume that you will always know who is in the room.

It’s worth speaking with the assumption that there are people in the room who know a member of the group you’re talking about personally. When you’re working with kids, it’s worth speaking with the assumption that this person might be their parent or someone in a parental role.

This is important whether what you’re saying is positive, negative, or neutral. If you speak in a way that assumes that what you’re saying is theoretical for everyone, it can make it very hard for a child to whom it is personal to trust you. And you can’t assume that you will always know a child’s family situation, or that you will always know how a child feels about it.

For instance:


  • Many parents are in prison, have been imprisoned in the past, are facing trial, are on probation, have been arrested, have been accused of crimes, have been convicted, are on house arrest, are facing some other kind of court-ordered punishment or similar.
  • Many parents are police officers, prison guards, judges, prosecutors, probation officers, or in a related role.
  • Many parents (and children) have been the victims of violent crimes. (Including crimes committed by police officers.) Some children may have lost parents this way.
  • All of these people are parents, and most of their children go to school.
  • Some of their kids may be in your class, and you may not know this.
  • Even if you do know about the situation, you probably don’t know how they feel about it.
  • Kids have all kinds of feelings about all of these things (including, often, complicated mixed feelings).
  • If you want to talk about prison issues, crime, justice, legal reform, or any of that, it’s important to keep in mind that whatever you say about one of these groups of people, you may be saying it about a student’s parent.
  • And that you don’t know how they feel. 
  • Speak in a way that gives them space to have opinions, and to be both personally affected and part of the class.
  • If you say “we” and mean “people who aren’t personally connected to this issue”, kids are likely to feel that you are distancing yourself from them and their parents.
  • It’s better to speak with the assumption that what you’re saying applies to the parents of one of your students, and that they may have complicated thoughts and feelings about this.

Similarly:

  • People of all races have children of all races. When you say something about a racial group, you may be saying it about a student’s parent.
  • People with all kinds of disabilities have children. When you say things about disabled people or disabilities, you may be saying it about a student’s parent.
  • (Including blind people, deaf people, autistic people, people with intellectual disabilities, wheelchair users, people with conditions that usually shorten lifespan, and every other kind of disability).
  • When you talk about teenage pregnancy, keep in mind that some students may have parents who were teenagers when they were born.
  • People of all political opinions, including abhorrent opinions, have children. When you say something about members of a political group, you may be saying it about a student’s parent.
  • People who work at McDonalds have children. When you talk about McDonalds workers and people in similar roles, it’s extremely likely that you’re talking about a student’s parent. (Especially if you teach in a public school).
  • Many people who do sex work have children. If you say something about strippers, porn stars, escorts, phone sex operators, dominatrixes, or whoever else, you may be saying it about someone’s mother, father, or parent.
  • People of all faiths and ethnicities have children (who may or may not be raised in their faith). If you say something about a religion or its followers, you may be saying it about the parent of one of your students.
  • And so on.

Being more abstract again:

  • People from all walks of life have kids, and you may be teaching some of their kids.
  • Keep that in mind.
  • Whatever you say about a group of people, you may be saying it about your student’s mother, father, or parent.
  • If you speak about it like it’s an abstract issue that couldn’t apply to anyone in the room, it’s likely to be really alienating.
  • This is true even if what you say is positive or sympathetic.
  • Kids need to be seen and acknowledged. If you speak as though they’re not there, it gets harder for them to trust you.
  • When you speak about a group of people, speak with the assumption that at least one student in the room has a parent who is a member of that group.

(To be clear: I’m not saying don’t talk about these issues. Sometimes it’s 100% your job to talk about these issues. What I am saying is, keep in mind that it may be personal, that you may be talking about a student’s parent, and that you won’t always know that this is the case. Taking this into account makes it possible to teach everyone in the room.)

tl;dr When you’re teaching, keep in mind that the kids in your class probably have parents, and that you don’t know everything about their parents. Their parents may come from any and every walk of life. Keep this in mind when you talk about issues and groups. You may well be talking about a student’s mother, father, family, or parent. 

A school project not to assign

reinventweather:

seatentsina:

realsocialskills:

If you are a teacher, do not ask your students to make a family tree as a school assignment. *Especially* do not do this as a class art project to be posted on the wall.

A lot of kids have very complicated families, and complicated feelings about which words to use for which people.

For instance: Some kids call multiple people “mom”. Sometimes this is because they’re being raised by a lesbian couple. Sometimes this is because they are adopted and also maintaining a relationship with their mother who gave birth to them. Sometimes this is because their parents divorced and remarried and they also see their stepparents as parents. None of these relationships map easily onto a family tree project.

Some kids don’t have any parents at all. This isn’t something that they should have to tell their peers if they don’t want to. 

Some kids aren’t sure who their parents are. Is it the people who adopted them when they were a baby and disrupted when they were six? The person who gave birth to them? The people they’re living with now? The one nice staff in their group home? The person they’re in foster care with who they’re hoping will eventually adopt them? It’s complicated and not ok to ask kids to declare this in writing in front of everyone.

There are any number of emotionally fraught and complicated situations that go along with describing families. It’s not good to have kids do that as part of an assignment, unless you’re working in a context in which getting people to do emotionally fraught things is appropriate.

seatentsina said:

lol I remember having to do a project like this for Hebrew School, idek remember why. but it was super awkward and uncomfortable and embarrassing to come in with a lopsided, half-blank tree. 

reinventweather said:

my friend (who teaches the sixth grade) just had the ‘bring a parent to school’ day EXCEPT it was ‘bring your vip to school’ and it was parents and siblings and aunts and neighbors and pastors and EVERYONE.

what a great idea.

ahirumama:

Merf. Thinking is Hard.: A school project not to assign

casanova-frankensteins-monster:

eshusplayground:

realsocialskills:

If you are a teacher, do not ask your students to make a family tree as a school assignment. *Especially* do not do this as a class art project to be posted on the wall.

A lot of kids have very complicated families, and complicated feelings about which words to use for which people.

For instance: Some kids call multiple people “mom”. Sometimes this is because they’re being raised by a lesbian couple. Sometimes this is because they are adopted and also maintaining a relationship with their mother who gave birth to them. Sometimes this is because their parents divorced and remarried and they also see their stepparents as parents. None of these relationships map easily onto a family tree project.

Some kids don’t have any parents at all. This isn’t something that they should have to tell their peers if they don’t want to. 

Some kids aren’t sure who their parents are. Is it the people who adopted them when they were a baby and disrupted when they were six? The person who gave birth to them? The people they’re living with now? The one nice staff in their group home? The person they’re in foster care with who they’re hoping will eventually adopt them? It’s complicated and not ok to ask kids to declare this in writing in front of everyone.

There are any number of emotionally fraught and complicated situations that go along with describing families. It’s not good to have kids do that as part of an assignment, unless you’re working in a context in which getting people to do emotionally fraught things is appropriate.

eshusplayground said:

Not to mention, some kids have a family history that’s been damn near erased due to enslavement and/or genocide.

casanova-frankensteins-monster said:

we had to do a family tree project in the 6th grade

i put a lot of time and effort into my project and was very proud of it

but when i turned it in to class at the end of the year, there were literally (white) kids with BINDERS (not 1 binder, multiple) full of material tracing their routes back to like the exact latitudes and longitudes in Europe that their families came from

my family tree project was the size of one notebook and only went back about 4 or 5 generations, and a lot of the information we had was by word of mouth and not, you know, actual documentation

ahirumama said:

yeah teaching English as a foreign language, I was worried about how to do this and found a cool idea of teaching the kids the words and then having them make their own families from whatever they wanted.  So they could have characters and what not or use their real families if they wanted but none them were obligated.  Most ended up with tons of characters or weird creatures and it worked pretty well.  The time one of my head teachers made them use their real families, we did have a breakdown in the class. 

warcrimenancydrew:

Merf. Thinking is Hard.: A school project not to assign

eshusplayground:

realsocialskills:

If you are a teacher, do not ask your students to make a family tree as a school assignment. *Especially* do not do this as a class art project to be posted on the wall.

A lot of kids have very complicated families, and complicated feelings about which words to use for which people.

For instance: Some kids call multiple people “mom”. Sometimes this is because they’re being raised by a lesbian couple. Sometimes this is because they are adopted and also maintaining a relationship with their mother who gave birth to them. Sometimes this is because their parents divorced and remarried and they also see their stepparents as parents. None of these relationships map easily onto a family tree project.

Some kids don’t have any parents at all. This isn’t something that they should have to tell their peers if they don’t want to. 

Some kids aren’t sure who their parents are. Is it the people who adopted them when they were a baby and disrupted when they were six? The person who gave birth to them? The people they’re living with now? The one nice staff in their group home? The person they’re in foster care with who they’re hoping will eventually adopt them? It’s complicated and not ok to ask kids to declare this in writing in front of everyone.

There are any number of emotionally fraught and complicated situations that go along with describing families. It’s not good to have kids do that as part of an assignment, unless you’re working in a context in which getting people to do emotionally fraught things is appropriate.

eshusplayground said:

Not to mention, some kids have a family history that’s been damn near erased due to enslavement and/or genocide.

warcrimenancydrew said:

and some kids come from cultures where everyone doesn’t keep long detailed family records. the last generation my parents know anything about is their grandparents (and even then, it’s minimal info), it’s pretty much silent from that point back.

mistakeshavebeenmade:

Merf. Thinking is Hard.: A school project not to assign

eshusplayground:

realsocialskills:

If you are a teacher, do not ask your students to make a family tree as a school assignment. *Especially* do not do this as a class art project to be posted on the wall.

A lot of kids have very complicated families, and complicated feelings about which words to use for which people.

For instance: Some kids call multiple people “mom”. Sometimes this is because they’re being raised by a lesbian couple. Sometimes this is because they are adopted and also maintaining a relationship with their mother who gave birth to them. Sometimes this is because their parents divorced and remarried and they also see their stepparents as parents. None of these relationships map easily onto a family tree project.

Some kids don’t have any parents at all. This isn’t something that they should have to tell their peers if they don’t want to. 

Some kids aren’t sure who their parents are. Is it the people who adopted them when they were a baby and disrupted when they were six? The person who gave birth to them? The people they’re living with now? The one nice staff in their group home? The person they’re in foster care with who they’re hoping will eventually adopt them? It’s complicated and not ok to ask kids to declare this in writing in front of everyone.

There are any number of emotionally fraught and complicated situations that go along with describing families. It’s not good to have kids do that as part of an assignment, unless you’re working in a context in which getting people to do emotionally fraught things is appropriate.

eshusplayground said:

Not to mention, some kids have a family history that’s been damn near erased due to enslavement and/or genocide.

mistakeshavebeenmade said:

Reblogging because this is a thing that I wind up having to deal with a lot as a Spanish tutor. I’m not sure what the alternative is for teachers to use while teaching names for family members, because that is an important thing to learn, but there needs to be one. And don’t, for pity’s sake, just teach the words for the traditional nuclear family. I don’t enjoy doing your job for you.

realsocialskills said:

I don’t have a good answer to this. Except that maybe using dolls or doing skits would be better than making family trees?

Does anyone have a better answer?

A school project not to assign

If you are a teacher, do not ask your students to make a family tree as a school assignment. *Especially* do not do this as a class art project to be posted on the wall.

A lot of kids have very complicated families, and complicated feelings about which words to use for which people.

For instance: Some kids call multiple people “mom”. Sometimes this is because they’re being raised by a lesbian couple. Sometimes this is because they are adopted and also maintaining a relationship with their mother who gave birth to them. Sometimes this is because their parents divorced and remarried and they also see their stepparents as parents. None of these relationships map easily onto a family tree project.

Some kids don’t have any parents at all. This isn’t something that they should have to tell their peers if they don’t want to. 

Some kids aren’t sure who their parents are. Is it the people who adopted them when they were a baby and disrupted when they were six? The person who gave birth to them? The people they’re living with now? The one nice staff in their group home? The person they’re in foster care with who they’re hoping will eventually adopt them? It’s complicated and not ok to ask kids to declare this in writing in front of everyone.

There are any number of emotionally fraught and complicated situations that go along with describing families. It’s not good to have kids do that as part of an assignment, unless you’re working in a context in which getting people to do emotionally fraught things is appropriate.

slashmarks:

[tw: abuse]

If you are a teacher, never make interviewing a family member a part of an assignment.

“Interview an adult” or “Interview a person who fits this description” is probably okay, but many people do not have families, and many people who do have terrible families. Forcing someone to spend extended time with a family member may be contravening their usual strategies for avoiding violence. If they live on their own, you may be trying to force an escaped abuse victim to recontact their abusers.

Not everyone is able to approach you for an alternative — abuse often comes with fear in social situations and problems interacting with people. They also don’t know that you are going to be willing to give you an alternative; you could potentially refuse, be abusive to them yourself, report the abuse (possibly because you’re legally mandated to) and cause serious problems in their lives that way, cause a runaway minor to end up in juvenile detention or just returned to abusive guardians, or even contact their parents and tell them the student is telling lives about them.

In addition to abuse, I’ve seen examples of things like “interview two/three family members.” An only child raised by a single parent may not HAVE two family members to interview. Disclosing your family structure and/or parent’s family abandonment should not be necessary for your grades.

It’s fairly simple to come up with an alternative. If you want them to talk to adults: “Interview [number] of adults about their experiences… Parents, teachers, librarians, and family friends are examples of people who you could interview.” If you want them to talk to people close to them: “Interview [number] of people whom you have close relationships with about… Family, good friends, and romantic partners* are examples of people who you could interview.” (That said, ‘people you’re close to’ runs the risk of being exclusionary to people who have trouble forming relationships so be careful with this one.)

This is true for any age of student, kindergarten through university, though I suspect it comes up slightly less often in university.

*Obviously this one’s only going to be middle or high school and up, but yes, your students may have romantic partners and may be very close to them.