15 Times My Educators Failed Me as a Transracial Adoptee

I’ve written a lot about racism I received when I was young from my peers, but I think it’s important to talk about racism and bias from teachers and other adults in a school setting. Racism is often times couched in terms of hate speech, but ignoring racism or the presence of race can be just as harmful. Moreover, many of the comments or situations that made me feel uncomfortable at school were directed at me by well-intentioned and, in some cases, my favorite teachers. Teachers are viewed as role models for their students, and that is why it is so important to address this topic at an educator level. When students of color face issues in the classroom and within peer groups that perhaps touch on race, adoption, or other identities but don’t feel a sense of understanding or validation from their teachers, where can they turn? Not only academic learning that takes place in the classroom. Teachers model behaviors, share attitudes, and affirm or challenge the status quo. Whether or not the act, comment, or assignment is seemingly trivial, I can guarantee you students are watching and learning.

  1. When my second grade teacher told my class that adoption was the same as buying a child.
  2. When the reading specialist at my school told my mom how fortunate it was that one of my previous teachers was “having one of her own instead of adopting.”
  3. Every time I had to bring in baby photos, so we could guess which baby picture belonged to which child.
    • I don’t have any baby photos from China, and I was always one of a couple Asian students in class.  They could always guess which one was me.
  4. When my fourth grade teacher, an adoptive mother, told me that it was completely fair that I couldn’t achieve my dream and become president of the U.S. some day.
  5. When my instructor at an educational summer program assumed the Asian woman was my mother.
    • Even though I told her she wasn’t, the instructor walked me over to her anyway.
  6. Every time I had to make countless family tree projects.
  7. When my sixth grade science teacher asked me to remove an arm hair to look at under the microscope.
    •  In my science class, we were supposed to pluck one hair from our head and one hair from our arm to compare the thickness under the microscope. Like a lot of Asian people with Keratosis Pilaris (commonly called “chicken skin”), I lack arm hair and told my teacher. She scoffed at me and said, “Everyone has arm hair.” I told her I was telling the truth and showed her my arm, and she finally let me use someone else’s hair sample. About a week later, she apologized to me, saying that she had encountered a black student with the same problem as me. Interestingly, black and Asian children have the highest rates of Keratosis Pilaris.
  8. Every time my well-meaning middle school librarian called me the name of one of the five other Asian girls in my grade.
  9. When my eighth grade social science teacher did nothing after a student muttered loudly, “Why do I have to be in a group with chinkface?”
    • Was it simply easier to ignore the derogatory comment than to address it?
  10. When my ninth grade Biology teacher, one of my all time favorite teachers, gave us an assignment to look at our parents features and document which ones we inherited.
  11. Every time a certain substitute came for any of my classes, he would specifically greet me with 你好 (ni hao).
  12. When my tenth grade U.S. history class only mentioned Asian Americans in relationship to the transcontinental railroad explosions and the Chinese Exclusion Act.
    • Chinese bodies, like mine, were viewed as disposable and only worthy of a few minutes of attention.
  13. When my twelfth grade German teacher spun around in her chair and cried after finding out I am an adoptee.
  14. When my photography professor didn’t realize how his assignment exposed me, as a woman of color, to different vulnerabilities, staying for extended periods of time and photographing in a majority white community.
  15. Every time my college used my image or stories on promotional materials to showcase their commitment to diversity.

14 responses to “15 Times My Educators Failed Me as a Transracial Adoptee

  1. Pingback: 15 Times My Educators Failed Me as a Transracial Adoptee | milanioliva/ olivera kovacevic jankovic·

  2. Reblogged this on Joan's Journal and commented:
    Although this piece was written by a transracial adoptee, I’m sure many others can relate to the blatant insensitivity by educators and the general public regarding adoption. I’ll never forget those family tree assignments, being told how lucky I was that I was adopted, and being asked what life was like in the orphanage. Note: I was never in an orphanage.


    • Thanks for sharing this on your blog! Educators need to understand that there are a lot of diverse family structures. No one should ever be told that theirs is wrong.


  3. Thank you for your blog. How it hurts to read about what you were subjected to by people who should have known better.

    As the mom of a middle school age girl adopted from China, I can tell you that my child has already experienced the family tree assignment (multiple times); the “look at your mom and dad and list your inherited characteristics to share with the class” assignment; the “bring in a baby picture assignment” (youngest we have is of her was taken at about 12 months old); and the being called another Asian kid’s name (because of course they all look alike — not!). In addition, she’s been asked to share with a class her length and weight at birth (we don’t have that information), and she’s been told (by another student of Chinese ethnicity) that she couldn’t put her “where my ancestors are from” map pin on China because “you’re not really Chinese” and was not supported in her choice by her elementary school teacher. Unfortunately, I don’t need to be a fortune teller to say that the hits probably will just keep on coming! It seems the fight against ignorance and racism never ends. Isn’t that sad in this day and age?


  4. My son is a Caucasian adopted male and he faced many of the same comments, as did I as his adoptive parent. Just part of life. No escaping it. Some people are not sensitive or smart.


  5. I am sorry these things happened to you. I’m a future educator and I’m sincerely interested in what the correct way is for educators to compose themselves when they have adoptee and transracial adoptees. I am also a mother of loss. I have a sinking feeling in my stomach when I think about my daughter possibly being treated this way (she is a transracial adoptee). I think it is extremely important for all educators to be trained on how to conduct themselves when adoption effects their students (mothers of loss, adoptive parents, siblings, etc. should be considered as well as adoptees). I have not had one course mention it and I will be graduating this April. I know I will have to keep my emotions aside and be completely professional when I teach a student effected by adoption. But I welcome all the information I can get to help effectively break through public education’s adoption bias and issues.


  6. Pingback: Love is NOT all you need | Red Thread Broken·

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s