Family Teacher

Heidi and I started this blog so we could share our lives and our job with family and friends that we moved away from. This has allowed us to talk a lot about our thoughts and emotions while doing this job, as well as share some experiences and lessons we have learned during our time here. But I don’t think we have actually talked about our job, and why we are called family teachers. We mention being family teachers, or FT’s, in a lot of our posts but we haven’t explained what it actually is that we do with the kids in our care. Because of the high turnover in our house, we have to explain this to our kids pretty frequently.

There are 2 parts to being a family teacher, and they’re right in the name. Our job is to be a family as well as be a teacher. Most of the kids that come to our cottage have families somewhere out there. Most of our kids were taken suddenly from their families, so it’s understandable that they miss their parents, siblings, and whoever else was important in their life. Most of them no longer have the only family that they have known, so it’s our job to be their family, if only for a short time. What we tell the kids is that we know they have families and they have mom and dads already, but for whatever reason, they can’t be with them right now. So until they can be back with their families, we will be their substitute mom and dad, and Bryan Mac will be their substitute family.

We do our best to communicate this with words, but the concept of family is something that’s better to show than to say. We do our best to demonstrate to them what a family is, and what a family should be. If they are with us, they probably didn’t have a very strong family, and they probably have a distorted view of what a family should be. It’s tough for some kids, especially ones who were an only child, to adjust to life in a big new house with new authority figures and a bunch of other boys. But with consistent love, food, shelter, discipline, and laughter, relationships are formed, trust is built, and a house of unrelated boys becomes a family. One of the best compliments we’ve ever received by one of our supervisors was after an observation. They told us that our house full of foster boys (who had been all together for less than a month) didn’t feel like a house full of strangers, but of brothers.  A lot of times it’s amazing how fast that process happens. Kids are quick learners, and they understand what they need and can sense when someone really cares about them. When they recognize that they now have the physical, emotional, and spiritual support that they need, it’s easier to accept where they are and who they’re with.

Family is the obvious part of our job. We work at a children’s home with foster kids. Our job is to be a family for kids who don’t have families. Mostly true. Family is the easy part, but teacher is arguably the more important part of our job. Using the Teaching Family Model, we teach kids social skills that they need to be successful in their life after Thornwell. In the assessment cottage, we observe and assess where kids are at with certain social skill when they are first admitted to Thornwell. We start by looking at simple skills like following instructions, asking permission, and getting along with others. All of those can be broken down further or modified if need be, but we want kids to be able to master those simple skills before they move on to more specific skills, like taking initiative and personal hygiene.

Teaching social skills is complicated under normal circumstances, but when kids have to unlearn years of bad habits, it can be even more difficult. Kids have had to learn skills like stealing and lying in order to preserve their own safety at home. Some of our kids were left all by themselves, so they take what they want when they want it. When you’re 4 years old and have spent most of their time alone, you don’t know how to interact with other kids. We don’t just teach the importance of positive social skills, we teach why negative social skills are negative. A big part of our teaching interactions are rationales. We have to tell the child why a positive skill will help them, and how a negative skill can be harmful. One of the great parts of the Teaching Family Model is that it is very child centered. The Family Teachers get to know each kid and select target skills that they specifically need to work on. With older children, the goal is to get the kids to a point that they can recognize their own positive and negative behavior, and they can have a hand in choosing what skills they think they need to work on. All of the kids that are old enough for the model are tasked with choosing goals that they want to accomplish. We encourage a mix of long and short term goals. Some of the goals for our current kids range from throwing a football straight to attending college. Some are simple and silly, others are more substantial. These goals are what we use to teach skills. The FT’s come up with rationales to connect their target skills to the goals they want to achieve. This helps the kids learn because it helps them understand how the target skills specifically chosen for them can help them accomplish the goals that they set.

Our job is so much more than just parenting someone else’s kids, or getting paid to be stay at home parents. Heidi likes to say that our job is more like doing 3 full time jobs at the same time: parenting 8-10 kids, housework, and paperwork. Those tasks and more keep us pretty busy, but we love it. We feel that Family Teaching is perfect preparation for when we have our own kids, and we feel that our lives before this prepared us perfectly for Family Teaching.

-Mr. Jon

P.S. This song has been stuck in my head for a while, so I figured I would share it with y’all.