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In over 10 years in the classroom, I have taught multiple sets of multiples – some together and some apart. Despite years of training and experience, I have never been advised on how to adjust my practice to create the best learning environment for twins.
It wasn’t until I became a father of twins that I realized how many ignorant mistakes and blunders I must have made. I struggled to distinguish between identical twins. I spoke to multiples as if they were each other’s keeper. I once even failed to realize that a pair of fraternal twins were related.
As my own fraternal twins are now a year away from entering preschool, I find myself reflecting upon my practice and feeling compelled to share how my newfound experiences with my own children will affect how I support multiples moving forward. Simply put, this is the advice I would give to any parent, colleague, or administrator about teaching my own children.
Twins are two separate people
No matter the age or context, twins deserve to be seen and valued as independent, unique persons. As an educator, it is your responsibility to get to know and support twins as individual students – just as you would any child in your care.
With some simple acts of mindfulness, you can help ensure that twins feel comfortable as individuals in your classroom and school community:
- Refer to each twin by name. There is perhaps no more dehumanizing experience for a multiple than always being referred to in generalizations like “The Twins” or “The Smiths.” For identical twins, make it a point to learn how to differentiate them.
- Keep your curiosities in check. While it is true that twins share a unique experience that can be intriguing, individual multiples deserve to decide to what degree they want to share about (or even identify as) being a multiple. Don’t treat twins like a sociology experiment.
- You don’t need to provide identical experiences and opportunities for each twin. A professor once told me “There is nothing more unequal than sameness.” This holds true for multiples. Just because one sibling is given a special privilege or is selected as a volunteer for an activity doesn’t mean the other sibling must be as well.
- Avoid twin vs. twin comparisons. Much like avoiding sibling comparisons year-to-year, it is even more important to do so with twins (whether they are in the same classes or not). Ability and interests are a combination of nature and nurture. Just because one twin shows an affinity for something doesn’t mean the other will as well. Similarly, one twin’s struggle is not necessarily the other’s. Teach, assess, and support multiples on a personal level – just like you would any other individual student.
- Don’t create twin vs. twin competitions. Whether it’s in a classroom game or the grade book, pitting multiples against each other is a no-win situation. In my practice, I definitely have made passing comments to individual twins about each other thinking I was providing playful motivation. Now, as a father of twins, I understand how this does little more than send the message that they are each being regarded as merely half of a pair.
- Parent contact should be focused on one student at a time. Just because you may wish to discuss one twin with a parent does not mean that you have to have something to say about the other. Furthermore, formal conferences should be scheduled separately to establish dedicated time for each student – no two-for-one bundles!
Be the example for your students
There are plenty of things you can do in your own interactions with multiples to make each child feel heard, understood, and cared for. That said, you also set the tone for how multiples are treated by their peers. If you call them “The Twins” or regularly compare them to each other, students will too. This establishes and reinforces a pattern that could follow the siblings throughout their school careers.
Even if you are doing your best to individualize twins, many kids probably still won’t. Set expectations that every student deserves to be called by their own name and treated as their own unique person. Be attentive to how twins are being treated and interject when appropriate. The combination of being both proactive and reactive will help lay the groundwork for multiples to enjoy the comfortable learning environment they deserve.
Together or apart should be the parents’ and students’ decision
Last but not least, the big question with multiples is often when or whether to separate them. It starts at home with things like bedrooms and bath time, but few decisions are more agonizing than what to do about school.
My wife and I (both educators) have gone back and forth on this issue since we found out we were expecting twins. Next fall, our kids will go to school for the first time. Even now, we aren’t totally sure what the right call is. That said, we are adamant that it will be a call we make as a family.
Schools and educators are often put in difficult positions when it comes to requests made by parents on behalf of their children. It can feel like an outsider is imposing circumstances (some that may contradict the educators’ own professional opinions) on both working conditions and a child’s education.
Now that I have a foot in both camps, my advice to schools when it comes to multiples is this: while the input of educators may be valuable, it is only one set of voices in a much larger conversation. Families of multiples (and the multiples themselves) share unique insights and experiences that you cannot truly comprehend second-hand. Offer your advice, but let families ultimately decide whether together or apart is best.
In the end, if you are approaching multiples with attentive care, personalized educational experiences, and the support they need to grow, you will do right by them. As a parent and teacher, I am both hopeful and thankful that there will be those that do exactly that for my own children.
Sheldon Soper is a father of twins, content writer, and New Jersey school teacher with over a decade of classroom experience teaching students to read, write, and problem-solve across multiple grade levels. He holds teaching certifications in English, Social Studies, and Elementary Education as well as Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in the field of education. You can follow Sheldon on Twitter @SoperWritings and check out his other projects on his blog.