What might be right for you may not be right for some [On home visits]

At the Education Week Teacher blog, my colleagues and I have written a fair amount about parent involvement as the missing link in school reform (here are a couple that I wrote). Generally, I agree that the parents of low-income communities have an untapped power that sometimes differentiates between the schools found in our neighborhoods […]

At the Education Week Teacher blog, my colleagues and I have written a fair amount about parent involvement as the missing link in school reform (here are a couple that I wrote). Generally, I agree that the parents of low-income communities have an untapped power that sometimes differentiates between the schools found in our neighborhoods and those in more affluent neighborhoods. I argued that we as teachers and liaisons to the learning need to help the relationship between parents and their schools by taking a proactive stance in all relationships. This works because it prompts the less active ones into action and the more active ones into a positive relationship with the school.

One commenter, Cheryl Suliteanu on the last post asked this question in her comments:

Jose I am going to adopt the idea of “anything over three minutes merits a school visit”. One of my biggest concerns is the lack of parent interaction when students move into the upper grades. Having taught primary grades for the last 7 years, and moving up to teaching 5th grade next year, I am going to focus significant energy on maintaining consistent, face-to-face contact with families, even though it’s not currently considered the “norm”. Parents are my partners in educating their child, and I think that parent conferences once a year (our district’s current practice) just isn’t enough.

A step further is home visits. What is your experience with visiting families at home, if having them come to school is a challenge?

When I first read it, I bit my tongue…because I had no response. What does a New York City teacher really know about home visits? We don’t concern ourselves with home visits, and I don’t know why. Actually, I had to stop writing this and ask my fiancee, “Wait, we can do home visits?” I know I read about home visits, most recently from Greg Michie’s Holler If You Hear Me, but I never actually experienced a home visit.

What does it mean when you actually break the seal of the teacher-student relationship and truly entrench yourself in the community? What does it say when you take your best shoes into someone’s house unaware of the conditions you’re walking into and the eventual response the morning after about the visit? Is there a level of respect between all the parties involved, and are there protections for you as a professional walking into your student’s houses? Do lawyers follow us into the house or wait for us outside?

Here I am showing my bias.

In other states, home visits are part and parcel of a teacher’s responsibility, especially for the neediest kids. The entire community knows that they have an expectation that a teacher won’t call, e-mail, or text the parent to replace a home visit. Many of the same principles I discussed in the first aforementioned parent involvement still apply here. We still need to be proactive, and make sure those home visits are worth every minute spent.

Whenever teachers have an opportunity to occupy a space for the purposes of progress, then that’s a good place to be. Teachers can advocate better for children if they actually knew what they come home to every night. Until then, they’re just watching it on TV like everyone else does…and watching it play out in the classroom like no one else will.