Monday, June 18, 2007

Home Visits By Teachers

I've always been against the concept of home visits. For starters, I'm a teacher, not a social worker. I'm not trained to evaluate what I see in the home, and even if I were, how would I use that information in the classroom? "Oh, Johnny's home doesn't have many books. And there were dishes in the sink. And the tv was on." I know there might be an impact, but how does that knowledge help me teach Johnny? He's either responding to my instruction, or he's not. If he's not, let's try something else and see if he responds to that.

I'm not ashamed of my home, not in its appearance, upkeep, or conditions. But I would never allow my son's teacher to come to my house for such a visit. In my son's life, my place is at home and at school, but his teacher's place is at school.

I always thought home visits a bit paternalistic and judgemental, because I was told their reason was for the teacher to get an "understanding" of the child's home life. I viewed them as one link in the chain of soft bigotry of low expectations.

Here, however, is a justification I can live with and support:

The concept is simple: Students will do better in school if their teachers and parents get to know each other. The grants go to schools that predominantly serve children from low-income families.

Building a bridge is good. Acting like a social worker after a two-hour in-service on what to look for in a home visit is not.


Mike said...

Times have changed. Once upon a time, and I'm old enough to remember this from expeience, parents delighted in inviting a child's teacher to their home for dinner. It was a great social event for everyone involved, and made kids the envy of their classmates. The key here is that the teacher was invited.

Who among us would go, unbidden, to the home of someone we did not know, or knew only through a relative--of theirs? Who among us would feel comfortable or justified in going to this home for the purpose of nosing around to judge their fitness for parenting or to gain insight into why their child turned out as they did? Those who suggest that teachers should do this are asking that teachers engage in just that kind of social imposition.

It's a long dead bit of trivia for most, but the PTA existed in many schools, particularly elementary schools, to give parents the opportunity to meet and get to know their child's teachers in a non-threatening environment, a place where parents knew they would not be judged for a bit of dust on the mantle or a dirty dish in the sink, and where their mere address would not paste a social label on their foreheads. If we want to build relationships, we might consider reviving this tradition. But, you say, if we do this, we won't get the parents we really need to see!

True enough, but sending teachers into parent's homes is dangerous on many levels. Suppose the parents break into a fight while the teacher is there? Strike their child? Suppose the teacher notices that the parents are growing marijuana, or finds themselve the victim of assault? Suppose the home is filthy, there is little food, inappropriate furniture, no running water? What is the teacher's obligation then, and how will it affect their relationship with those students? The parents? The community?

Home visits by teachers are a very, very bad idea, and a no win situation. For safety, professional, public relations, and a wide variety of other practical reasons, they should not be done.

Matt Johnston said...

I am never sure about the mission of the PTA, but if one part was to help get the teachers and parents on a more familiar level, I can't imagine that to be a bad thing.

As a kid, my parents knew my teachers (and still socialize with a few of them some 30 years later) outside of the school setting. Whether through church, soccer, baseball or other common interests, my parents and my teachers knew and knew of each other--which made it hard to lie and get away with things (not impossible, just harder--I was still a kid!!).

The larger problem is that for many kids, their parents and teachers don't know one another. For some of the middle class, upper middle class and rich kids, their teachers can't afford to live in their neighborhoods and for the poor kids, their teachers don't want to live in their neighborhoods. There is as much a physical disconnect as a social disconnect between teachers and the parents.

That it was makes the situation so sad. But I don't believe that forcing a connection by requried home visits to be a solution. It does smack of government paternalism and governmental checking up on parents, even if the teachers are reluctant participants.

Erica said...

Inviting the teacher home for dinner is a good idea, I wonder why my parents, who secretly hand-picked every teacher I had up to high school never did so?

I would not be ashamed of my home either, but I would be cautious of inviting most members of the public teaching profession to my house. We have antique rifles on the walls (rendered non-funtional be removal of key pieces but still scary to the uninformed) and a bookshelf full of conservative literature.

Though we have a nice, tasteful, clean household, those two things might be enough to get us accused of several "abusive" practices. All we'd need to do it put up a picture or two of Jesus and a big crucifix to complete the terrifying tableaux.

But I live in California, it's like opposite day all the time here.

MikeAT said...

Darren your opinion (Like you won’t tell me that!) would it be useful for a teacher to set up a web site for the parents to check what are their children’s homework assignments…or an email blast to the parent and child that says “Math 1010 has homework of XXX due on Jan 20th?”

And I agree with you’re not a social worker or a cop. And as a cop I’ve had to explain to people more than once “I’m not your child’s father…I’m not here to raise your kids.”

Darren said...

I'm not a big fan of such web sites, Mike. There are better ways for parents to ensure their children do their assignments than by cutting the kid out of the responsibility loop.

Mister Teacher said...

At my school, the issue of home visits is really more of a safety concern than one of proper etiquette. Most often, the visits are not to learn more about the child, but to communicate with the parents/guardians, since they often have no phone and no car. I made a few home visits my first year as a teacher, and they were to tell the parents directly that their child had been reprimanded or suspended, because we knew the child would not pass that info on to his parents himself. But to be honest, I did not feel comfortable or secure visiting those apartments on my own.

elementaryhistoryteacher said..., I don't think so. However, I do believe home visits are key in certain situations, but they should be handled by the social worker, school nurse, or even the adm.

Phone calls....yes,but in controlled situations. I never use my cell phone and never call from home. Why? A colleague of mine was actually stalked by a parent for over a year even with restraining orders. Remembering her situation I always call from school.

Sunny said...

I completely understand both sides of the debate about home visits. As a parent, I probably won't invite my child's teacher into my home, but I'll happily talk to him or her on the porch over a glass of lemonade.

As a teacher, having just come from 4 home visits, I see them as a way to welcome the students and families (remember, they are not always parents) to another school year. For the most part, the parents and students seem happy to see me.

I think it's a good icebreaker and I can see that if done with much thought (NOT to judge parents or home, etc)and with care, they can be a positive. Too often I have heard students say, "You don't even know where I live," and it's a good point. How can you truly teach someone you don't know?

The parents and guardians seem very receptive to me coming by, especially when they have no car, phone or internet access. It just lets them know that I care. That I consider them a vital part of their child's academic team. Plus, it's an easy way to ease the child's stress by saying, "Hey, I'm your homeroom teacher this year and I'm so excited to have you in my class this year. Here's a goody bag for you and my contact information for parents so they can contact me if they ever have a question or concern."