Went on my first home visit last week. It was completely unexpected. I was in the office discussing a student with my principal when the social worker came in to say that she had to do a visit with the family of my newest student because there was an attendance problem from his last school and the parent did not attend the meeting about it. “Do you want to come?” she asked me, then turned to the principal, “Can you get her coverage?” We quickly worked out the details for an afternoon visit and when the substitute came into my room at the beginning of Math, I was ready.
No, that’s a lie. I wasn’t ready.
I wholeheartedly believe in home visits. I think it’s great to build relationships with our school families. But, this Dad wasn’t expecting us and I didn’t want to come off as a judgmental authority figure. I had no idea what to expect from the trip. But, I put my faith in our social worker, for whom I have great respect and trust, that she would lead us in a positive direction.
And she did.
We found the house, but had trouble getting an answer to our knocks. There were 6 apartments in the house and we finally made it to the attic rooms rented by my student’s family. After asking for the pit bull to be put into another room, we met in the “kitchen.”
Dad seemed perfectly happy to welcome us into the house and glad to talk about his son. We discussed the changes in his life that inspired the move into our school and how Dad thought it would make a big difference in improving the boy’s attendance. We talked about what books and word work materials I could send home to help Dad work with his son who is reading and writing well below grade level. I described our school day, and the parts where the young man soared – lots of friends, willing to try new things – and the parts where he struggled – working independently and staying on task. We brainstormed ideas that we could try both in the classroom and at home. We made a
I left with a good feeling that this Dad had enough of the tools needed to support his son’s progress.
But, I also left fairly certain that we had interrupted a drug buy, and passed another customer on our way out. And, earlier, when I put the word “kitchen” in parenthesis, it was because, though there was a table and chairs and a few boxes of cereal, I saw no refrigerator, nor stove. The “apartment” was likely illegal, a set of attic rooms intended to be a part of the 2nd floor space, not a separate residence.
What do I do with this information? The social worker will keep tabs on the safety of the home environment for the student, and she knows the law well enough to know both our obligations and our rights in intervening. I’ll follow her lead on that end. But in the classroom, I have a boy who I know lives in difficult circumstances that continue to make it hard for him to do homework, practice reading, and catch up to his 2nd grade peers. It would be easy to feel overwhelmed by the amount of support he needs compared to the amount of time and resources I have.
This home visit will not magically make my student’s life easier. But, here’s what it did do:
- It gave me a good picture of a flawed but loving father who wants the best for his son.
- It gave me new patience for the distracted behavior the boy exhibits.
- It gave me empathy over “lost” homework.
- It gave me a stronger commitment to connect with families to ask what they need from me to help their children learn outside of school.
I don’t know when my next opportunity to make a home visit will be, but I know that I will make the time to do it.