Dec 30, 2011

Education Week: More Districts Sending Teachers Into Students' Homes

Image Credit: Flickr/The Voice of Eye

Would you welcome your child's teacher into your home? 

To be honest, I have extremely mixed feelings about the whole home visit thing. A recent article made me think even more critically about my misgivings. Here is a quote from the article that caught my attention:
"There is a gold mine of information in that home—whether it's fully furnished or whether they don't have electricity," said Karen Kalish, a philanthropist based in St. Louis who has led the creation of teacher home-visit programs in several Missouri districts.
For example, just one visit home can help a teacher understand that a particular student doesn't have a desk or a place to do homework. "The teacher can now do something different with the child, instead of sending homework home and getting mad when it's not done," Ms. Kalish said.  --from Education Week: More Districts Sending Teachers Into Students' Homes

Is it just me? or is this an extremely insensitive comment? I work primarily with kids who are on the lower end of the income spectrum. Some of their families may invite me to their homes for social events; but I don't know any of them who would want me to visit as part of a school program. Most of my students' families wouldn't enjoy having someone witness their struggles. Their pride would be hurt if I saw that they had no electricity or no table to sit at to do their work. Many of my students come to school to escape their home situations. They like to have a part of every day where they don't have to worry about the struggles of home life, and they want the freedom to choose whether or not to share those struggles with me. I talk with them and listen to them whenever they want to share, but it is their choice to share. If they choose to share details with me at school, they still might not want me to visit them in their homes (just like I wouldn't necessarily want my students to visit me in my home.) There is a separation between our personal and professional relationships. I have close relationships with my students, but there are boundaries. Home visits cross those boundaries, but only in one direction: teachers visit student's homes but not vice versa.

The whole situation seems like it sets teachers up to be scientists observing lab rats. 

What bothers me even more is the fact that there is also the complex issue of diversity to consider. The U.S. Department of Education's report entitled Increasing Teacher Diversity states that, "Nationally, minority students make up 40.7 percent of the public school population. Although many schools (both urban and rural) are increasingly made up of a majority of black and Latino students, black and Latino teachers represent only about 14.6 percent of the teaching workforce."

Did you get that? Over 40% of the nation's students are not white, while more than 75% of the teachers are white. Following Ms. Kalisha's comments in Education week, it would appear that many schools are sending their white teachers into the homes of non-white students in order to witness their poverty. This is supposed to make them less angry at students when they don't have their homework completed.

Again...this sounds a lot like scientists observing lab rats. This does not describe not socially equal human beings interacting with one another.

There has got to be a better way to get teachers to become more aware of their students' backgrounds. There has got to be a better way of getting parents involved--one that doesn't potentially cause families shame or make them feel objectified.

There are several research studies out demonstrating the connection between parental involvement and student success (see the Harvard Family Research Project or the National Coalition for Parent Involvement in Education websites for research summaries.) But there isn't really any research saying that home visits are the best way to make that increase happen. I personally think school district dollars would be better spent trying to get parents into schools, rather than getting teachers into student's homes.

What do you think? How would you feel if school staff visited your home?


  1. I pretty much agree with most of your post.  I think it isn't fair to have the expectation that the teacher can observe you, but not vice versa.

    I think there would be a lot of pressure on the families.  What if I say no, but my kid thinks that allowing the teacher in the home is part of being a good student.  We've already went through a situation like that when my younger kid came home with a couple of incredibly invasive surveys about nutrition/tv watching/exercise habits in which the parents were supposed to answer questions about their own habits.  I could tell my kid was nervous about me not responding to every question.

    A few years ago my husband went to a lot of work to build what we thought was a nice study area...well lit, bookshelves, a roomy desk etc.  My kids almost never use the area for homework.  Just because a desk is there, doesn't mean it is being used.  

    The other concern I'd have about home visits being a regular part of the school process, is that like it or not, I'm sure that some individuals would use information gathered in the home visits as material for gossip.

    I'm a fairly private person.  I can't see wanting to invite a teacher into my home, just for the purposes of being a "lab rat".

  2. I understand what they're trying to do, but wouldn't cultural sensitivity training (and SPED/ELL exposure) benefit these teachers more? Or how about student-teaching, volunteering, and/or shadowing social workers in the communities where they will work? What's being offered here feels prescriptive, invasive, with a potential to be humiliating. I don't like it. And, yes, I'd feel like a lab rat if I were on the receiving end. What we need is to get more blacks and Latinos graduating from high school and into college so that we have a greater pool of diverse teachers. Sadly, the numbers reflect what's going on in the schools. : (

    Thanks for posting the links to these reports!!!

  3. Last year my kids' school announced that they would be doing home fall home visits for all kindergarteners. All I could think of was how relieved I felt that my kids are older. Then they started talking about expanding to older grades and I tried to figure out--why does this make me so uncomfortable? The district where I work also started home visits in preschool. They, too, are considering visiting homes of older kids. Again, I felt uncomfortable; both as a teacher and as a parent.I started to psychoanalyze myself: maybe I'm just afraid to let people in? Then I read this article and had a flashback to one of my first years of teaching: 

    A student in my classroom came to school dressed like an average teenaged girl--perfect hair and make-up, trendy girly attitude that was almost annoyingly overconfident. I got to know her pretty well and she told me things about her family. They sounded like a nice, but financially struggling, group of people. Then a social worker visited her house and reported to me what she'd seen: a shack with clotheslines/blankets strung to separate "rooms." Did that information give me a better idea about my student's home life? You betcha! Did it positively affect the student's academic situation? Not at all. Did it build a stronger sense of community between her mom and my school? NO WAY. In fact, the opposite occurred: the girl was embarrassed because she knew that I knew what her home life was really like. The mom stopped coming to school for conferences and school events. 

    Like you, I am a fairly private person. My home is my safe place, and I like to keep it separate from the outside world so that safe feeling continues. I would really dislike having a teacher in just so she/he could observe us, and like you I would worry about gossip, pressure on kids whose parents didn't allow the home visits. 

  4. I don't like it either, Ezzy! The diversity issue makes it truly an ugly situation, but even without considering that STILL makes me uncomfortable. If the goal is parental involvement and  community-building, there are so many more ways schools could do that: block walks in the community, neighborhood picnics, free movie nights in the gym at the school, potlucks, or even  a family dance party! There are so many ways to get parents interacting at school that would make them feel more comfortable than having a teacher observe them in their home. 

    And you are so right: the only  way to solve the diversity part of this situation is to get more blacks and Latinos into the field of education. There is no need to "see how 'others' live" when you are one of the "others" (if that makes sense.) 

  5. Every student is visited at home by their teacher in Japan at the beginning of every school year. I think because it is every student it is not seen as a problem.  There are problems with this of course, like it is ostensibly to meet the family, but the father is at work in 99% of cases, and it is a real problem if the mother works a fulltime job (which is rare, but something I struggle with).
    I do think that it is a good idea for teachers to know more about their students. What roads do they walk to school (all students walk). Do they have access to books?
    I don't know if this is applicable in the US, however.

  6. So if a teacher is there to determine if a child has access to books for instance, or an appropriate place to study it would seem they would be practically taking a tour of the house.

    For instance we have most of our books in our children's rooms.  It seems somewhat invasive that on a first visit to a house that a child/parent would have to show the child's room to a teacher.

  7. That is very interesting about Japan. I agree that it is a good idea for teachers to know more about their students; I'm just not sure that visiting their homes is a good way for teachers to do that.  I had a professor once who'd spent a lot of time in Taiwan. He said that education is very, very different there. Teachers are not paid with money, but the community gives them a home, cares for it, and makes sure the teacher always has food. The community works together to provide for the teacher and for their children. That system sounds like one that is based on mutual respect. I can definitely see home visits being suitable in that environment. Unfortunately, in the U.S. our system is not set up to be quite that equitable or respectful. Thanks for sharing your perspective! 


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