Amanda Steeley, Special Education Teacher
Should Teachers Make Home Visits?
With a few exceptions, you would not pick a primary care physician without meeting him or her first. The knowledge, support, and care that doctors offer is vital to your health. When it comes to your child, you are likely to be even pickier. You might even read reviews and recommendations online before scheduling to meet with a potential pediatrician. And if your child has medical needs that extend beyond average, the stress involved in finding and committing to a specialist may be that much more intense.
So why don’t parents traditionally engage in relationship building with teachers before sending their kids off to school? Is there an option for this? ‘Back to School Night’ is a way for parents and students to meet face-to-face with teachers and see classmates prior to the school year starting. It’s a nice baseline, but we can do more (and not just for the sake of our students.)
What about making home visits? What about meeting with families individually before servicing their children day in and day out for 240 days? Here are a few reasons I think you might say ‘no thanks’ to home visits, and then I would like to try to shed some light on why I think they are actually worth it.
Thoughts Against Home Visits
- Pay: You chose to be a teacher, not a doctor. Although there is data to support that teachers and doctors have comparable stress levels, the financial reciprocation is not there. Sure, you get summers off, but between teaching, planning, meetings, committees, duties, etc., the summer break does not even begin to compare to that MD paycheck.
- Safety: Yes, any time you travel to a stranger’s house, you are putting yourself in a potentially compromising situation. If no one will go with you, this is a legitimate argument. (I am apt to believe you can find someone to go with you.)
- Time: Remember that summer break we talked about earlier? Scheduling any part of it with home visits kind of negates its value, doesn’t it? And if you think you can do home visits once school starts, you’ve clearly never taught during the first nine weeks of the school year.
- Anxiety: Maybe you’re nervous! What if you don’t know what to say? What if you can’t answer their questions? What if you come off looking under-qualified? What if you look incredibly qualified and now the family wants to contact you all the time? Isn’t this just opening a huge can of worms?
I get it. I do. I get all of these reasons. And even as I type them out, it’s tempting to throw in the home visits towel. But I’ve been making summer home visits for students on my caseload since I returned to teaching after having kids, and this is why I would strongly urge you to consider trying them too:
Why Home Visits are Worth It
- Relationships: Steve Geyer, Assistant Superintendent of Instruction for Goochland County Public Schools, has always touted quality instruction to be two things: relationships and engaging instruction. And he practices what he preaches with all members of the community, even with all his responsibilities. In fact, all of our administrative staff in our school system model this well. But there is a good reason for why they do this, and I think it stretches beyond good manners: You are more likely to trust someone that you have met, right? I would hope so! Showing up at someone’s house and asking to learn about their family equates to making huge deposits into a bank account that will support you throughout the school year. And I am just trying to sell you on the logic – the time you will save later – without even taking into account the fulfillment you will receive by reaching out. To teach is a great honor, and to be welcomed into the life-story of families in your community is truly a gift. I thought I would have more to write when I started this list, but that’s it: Relationships. Relationships are everything.
How Can I Get Started?
Postcards are a great way to reach out to families. The thought of calling and asking if I can come over sounds painfully awkward to me. It can be short and sweet:
Dear Mr. and Mrs. _____________________,
I am so excited to be teaching __________________ this fall! I love meeting with families prior to the school year to learn how I can best support student goals. Is there a day/time that we could get together before the school year gets started to chat? Please get in touch when you can and we’ll figure out a time I can pop over. Thanks so much!
Your Contact Info.
Not everyone is going to respond to your postcard, and that is OK. At least they know you care, and that you are willing to take the extra step for their family. When they do call or email to set up a time, do everything you can to keep that appointment. And if they do not get in touch, make sure they are one of the first families you call to touch base with during that first week of school.
What Should I Do When I Arrive?
The first couple of times I went on home visits, I brought a preference assessment that I created for students and a preference assessment that I created for parents. (Both of these documents are linked here: Parent Preference Assessment Student Preference Assessment) I wanted students to know that I was interested in what they liked to learn about and how they liked to learn. For parents, I wanted to know their preferred method of communication and their expectations for how often they liked to communicate with their child’s teacher.
You might say that asking a parent how often he or she expects to hear from you is setting yourself up for more work. But here’s the thing: Most parents are not going to request excessive communication. The ones who do request it probably have a good reason: maybe their child has high needs that must be monitored and communication between school and home is vital; maybe their experience with home-school commination in the past has been negative or non-existent so they are expressing their frustrations with high demands. Whatever the reason for requesting frequent communication, it is within your best interest to know about it. You can increase your control over the situation by setting up mutually agreed upon expectations.
The most important thing you can do during a home visit is listen. Ask questions. Use the preference assessments as a guide if you would like, but try not to make it look like an interrogation. Make that family know how fortunate you feel to be in their home and how excited you are to support their child’s development. Be yourself. Smile. Be confident in knowing that you are doing something that is above and beyond, and that really does make a difference.
How Do I Leave?
You might laugh at this one, and that’s OK, you can skip this part, because although some of you have no problem wrapping up a conversation, others, like myself, don’t even know how to get off the phone. In fact, I might even ask more questions when I’m awkwardly trying to wrap it up…
You can let the family know up front that you have to be somewhere at a certain time in the future, or you can wait until the conversation just winds itself down. I have had families invite me over for dinner and give me tours of their homes. Again, in my opinion, this is all a one-time investment that is so worth it. I have developed some incredible friendships this way that have really aided me in doing what is most important as an educator: helping all students to maximize their potential.
When you mess up, and you will, it is also so much easier to call yourself out to someone who has already seen the good in you. Home visit really emphasize the the value and importance of a home-school team to student development.
Are You In?
Will you do home visits this year? What will they “look” like? If you’ve done them in the past, how would you rate your experience? Any tips? I am a special education teacher who co-teaches 5th grade, so my primary focus has always been meeting with students on my caseload, but my co-teacher and I have also considered doing a picnic and inviting all students and their families to kick off the year with us.