My Teacher's at the Door: Home Visits on the Rise

For some children, the last thing they may want to see is a teacher on their doorstep. But the benefits of teacher home visits are significant, which is prompting many schools to create or expand home visit programs. This can be a challenge when budgets are tight, but there are numerous outside organizations offering their support.

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The Benefits of Home Visits

When teachers visit the homes of their students, meeting in an informal setting with students and parents, they open up a multitude of doors to success. First, home visits enable parents to become more engaged in their child's education. Parents can gain insight into what their child is learning and what problems their child may be having. Because children can be tight-lipped about their education, and because parents can struggle to engage with teachers in the more formal school-based conferences, home contact with teachers can be invaluable.

Home visits are useful for teachers. They help teachers to understand what a student's home life is like. For example, a child may not have a desk at which to complete homework. Or the child may need to complete chores, take care of siblings or perform other duties that take away from study time. The teacher can also engage the parent as a 'co-teacher,' or someone who takes the child's learning further than is possible during the school day.

How It Works

There are numerous models for home visits. As pioneers in 1998, Sacramento schools set the standard with a two-visit approach. In the first visit, teachers simply aim to establish rapport with parents and learn a little more about the student. The latter process may include finding out about the child's short-term and long-term goals, whether academic or personal. Additionally, the teacher may use questions and observation to discover more about the factors at home that might influence the child's performance in school.

In the second visit, the teacher serves as a reporter and analyst of the student's academic performance. With the relationship established in the first visit, the teacher can use the second visit to focus on providing tips and guidance to parents on how to help the child succeed. These visits are typically considered outside of the teacher's normal duties. Therefore, teachers are either paid a stipend per visit or they receive extra pay that's written into their contracts.

Support for Home Visits

Home visits can put a strain on already tight school budgets and many schools are struggling to find the money for these programs. In California, for example, the state legislature had appropriate funding to expand the Sacramento model to other sites multiple times between 1999 and 2005. In the years since, however, those programs have fallen victim to budget cuts.

Fortunately, a variety of different groups provide outside support, whether through training, advocacy or financial assistance. The National Education Association Foundation is currently offering money to schools looking to start home visits in Seattle, Columbus and Springfield, Massachusetts. Also, the Parent/Teacher Home Visit Project is an example of a non-profit that offers training to educators who are interested in developing a home visit program. As schools face mounting pressure to demonstrate academic results, home visits may prove to be a critical component of the path to success.

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