Earlier this year, Education Lab visited “The Biggest Little City in the World” — Reno, Nevada — to find out why hundreds of teachers each year visit the homes of students and their families.
Educators have adopted similar home visit programs in 700 communities across the U.S., and in Reno, teachers praised the approach for helping them build relationships with students and their parents. They often added that the visits have transformed their day-to-day work in the classroom.
But in reaction to our April story about the Reno model, some readers doubted whether teachers even had the time to make such visits as they try to balance the demands of their job and the realities of life in their own homes. Other readers also questioned the wisdom of sending teachers into the homes of students, suggesting that would put them in danger.
So Education Lab asked two teachers in Reno — and two teachers in Dallas, where a similar program has grown much faster — to share their experiences with home visits.
We’ve edited their responses for length and clarity.
How did you feel before making your first home visit, and how did your expectations change after meeting families?
Noemi Arnal Villalba, a fifth-grade bilingual math teacher at the César Chávez Learning Center in Dallas:
“I was quite nervous before my first home visit, as I had never been to a student’s home before. Even though everything was scheduled in advance, I felt like I was intruding and that I would not be really welcomed. I thought the family had agreed to the home visit just to please their kid’s teacher, but that they wouldn’t really care about it. Once we knocked on the door, they greeted us with smiles and welcomed us inside. I could see that the family was even more nervous than I was.
After the first few home visits, I truly understood that, whether the parents are involved in school or not, all of them wanted to know better the teachers with whom their children spent most of their awake hours, and to help us and their children.”
Stephanie Thompson, a special-education teacher in her first year at Traner Middle School in Reno:
“My school carries a reputation of being one of the hardest in our school district. We are a Title I school in a very tough neighborhood. When asked if I wanted to do home visits, I was skeptical, even a bit concerned for my safety because of some of the areas our students come from.
I have only been on four home visits, but my relationship with one of the hardest [students] changed overnight because of our visit. I cannot share details, but I left that home overwhelmed with emotion and disbelief about what this young lady carries on her shoulders daily. The behavior is her defense mechanism. My eyes and heart were opened and changed.”
How would you respond to teachers who say they don’t have time to commit to home visits, or who worry about their safety while visiting a student’s home?
Bob Adams, a fifth-grade bilingual language arts teacher at César Chávez:
“They are a time investment with many returns — better attendance, better teacher-student relations, improved behavior, increased parental involvement and higher student achievement. As far as safety, the training is very clear: Safety should always come first. Teachers are never encouraged to put themselves in an unsafe situation. Having said that, I have participated in over 150 home visits and have never felt in personal danger. It has been quite the opposite. I have felt very welcomed.”
Jennifer Turner, a sixth-grade math and science teacher at Traner:
“I was that teacher, who didn’t think I had the time to commit to home visits. However, I am so excited for my next home visit, and while I have always set very high expectations for myself as a teacher, coach and mentor, I am determined to better understand what’s happening in my students’ lives. That helps me build a positive, caring home environment in the classroom.”
What value have you seen in your classroom after visiting students and families at their homes?
Turner: “I want to do everything in my power to ensure all my students and their families know I care, they matter and add value to not only my classroom, but life.”
Arnal Villalba: “I thought I knew the population of my school, but after the home visits, I actually understood what each one of my student’s circumstances were. I was then better able to understand their actions and reactions. Not only that, but now I care for my students on a deeper level, as did they toward me. My classroom became more of a family.”
Can you share any reasons that you would tell some teachers not to participate in this program?
Thompson: “The home visits are worth overcoming your fears. It doesn’t matter what the ‘neighborhood’ is like. Once you are in their living room, face to face with the family, everything else melts away, and it’s an amazing experience. Every visit I’ve made has helped me with the students because they feel safe and trust that wasn’t there before.”
Adams: “A teacher should only participate if they are able and willing to enter the home environment in a nonjudgmental way ready to engage the family in a relaxed manner. The more of yourself that you put into the home visits, the more you will get out of it.”