* V is for visits

volkswagen-158463_640Blogging A-Z: V is for visits.  Home visits.  I cannot imagine teaching without home visits.  I have routinely visited many families since I first started teaching.  There’s hardly a better way to authentically connect with a family.  However, my home visits have often taken an unexpected turn.

I remember visiting a family who were quite resistant to any special education labeling of their son, saying that they never saw the issues we described.  I wanted to be more effective with that child (who was not yet labeled but appeared to be on the autism spectrum). I also wanted to understand how his behavior could be so different at home.  The reality was that their entire life was structured around his interests and atypical behavior.  We didn’t interrupt him when he was watching a particular show, while his mother cooked his only breakfast food, his father shared an extensive photo collection of the child’s primary “hobby,” and an older sibling showed me what she did to manage his outbursts.  That home visit was quite an eye opener.  And the family was genuinely sweet.

Another home visit was equally memorable.  I had been struggling to make headway with a student who had serious behavior issues.  His mother was a no-show at every conference and didn’t respond to my notes.  I knew she had been burned by only hearing negative reports from school, but I was hopeful that she and I could make a difference as a team.  I went to her mobile home and heard music playing inside.  I knocked loudly and got no response.  I kept knocking and then started calling out loudly, guessing that she was inside.  Eventually she relented and opened the door.  I was nonplussed at her appearance.  She was wearing a tee shirt, not long enough, and nothing else.  As unusual as that was, I was even more surprised that she had shaved off her eyebrows.  I didn’t know why the lack of eyebrows bothered me so much.  I was unsure where to look at her, so I focused on a spot between her eyebrows and the hem of her tee shirt.  We ended up with a working relationship and her son’s life was turned around.

Then there was the mom who struggled with addiction and felt desperately guilty when her son was born handicapped.  She struggled to keep custody of him; social services regularly visited her to supervise the situation.  I learned that she had a unique arrangement with her neighbors.  She sold all her furniture to support her addiction but on the scheduled DSS visits, the kindly neighbors would loan back her furniture.  I had made home visits with and without the furniture because she would never schedule a conference with me.  I will always remember my last home visit with her (before the child was removed from her custody).  We sat close together on the well-traveled sofa and I watched with fascination as a roach played around on her collar.  We ended up praying together but as I stood up to leave, my foot went through the floor.  I was firmly trapped and even closer to that roach (and who knows how many more?).

On another occasion, an unruly student was displeased that I planned to make a home visit.  The girl told me that I had better not report her mother to DSS. This same child had already threatened to report ME to DSS for putting her in time out, but I wondered what was happening at home.  Then she told me her mother would keep a gun handy in a laundry hamper in case I caused any trouble.  Well, I managed to get the mother to open the door on my home visit, after much vigorous knocking and yelling.  We sat down to chat and there, in that tidy living room next to the couch, was a full laundry hamper.  Like the situations with the eyebrows and roaches, I found it very hard to achieve a neutral focal point.

Aren’t home visits amazing?

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