Dear Teacher, Johnny Doesn’t do THAT at home

And so we come to the topic of home visits. In the school districts where I have taught, teachers are strongly encouraged to do at least one home visit for every student who has a label. For the formal labels, I won’t give any acronyms (like E.D., S.H., ADHD) here because these vary by region, but I’m referring to kids in special programs or kids who are deemed to be at risk. Then, of course, there are those problematic students who have earned themselves an informal label by common decree, and those labels are usually not spoken in nice company, but you get the idea.

A common situation is when you, the teacher, have been unable to get the parents to acknowledge that their son or daughter exhibits an undesirable behavior at school. The parent says, “Johnnie doesn’t do that at home!” This is the parent’s way to say that you are doing something wrong, you need to stop doing it and, above all, you need to stop talking about it. Then comes the day of the home visit. The parent is ready for you! If you get to the house when little Johnny is at home, the parent will either make sure he in a room where you can’t see him, or the parent will have bribed him with candy/soda/video games or set him up in some other unstructured situation where he’s doing what he wants and which is also completely different from anything Johnnie encounters at school. So, there he is, perfectly placid, happy and full of virtue. And the parent tells you, “SEE? He’s fine at home.”

Wouldn’t it be nice to see what would happen if Mom asked Johnny to clean up his room? But you’ll never see that.

There are times when you can’t complete a home visit. Maybe the family moved. Or, maybe, they won’t let you in. On one occasion I quickly figured out (from what wasn’t said) the reason for a teenage girl’s truancy. Her mother took her along to “work the streets” at night. I leave it to your imagination to figure out what work I’m talking about. Another impediment comes when families who don’t have legal residence status in this country are afraid to speak to school personnel even if it would be to their advantage.

In my recent mystery novel, Deadly Traffic, I describe a rather harrowing home visit. Let’s just say I’ve had to visit some pretty scary neighborhoods during my teaching career. Between my car and the homes, I’ve received propositions I didn’t encourage. Here’s a street with the atmosphere I tried to capture in the book.

Homevisit

Although the written scene  is completely fictional, most teachers can recall at least one home visit which bordered on the bizarre. Take my very first home visit. The visit started out fine. The mom and auntie welcomed me and brought me into the kitchen to sit down. End of fine. When I sat at the table I noticed some, shall we say, exotic and totally illegal plantlife residue. Mom exchanged glances with Auntie, who swept the seeds from the table with the heel of her hand. Naturally, this placed me in a very uncomfortable situation. Do administrators think about those things when they tell teachers to do home visits? Are you’re wondering how I recognized the stuff I saw on that table?  In order to get a teaching credential in this state, you have to take a course about drugs and health. I suppose that’s because the state realizes that teachers are going to be responsible for a lot more than reading and math. Anyway, the drugs teacher was an ex-cop who had samples of every type of legal and illegal drug. So fine. You know what you’re seeing and you wished you really didn’t know and didn’t see. But there’s a topic for a different blog!

Now for the most horrible and memorable home visit of my teaching career. Looking back on it, it’s almost funny in a very twisted way. A ten-year-old student had just transferred into my class. All I knew was that he came from an impoverished home and lived with his grandmother. And, somehow, he’d learned to read while seeming not to pay any attention to the lessons in previous years. This visit, I went with an administrator because the school needed to have some papers signed, but had been unable to get the grandmother’s attention.

The grandmother let us into the apartment. but didn’t ask us to sit down. The run down look of the place didn’t make me want to stay long anyway. Still, she was willing to hear the reason for our visit and agreed to sign the paperwork to allow further testing.  She took the papers with her into another room to fill them out and while we waited we looked around.

Bad idea. Lying on the floor about 6 feet away was the horribly emaciated black and white striped kitten. Or the body of one. I stared. The administrator stared. “Is it…dead?” I whispered.  With his eyes nearly popping out of his head, he just shrugged. At that moment, the grandmother came back and still in shock, the administrator, normally the epitome of tact, blurted out, “I see you have a …  … cat.”

Silence for two heartbeats. I held my breath. But the old woman just grunted something and started to ask questions. Five minutes later we left. It would be more accurate to say we almost ran out of the place. When we got back to the car we sat there silently. I felt like crying and laughing at the same time, the way you laugh when something is so awful, but you can’t do a thing about it and you don’t know what else to do. The administrator said, “I believe you have a … cat! Oh my god. Was it alive?” We never found out.

Well, if you have your own home visit stories, I’d love to hear them.

Mickey is the author of School of Lies and Deadly Traffic, published by Second Wind Publishing, LLC. Visit her website at http://www.mickeyhoffman.com

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~ by mickeyhoffman on February 25, 2013.

One Response to “Dear Teacher, Johnny Doesn’t do THAT at home”

  1. Funny and sad at the same time. Luckily, I was never a teacher, so I have no such stories.

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