For the typical student, there are only a few days of the year that are dreaded. For the unathletic student, fitness testing in gym class is just proof that you are as uncoordinated and slow as you knew you were. Test days are stressful because taking a test on an entire chapter’s worth of information is no easy feat. But no day even compares to the worst day of all for students…dun dun dun dun…Parent-Teacher Conferences. There is nothing more intimidating for a student than sitting in front of a room full of your teachers who are there to tell your parents about how you are doing in school. Even the most studious kids are nervous that their report card will have a B+ instead of an A, or that their teacher might have noticed when they pass notes in class.
What if we lived in a world where students did not want to start crying the second they entered the room? What if they actually looked forward to their conference as opposed to dreading it?
Well, this is a reality for many of the students at De Marillac Academy, the school I am serving at in the Tenderloin District in San Francisco. Many of the students are truly excited about their Parent-Teacher Conferences because we take a different approach here at DMA. Each quarter, every team of teachers chooses two students to do a home visit for, very similar to a doctor making house calls. Instead of them coming to the classroom to hear the positive and negative report about their academics and behavior, they get to be in the comfort of their own home.
Traveling to their houses from our school alone is a very moving experience. The students do not come from good areas, but their parents are doing the best they can to make a better life for their children. They are sending them to De Marillac so they can get a good education, go on to high school and college, and so that they will not end up on the streets like so many of the homeless that we pass as we are walking to their houses. Unfortunately, the kids are exposed to so much at such a young age. The harsh reality is that they are passing drug deals, people under the influence, and many other dangers on the way to and from school, and this makes me that much more proud of them that they are able to accomplish so much despite the unfortunate cards they are dealt.
Initially, the conference begins very similar to every other student who has theirs at school. We share why we enjoy having them in our classes, give them their report card grades, pass them a Kleenex if necessary, discuss some things they need to work on, talk about any concerns or issues they may be having at school, and set some goals for the following quarter. Pretty typical.
The difference with a home visit is that we are able to delve a bit deeper into the lives of our students. By asking the simple question, “Do you have anything else you would like to show us?” we get to see a variety of things that help us to get to know our students and their families. That question has led to tours around the houses of the students, showing off the family pets, looking through countless awards the student has received in the past, flipping through photo albums, visiting with the siblings of our students who long to go to DMA one day, and sharing quality time with their families. They are so proud and happy that their teachers are taking the time to get to know them better throughout this process, and this really helps to establish a good rapport with our kids that carries over in the classroom.
The students and families are not the only ones who benefit from these experiences however. The teachers, including myself, really love having this opportunity to bond with our students and their families. I will never forget the most recent home visit that I went on with the rest of the fifth grade team. They were so hospitable and offered us each a glass of orange juice and some vanilla wafers. That seems like no big deal but for a family that has so little to offer us anything at all speaks volumes about the amazing people that I am here to serve. I am humbled at my site on a daily basis and the home visit Parent-Teacher Conferences serve as another reminder not only of the impact my students are having on me but also the impact that I am having on them.
“A hundred years from now, it will not matter what kind of car I drove, what kind of house I lived in, how much money I had in the bank…but the world may be a better place because I made a difference in the life of a child.” — Forest Witcraft
Liana Vantrease, 12-13, De Marillac Academy, San Francisco, CA