Friday, February 26, 2010

Phone Home and Build a Lasting Relationship

Phoning Home: The Teacher’s Conduit into Understanding Students’ Lives

Phoning home is a time-honored, yet too infrequent practice of teachers. Making contact with the families of our students is supposed to be effective in monitoring our students’ progress and building a relationship with the families who are home supporting them. Regular contact with those homes will eventually make our work more effective since a student’s entire network will be utilized and the student’s school experience soon expands beyond the confines of a classroom but begins to expand to finally encapsulate the student’s entire frame of mind; he soon finds himself living a life of knowledge seeking where many people around him are also utilizing that knowledge which he formerly encountered only in the classroom, that is now pervading much of his waking life. Even on weekends.

I overstate the benefits slightly, but I believe that the catalyst for legitimizing classroom instruction, that is that it becomes relevant for the student and her family, is somewhere within rebuilding the school-home bridge. When knowledge is reinforced, students will not only learn it better, but they will begin to regain trust in teachers and school, a relationship that has suffered along with those between teachers and administrators, teachers and teachers, teachers and unions, teachers and families. Once classroom relationships are legitimized and trusted, once the work teachers do is not only viewed as essential but trusted and understood as such, then teachers will once again regain the position within society that is both ancient and rightful. The teacher’s return to the throne of respect might also be accomplished by actively rebuilding what was nearly lost by simply calling home.

Calling home is especially vital for the “At Risk” student. Students are “At Risk” because of the failures that surround them, including that of the family. When that basic breakdown is present amidst the multiple factors of the “At Risk” demographic then whatever relief to that condition should be welcome. We are not talking about doing social work and righting dysfunction, there are people for that. I am advocating that teachers reaching out from the classroom and continuing the conversation.

I learn a lot from scrolling down the phone list. First of all, I get to think about my students in the abstract, as names on a piece of paper, rather than as part of a fashion sense, as a speaker, as an actor. I get to think now only about the impressions those names have made on my mind. This is an interesting assessment to do. When I remember a student for his whole being, rather than as associated with a grade or a referral or some behavior whether abhorrent or pleasing, I am thinking of the student as a real person, as I think about all my friends and family. It is curious that by abstracting a student we can come to know them somehow better. Aren’t we supposed to collect data of such an excruciatingly precise nature?

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