Documentary photographer James Mollison recently published a photo book entitled "Where Children Sleep" which developed from his idea that a photo of someone's bedroom can reveal much more about them than a portrait ever could. The book gives a fascinating view into the personal lives of children, and is an especially stark compare/contrast tool for the "haves" and the "have-nots" around the world. (And the pictures are going to be excellent as an extension to our "Hello to All the Children of the World" song in the Third Grade "Share the Music" series.)
Imagine if all of your students arrived at school with a picture of their sleeping place in hand. In our communities, we would likely see a very diverse a group of rooms, and some may be just as startling as "Where Children Sleep". Understanding just where our students are coming from is a big step in a new teacher's understanding of their students, and a useful reminder to teachers to use patience with our students. This is why many school districts have begun to incorporate the home visit. More ideas on home visits can be found here and here.
However, many teachers will not have an opportunity to make the connection of a home visit, and we have to be careful to not jump to conclusions based on a "snapshot" view of a student's world. It is not correct to draw the conclusion that the child who has a room stacked floor to ceiling with toys has a loving and supportive home life, any more than we can say that every child living in poverty is neglected. What we do need to remember in our day to day interactions with our students is that there is a reason behind every child's behavior, and many of the reasons we may never know. In education we MUST be the steady positive influence in their lives, and in that role we may be supporting what the child learns in the home, or we may be the only stable positive role model in their experience.