The Estrada Family

During the last year and a half I have visited the Estrada family for five formal interviews, two birthday parties, one quinceañera (an adolescent girl's debutante party), and several informal visits. I summarize here what I have learned about this family, and describe how I used that knowledge in my teaching, and reflect upon what changes I have undergone.

My first contact with the family occurred as I was preparing the classroom for the first day of school and I heard a knock at the door. In walked a family who wanted to introduce themselves to their new school. Mr. and Mrs. Estrada wanted their third grade daughter to become acquainted with the school and her teacher, me. In Spanish, they shared that they believed education to be important and that they decided to visit their third grade and kindergarten daughters' classrooms in order to make the transition to a new school a positive experience. They had in tow a four-year-old son because they wanted him to know what was expected.
Through the home visits, I learned that the family was quite extensive. I met the middle-school- age son, two high-school-age daughters, a maternal grandfather, and a maternal uncle, all who lived in the same household. The trailer they lived in was located among fourteen other trailers in a recently developed trailer park.

The living room included a bookcase of reference books in Spanish. The father had been trained in Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico as an electrical repairman. He worked on refrigerators, air conditioners and other appliances while in Hermosillo. In Tucson, he works for a local tortilla factory delivering tortillas to grocery stores.

The living room bookcase also included recipe books and craft books. The family had owned and operated a small convenience store in Hermosillo. Mrs. Estrada was in charge of managing the store including ordering, bookkeeping, and selling. The whole family participated in some fashion by stocking, cleaning and selling. In fact, they had named the store in honor of the third grade daughter.

They moved to Tucson because they wanted to improve the opportunities for their children. Mrs.Estrada had family in Tucson and had lived here for a while as a child. Mr. Estrada came in search of a job and living quarters and then made arrangements for his family to join him about six months later. The children left their schoolmates and moved here in 1988.
During my visits, I have observed each family member take responsibility. The three older children are assigned the care of a younger sibling. The two sisters in high school are each responsible for one of the two younger sisters while the brother in middle school is responsible for the youngest brother. The family is very resourceful. Everyone helps with the household chores, including producing tortillas for eating and for selling. The males are the ones in charge of maintenance and the father shares his tools with the sons.

During a birthday party, I observed that the family had choreographed their duties. The father and the son in middle school took care of the piñata, which meant that the son had to stand on the roof of a van to hold one end of the line while the other end was attached to the roof of the trailer. The daughters organized the children for the piñata breaking. Each family member served food and beverages.

What do these observations have to do with my teaching? Specifically, I used the family's knowledge about owning and managing a store to create a math unit on money. For three weeks, we explored the social issues of money, along with mathematical concepts about money. Beyond that, I used the information I learned about the home in incidental matters that color the curriculum. I knew where my student lived and who her neighbors were. I made connections in class: "I want you to practice hitting a softball. I bet you can use that empty lot near your home to practice with your classmate who lives across the street"; and "How about if you work on your science project with your classmate who lives next door to you?"

The knowledge I gleaned also had an impact on the student. She knew I had been at her home to talk with her parents. She understood that her parents and I communicated. This influenced other students also. They recognized me in the trailer park. They came over to chat with me. They knew I knew where they lived and played.

What changes have I undergone? Fundamentally, I have redefined my conception of the term home visit. I was trained during my first years of teaching (some 15 years ago) that my goal during a home visit was to teach the parent. I had an agenda to cover. I was in control. Now I go to learn. I have some questions I want to explore. I might want to learn about some particular home activities like what the family does for recreation. However, these questions are open-ended. I start an interview and follow the conversation to wherever it might lead. I am an active listener. I am a listener who returns to pick up the conversation from the last visit.

Most significantly, I am becoming a listener who reflects. During the last year and a half I have made time to do the visits and have made time to reflect about what I have learned. I have firsthand knowledge that I have gained through my research with the families. I use this knowledge as background when I am reading about minority families in books or articles. I read an article and compare what it states to the knowledge gained from my work. I contrast and sometimes confirm, but more often challenge what I read.

I must admit that this whole process is a demanding one. I am choosing to place myself in situations where I have to listen, reflect, communicate, act and write. I believe I am learning, developing, and creating, and that is what makes this research worthwhile.

Next: Reflecting on Change