By Nancy Keates
K has more than a decade of experience teaching special
education to elementary school students, most recently in the
Salem, Mass., public school district. She calls last spring's
remote teaching a nightmare, and was disheartened to learn about
her school's Covid-19 fall guidelines. With no library or gym time,
"you're basically a prisoner in your classroom," she says.
The 39-year-old Ms. Rand put out her résumé. Eight groups of
families contacted her within three days. She now makes more money
teaching six first-graders from six families in Wellesley, Mass.
They are following their public school's curriculum, and she's
added cooking, yoga and earth sciences, with lots of hands-on
experiments. She loves that there are no rules and administrative
red tape, and no sitting through long meetings.
"It's a teacher's dream," she says. "The day flies by."
Long underpaid and underappreciated, teachers are finding more
career options as demand for instructors for micro-schools,
"parent-organized discovery sites" (pods) and in-person and online
charter schools continues to grow.
Companies that help teachers find unconventional jobs are
springing up across the country, while those already in the
business are seeing explosive growth. The families making these
hires often keep their children in school, but use the teachers to
supplement remote learning.
"The idea is that the teacher is at the center of the
education," says Joseph Connor, co-founder of SchoolHouse, which
has seen teacher clients increase to over 300 around the country
from about 20 since it started forming micro-schools in New York
City in January.
The salaries can be higher: Depending on qualifications and
experience, pod size and region, teachers can earn hourly rates
starting at $40 in learning pods, ranging from a few hours a day to
a full-time, five-day a week position, says Waine Tam, CEO of
Selected. That company helps families and schools source and hire
teachers, and has placed teachers in pods in 42 states.
The national average public school teacher salary for 2018--19
was $62,304, according to the National Education Association.
Pods are a divisive trend. NEA president Becky Pringle agrees
that these new arrangements help teachers earn money. But she
worries pods will become more widespread and damage a
public-education system already reeling from budget cuts and
struggling to fund Covid-19 safety measures. This could open the
door for more inequity, segregation and unsafe workplaces, since
pods are expensive and unregulated, she says.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of
Teachers, says while learning pods highlight the need for more
small-group teaching in schools, she believes they're a "pandemic
Band-Aid" instead of a long-term, viable career option.
What pods do offer is an option for teachers who are looking for
a way out now, says Colin Sharkey, executive director of the
Association of American Educators. His organization has had four
times as many inquiries since Covid-19 from member teachers who
want to resign or retire, mainly due to safety concerns and
understaffing. He thinks these numbers will worsen as budget cuts
steepen, experienced colleagues leave and more schools start
requiring a return to in-person classes.
This all comes as many families have struggled to find
satisfying educational alternatives. According to a national survey
in July of 500 people by Echelon Insights, an Alexandria, Va.,
based research firm, 21% of parents said they planned to send their
child to a different school or home-school this coming year and 19%
Mick Miller, 25, has also gone in a new direction as a teacher
since the pandemic. He was working as an outdoor educator in
Portland, Ore. But he worried about the safety of leading large
groups. Then one of his former colleagues, a former private-school
teacher and outdoor-school director named Lesley Marshall,
contacted him about an organization she started called PDX
Education Collab. The organization has paired teachers with eight
learning pods since the pandemic.
Mr. Miller now supervises remote learning for four third-graders
in Portland and has created extra curricula in archaeology and
history, his major in college.
"I've always wanted to do this sort of teaching," he says. He's
assigned them projects like navigating imaginary worlds with a
"I think this experience will make me a better teacher," says
Izzy Boone, 22, who couldn't find a job teaching after she
graduated from college last spring and is now working for a pod,
crafting curricula for four different grades -- pre-K,
kindergarten, second and third -- for eight students for $1,000 a
week in Geneva, N.Y. It's a lot of work, but she says she saw how
her students struggled with remote school and so she feels like she
is making a difference. "I love seeing how eager they are to
learn," she says. She still hopes to teach at a public school in
Newly certified in social studies, Becca Levy was in the final
round of interviews for her dream job teaching high-needs students
at a public school last March, when the New York City Department of
Education instituted a hiring freeze.
Ms. Levy waited until late August, but with the freeze still in
place, she submitted her résumé to Selected. Almost immediately, a
family contacted her about supervising a learning pod. She now
teaches six students, in grades 3, 4 and 7, core classes along with
extras like Latin and sculpture, in one of the parent's offices in
"I'm just really happy I have a job," says Ms. Levy, 22, who is
making about the same as she would have with a starting salary at a
public school. Still, next year she hopes to get that dream job
teaching high-needs students because it's important to her to play
a role in addressing inequities in education. "My goal is to get
back there as soon as possible," she says.
Write to Nancy Keates at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
September 27, 2020 07:14 ET (11:14 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.