Teachers Find Higher Pay and Growing Options in Covid Pods

Krissy Rand 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.

Mr. Miller, bottom, with the four girls.

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.

Krissy Rand teaches her pod in a playroom converted into a classroom located in the home of one of the families.



Photo:

Krissy Rand

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.

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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% were undecided.

Mr. Miller helps teach his pod woodworking skills to make wands.

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 compass.

“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 the future.

Becca Levy works on a pod lesson plan at home in the Lower East Side of New York City.



Photo:

Becca Levy

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 Greenwich Village.

“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 [email protected]

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