We recently had the pleasure of hearing an expert in setting up tutoring support and educational pods at our Education Think Tank Meeting on January 13, 2022, Christian Peterson,  founder of Freedom Teachers. Here is the link to his presentation:

Christian shared the story of how he and his wife came to start their business, and how it’s gone so far. He has a wealth of knowledge about teaching, and now, starting private tutoring and educational pods.  I have summarized some of the points I found most insightful and helpful to those entering the uncharted territory of independent teaching and learning.

Christian has observed that many parents don’t want to be solely responsible for educating their children, but many no longer see staying in the public system as a viable or desirable option.This has led to a mass exodus of students and teachers from the public school system, and parents are scrambling to find decent alternatives to the public school system while teachers leaving the public system are struggling to figure out how to set out on their own as private teachers and tutors.

He commented that starting an Educational Pod is usually the first thought people have when thinking of leaving the public school system. However, he noted that this has more challenges that many realize. First of all, it requires that everybody be on the same page. Cost is a big factor because parents often can’t afford to pay for what they really want out of pocket.  Also, finding suitable and affordable space is huge issue. As a result, it is easier to find and hire individual tutors to start with.Christian and his wife quickly realized there was a great need for a ‘connector’, someone to help parents find tutors and Pods, and vice versa.  This led to them starting a Tutoring Support System. They have discovered the needs of parents and teachers, and found people looking for help setting up Educational Pods by posting a Google Form on their Facebook Page.  They have also started setting up Sub lists for tutors and teachers of home schooled children and educational pods, since this has been expressed as a need by many of the people contacting them.

I found it fascinating to hear Christian’s perspective on recent trends in alternative education as people transition out of the public school system and explore alternative education options.

Go Public or Private?
Christian has noticed that the people contacting him can be sorted into two categories: those that want to protect their community and empower parents, and parents trying to get help and help each other in an open and supportive way. He mentioned that many communities are struggling with the decision of whether to advertise and ‘go public’ with setting up an alternative school or education support system, or whether to develop private networks that fly under the radar, and rely on word of mouth to get up and running.
Related to this, Christian shared that he and his wife made the conscious decision to be very public about what they were doing with setting up their Educational Pod to show people that yes, this is a feasible, reasonable and legal option for educating children with many advantages.

They are willing to help advise others who are starting out, help them find teachers, and assist in developing curricula.  Christian knows that many families have decided to transition out of the public school system mid-term, and he is happy to help them do this, as well as assist those planning ahead to the summer and next year already.

The Top Questions People Ask

Christian says he often fields questions about insurance and the legal requirements around setting up a school or a Pod.

In Alberta, up to 6 children are allowed in a home at one time without being considered a ‘school’. Those wishing to start a school may wish to look into starting a Charter School since there are less restrictions and regulations for starting a Charter school compared to other kinds of schools, and so they are quicker and less complicated to set up. Other options are to hire a tutor or start up an educational pods with 2 or 3 families.

Another common question is how to  set out the Course offerings and Curriculum. Interestingly, when building a curriculum, Christian notes that there are a number of advantages to setting up a Pod, or a small class that includes learners at different levels and ages.  Since every grade has lessons on the same topics (e.g. community the environment, identity) it’s easy to build a curriculum that is flexible and accommodates different levels of learning and meet the needs, interests and attention spans of each learner in the Pod (also called ‘differentiated learning’). In this manner, a range of students of different ages can learn together, at the same time making it manageable for the teacher(s) and students alike in a small group setting.

People also often ask for help finding a suitable teaching space.  Although the current legislation allows up to six children in a home at one time, it may be more conducive to learn in a space better suited to teaching and learning. Christian and his wife have explored many options for teaching spaces, including churches, sharing space with music or dance schools, and renting the back offices or meeting spaces of businesses or professional practices (e.g.lawyers offices). I was surprised to hear that it has been easier to source options for teaching and learning spaces in rural areas compared to urban settings.Regarding tips for teachers considering starting or joining an educational pod, or offering professional teaching and tutoring services, Christian gave the following advice. He said that teachers considering this path need to be prepared to not have as ‘cushy’ a job, and to expect not to earn as much money, at least to start with, and not to expect to have as much time off (e.g.summers off). Long days are common. Some Pods make ends meet by offering two Pods daily, with one Pod meeting in the morning for three hours, and a different Pod of children coming  for three hours in the evening. Other options for flexible scheduling include offering pods just two or three days per week instead of five days per week, which helps accommodate parents who are doing some of the homeschooling themselves, and parents living on a budget who wish to cut costs and keep it affordable.

Other nuggets of time tested wisdom that Christian offered include how to prepare your teaching schedule. For example, to prepare for illness or Covid situations, Christian recommends having two people on standby, ready to teach classes for you, or prepared to come in with their own classes in your space, to help cover rent and expenses. Regarding High School age learners, based on their experience, they recommend organizing two to four teachers, and rotate through the teachers to provide the variety and depth of subject knowledge the teens require. A common combination is to have a Math and Sciences teacher or teaching team, and as well as a Social Studies and Literacy teacher or teaching team.

Despite the less convenient hours and challenges involved with being an independent teacher, Christian says their list now includes 300 or 400 teachers, and this number is rapidly increasing. Retired teachers and substitute teachers are commonly found on the list, since their available time is more flexible, and they are more accustomed to risk and are in a position of using this kind of teaching as supplementary income more than as a main income source.

Here’s a recap of Christian’s top 3 tips for starting out:1. Start with a Tutor or two.

2. Connect with other parents through word of mouth and forums, and see if you align with 1 or 2 other parents in terms of what you are looking for in education.

3. Explore options for where to set up, or create your own learning space / Educational Pod SpaceFor more information about how to start home schooling, you can contact Christian and his wife on their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/theFreedomTeachers/