Bringing Your Classroom Home


Providing for the times when you have to “pause” your career

By Lori Ann Watson

There are times in life when a teacher has to rethink the daily commute. An ailing parent, spouse, or child; a bout with an autoimmune disease or cancer; or a family crisis can demand your presence at home for a time. When that happens, it helps to have resources and solutions. Here you’ll find a few commonsense ways to bring your classroom home.

First, let me clarify — I’m not encouraging anyone to leave the classroom. In fact, I’d discourage it before you’re sure you’re ready. This comes from personal experience; I had to leave a good teaching job suddenly in 2015 to tend to some pressing needs at home. At the time I sorta had a plan. Looking back, I can see plenty of mistakes — and a few things done right — and I’d like to share that experience with you.

Before you leave the classroom

One thing that helped me, more than any other step I took, was enrolling in Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University (FPU for short) while I was still teaching full-time. This program is offered at a reasonable cost at many churches, and there are often scholarships available. In only nine classes, you learn a countercultural, realistic, debt-free mind-set that puts you in control of your money. Dave Ramsey’s work gives you the tools to accomplish any financial goal, including coming home. It’s worth every minute of those nine classes — and then some.

Another great help was John Acuff’s book Quitter. This commonsense guide helps you to formulate a plan and decide when the time is right to make your home office your primary work space.

In your earliest planning stages, it’s also important to sit down and figure out exactly how much money you have going out each month and where it goes. (If you take FPU, this will be one of the steps.) I write down my debits, and this definitely helps; at any point, I can open that check register and tally up how much has gone to groceries, gas, clothing, the house, and so on.

What most people find, though, is that working from home costs less than going to a job every day. This makes sense because of obvious factors such as gas money, but there’s also another element at work: time really is money. When you have more time, you can use it to save costs. This affects every area of basic expenses: you eat home-cooked meals more often instead of grabbing burgers at the drive-thru; you have time to shop thrift stores for great deals instead of buying new; and you can spend time planning everything about your household, which usually results in lower costs. It’s realistic to expect that your expenses will come down, at least a bit, when you make the switch from the classroom to home.

Means of provision

For me, a single mom, it was really scary at first. But I’ve researched some of the different means teachers can use to put food on the table when they’re home, and I want to share those options with you here:

Teach online

With so many families opting for online schools for their children, this option is growing exponentially. There are a great number of companies providing online instruction, such as:

VIPKid: This company teaches Chinese children English. You have to work during peak Beijing hours (which begin before the rooster crows here in the US), but these hours are the best fit for some, and the pay can be upwards of $16 an hour.

Kolbe Academy, Homeschool Connections, and other Catholic instruction providers: These companies hire you to teach core, religious, or supplemental classes to their students online. They are growing by leaps and bounds. Catholicity is important to them; they are kind, charitable, and rooted in service; and they tend to take teachers’ most common needs into consideration when formulating company policies. Pay varies from company to company.

We reached out to Megan Lengyel, senior director of online learning at Kolbe Academy, to ask what makes a teacher a good fit for an online environment. She said that not already knowing the technology isn’t a deal breaker — in her words, “Anybody can learn the new tech” — but the candidate does need to be tech-savvy or, at a minimum, excited about technology and very open to it.

When asked what they look for in a candidate, Mrs. Lengyel said that Catholicity is at the top of the list, along with prior teaching experience (especially online or in a Catholic environment) and prior work-from-home experience. Teachers who want to keep up-to-date on current openings at Kolbe can do so at bit.ly/WorkKolbe.

We also asked Maureen Wittman, co-founder of Homeschool Connections, about important considerations regarding online teaching — what are the pros and cons for teachers? Mrs. Wittman said that while most of her teachers love it, rave about how good their online teaching experience is, and, as a result, tend to stay on for a very long time, those who don’t like tech or who aren’t comfortable seeing their own faces on video sometimes find online teaching difficult. She also pointed out that creative teachers can still build strong relationships with students by holding live class meetings, providing grading services, emailing parents, and maintaining steady communication.

Because Homeschool Connections is a supplemental curriculum provider instead of a school, they don’t have “openings.” Expert teachers who have an idea for a class they are uniquely qualified to teach should go to HomeschoolConnections.com, click on About, and scroll down to Teaching for Homeschool Connections.

Secular virtual schools: Virtual schools such as Connections Education and state-specific online schools offer another option for employment. One benefit is that they may have more available openings than privately run schools.

Tutor

In some states, average hourly pay for tutoring is higher than for classroom teaching, and the flexibility allows you the freedom to minister to whomever needs you at home. One drawback to tutoring (as well as all other home-based businesses) is that you have to be intentional and diligent about promoting yourself so that you get — and keep — enough students to stay afloat. Another drawback is that many students will take off for trips, holidays, and summer vacation, and their breaks can affect your ability to pay the bills; you’ll want to make sure you set policies ahead of time for these situations, as well as for cancellations and no-shows.

Forget academics: teach what you love

If you play piano like Mozart, cook like Emeril, or sing like Celine Dion, combining those skills with your teaching ability could be a recipe (pun intended) for wonderful success — not to mention fun! The same guidelines apply, though, about establishing your rules up-front with the families you serve and consistently promoting your business.

Do whatever your homeschool community asks for

If you wholeheartedly support families’ decisions to homeschool and have an active homeschooling community in your area, you could make a great resource for parents seeking a little extra support. Homeschooling is a decision that requires every bit of parents’ time, talent, and effort, and sometimes they like having a certified teacher to reach out to. I’ve found that parents in my area who originally come to me for tutoring or evaluations often eventually ask for consulting services, as well. This is a win-win — it’s reassuring to the parents, and talking with each family about their methods and curricula helps me to be a better consultant for other families.

Balancing it all

When you’re looking at things from your classroom desk at 6 p.m. with the day’s work still unfinished, it may seem that if you could just work from home, everything would fall into place so much more easily. Sometimes that is true. But in some cases, time management can require more attention when you’re home, not less. Make sure you have a plan: Which hours will you carve out for work? Which ones will be devoted exclusively to family? When will you clean the house? Which times will you set aside to touch base with friends?

Reaping the benefits of being Catholic

I’m not going to lie: Giving up a steady paycheck with retirement and paid insurance to strike out on your own is not an easy path to walk. But if you have to do it, being Catholic is the biggest blessing you could ever ask for.

For me, both a worrier and a single mom, it was a very difficult step to take. When my family was in crisis, though, and a friend could see that I needed to make the move to work from home, she offered me advice that has helped me through many a rough spot. I kept saying, “I don’t have a safety net.”

Her response was, “Let God be your safety net.”

In the two and a half years that have passed since I left the classroom, I’ve repeated those words in prayer more times than I can count. Sometimes we’ve scraped right through the bottom of the barrel and started digging to China, but it’s taught me a kind of trust I would never have known otherwise, and it’s led my family and me to a much deeper faith. I’ve learned that anytime I’m worried about money, all I have to do is open Psalms to be reminded that faithfulness is my job; provision is the Lord’s, and he always does it. It’s taught me that the sacraments are the surest way to peace, regardless of any worldly circumstance. It’s taught me that when loved ones and career compete, prioritizing the loved ones is usually wise, and that when priorities are right, the career side generally goes well. It’s also taught me that tithing is crucial, especially when funds are low.

Our Catholic faith gives us an inexhaustible supply of ways to deal with the anxiety that comes with financial downsizing: stories and quotes from the lives of the saints (how about St. Padre Pio’s “Pray, hope, and don’t worry”?), the wisdom in scriptural books such as Proverbs and Sirach, Jesus’ reminders of God’s faithfulness in provision in the books of Matthew and Luke, the strength of the sacraments, and time in prayer in the very same room with Christ’s Real Presence. Our faith gives us everything we need during changes of circumstances, and for the teacher bringing a classroom home, a deep Catholic faith is the best asset he or she has.

As with any major shift in life, moving your teaching career home will bring plenty of changes. With financial wisdom, a good schedule, and a strong faith, though, you can find your own path to provision from home — one step at a time.

Image credit: Shutterstock

Lori Ann Watson teaches, homeschools, blogs about Catholicism, and almost never gets caught up on laundry. She writes from North Central Florida.

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