Thanks to the Pandemic: Learning Pods

Photo by Libby James; Teacher Katy Spiller at the Tutor Pod

Libby James

The need for tutors has been exploding since the onset of the pandemic. Katy Spiller, formerly a teacher in Texas, and at Oakwood School and the now-closed Montessori Children’s House, both in Fort Collins, is responding to it. In her Tutor Pod, a specially outfitted mobile schoolroom she found on Craig’s list, she cruises Fort Collins providing a Montessori-inspired at-home learning site. Spiller has a master’s degree in literacy and language development from the University of Northern Colorado and is certified to teach the Montessori method.

She currently serves eight young clients that she visits once or twice a week, welcoming them into her Tutor Pod, for an individualized learning experience. Her students range from a two-and-a-half-year-old little girl to several kindergarteners and a first-grader.

“I love what I’m doing,” Spiller says, explaining that she was fortunate to inherit learning materials from the Montessori school where she taught. She maintains a library in her garage and individualizes every hour-long teaching session. Weather permitting, she conducts school outdoors. She allows a half-hour to sanitize her site between sessions.

Spiller is part of a growing trend. More and more parents are seeking one-on-one at-home instruction for their children, realizing that they have neither the time nor expertise to provide a top-notch educational experience for their own offspring. She understands the unique challenge a parent faces when tutoring his or her own children. Kids respond differently when instructions come from a parent rather than from a less emotionally-involved educator.

She is the mother of two boys now in fourth and seventh grades. Her younger son studies virtually and her seventh-grader, a student at Cache La Poudre Middle School, will soon be attending school part-time in person.

Spiller’s husband works from home, making it possible for her to devote the time she needs to serve her Tutor Pod students.  “These days we are all forced to become innovative,” she says. “It has been fun.  I have all the students I can handle right now.”

Families who are able to afford it are seeking tutoring for their children to assist them with virtual learning or even replace it with a full-time one-on-one educational experience. Tutors can also provide consulting, sometimes a supplemental curriculum, and often an opportunity for their children to socialize in small groups.

Parents across the country finding it difficult to supervise learning for their own children are fueling the need for tutors and welcoming a movement toward micro-schools. These small schools are increasingly popular n many areas of the country. Families form small groups of perhaps four to seven students who study under one teacher. Such arrangements can make it possible for teachers to earn as much or more than they would teach in a public school.

Costs for this kind of individualized learning range widely and are usually far from affordable for many families. For example, one provider, Care.com, charges $100 an hour for three monthly sessions for two students and $10 an hour for each additional student.

Some educators have expressed concern for the inequality created by these programs that are not available to those who cannot afford them. The possibility of providing scholarships may be on the horizon as educators strive to find ways to support students who may need help the most.