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Learning Pods: Quite the Lesson for Adults

December 27, 2020

As the time approached for the 2020-21 school year to begin, I remember reading about parents of means turning to “learning pods” as an option for creating a sort of one-room schoolhouse experience for a small group of children. Also referred to as “pandemic pods,” the idea is to provide a means for social interaction and face-to-face instruction to supplement the less-desirable online instruction that these children might otherwise be facing during the pandemic.

There are even freshly-created entities such as this one, Learning Pods (a New York- and San Francisco-school “collaboration” that can apparently somehow process contributions from foundations), willing to facilitate a learning pod experience for preschool or K-5 children. Interested in pricing? Use this handy pricing calculator to learn that the estimated cost for a K-5 student who is involved five days a week (where a “day” is 9AM – 2PM for K-5) in a pod of 4 students is $3,320 a month. The cheapest appears to be $893 a month for a preschool pod of 6 kids meeting 3 days a week for under three house a day (9AM – 11:45AM). (Financial aid is available; one can apply for private school financial aid using this application that costs $51 to submit.)

If you have the means and live in SF or NY and have the pod membership all lined up but have no teacher, and Learning Pods has no teacher for your pod, you can fill out this “teacher not found form pod” form, and we’ll see what happens. The form includes the question of who is pod captain, whether the pod is indeed complete (minimum of 3 kids), whether pod has a location, whether pod includes children with “learning differences or additional needs,” and intended curriculum (current school curriculum with Zoom? current school curriculum without Zoom? or… Learning Pods’ own curriculum?).

This learning pod idea gets complicated quickly, and we haven’t even broached the topic of disagreement among pod parents, or the effects of the pod host being in a position of greater power/leverage than other parents, or the fiscal postion of the pod if one or more parents bails, or discipline issues among the children in the pod (which could produce sour relationships among parents), or contracting and retaining a pod teacher, or what if the pod teacher contracts COVID…. I’ll stop now.

Upon my first reading of learning pods as a COVID solution, I also recall hearing an element of concern about whether these learning pods would grow in popularity and replace or otherwise undermine the traditional, K12 school experience.

Not going to happen. Pulling off this pod experience is too complicated. Many parents with means might think the pod idea is simple: form a group among friends, decide on whose home will host the pod class meetings, pool funds to hire a teacher, then voila! the work is done. Just put kids in room with teacher; the magic of learning will happen, and the parents are free to go about their business unincumbered by school experience that will now take care of itself.

I am smiling even as I am writing. It’s the same smile I have when I hear that novice teachers expect their students to all listen, behave, and eagerly await the opportunity to fully engage in the day’s learning and are therefore genuinely shocked when students resist.

It’s also the same smile I had when I read the December 22, 2020, article entitled, “Learning Pods Show Their Cracks.” (Interestingly, the story’s computer window tab reads, “The Cons of Learning Pods,” a step away from the url which reads, “learning pods pros and cons.” I guess the “pros” lost out on this one.)

Here’s how the article begins:

This past summer, Emily Brady thought she had solved the puzzle of remote learning. Rather than send her 5-year-old to virtual kindergarten, she would set up a Spanish immersion forest school for a few children, hire a teacher and run the idyllic program from the cottage behind her house in Oakland, Calif.

“The parents needed to work, and we figured the easiest thing would be to pay and hire somebody to be the teacher,” said Ms. Brady, a writer who set the plan in motion with a cousin who also had school-aged children. “Oh my God, it all just sounds so naïve now.”

It turns out that organizing and operating an independent one-room schoolhouse from your backyard is a lot of work. To get the program running, Ms. Brady drafted Covid-19 guidelines and interviewed potential teachers, settling on a woman with a warm personality, but no teaching experience.

There’s that smile.

Enjoy the rest of the NYT article here. 

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4 Comments
  1. LisaM permalink

    Yes, the parents finally realize the importance of teachers…..as behavior management specialists while trying to deliver content (snark!). The parents finally are getting to see the nuances of Common Core curriculum since it is happening within their home school pod/space and they are not happy with that either. So now, the parents are even angrier and want schools to fully open while a raging pandemic is devouring the country. Everybody is still trying to “get ahead” or “win the race to the top” when in fact, they should be treading water and swimming to safety based on the current of the water. Never have I been more disappointed in humanity. The children ARE learning…..they are learning to deal with adversity and how to navigate in a bad situation. They are learning “life” lessons.

  2. Laura H.Chapman permalink

    Ages three to five are listed on that “teacher not found form.” I would like to think that only the very rich in large metro areas think that a pod is an easy fix for their problems in child-care. These schemes are not about education.

  3. Laura H.Chapman permalink

    Correction on my not above age 3 to GRADE 5 on that note.

  4. Daedalus permalink

    Will these kids turn into ‘Pod People’?

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