Like many families, Ms. Brady of Oakland thought a pod would make her life easier. Instead, she had to create a limited liability company, manage payroll, develop a curriculum and clean up after six children. A few months after the pod got rolling, she began to worry about what and how the children were learning, so the group hired a consultant to help.
“It’s kind of exhausting,” Ms. Brady said.
But the group has found a rhythm, with the parents sharing in the chores and the children spending the bulk of their days outside. The pod even has a name, Los Amigos del Bosque. “Is it perfect, no? Nothing about this year is perfect,” Ms. Brady said. “But when I see pictures of these kids playing together outdoors and climbing trees and hugging each other, I feel like something is right.”
But a pod, even one with adorable cubbies and a cheerful teacher, is not the same thing as a school. It has no principal to handle disputes, no aides to assist in the classroom and no counselors to offer guidance. Parents, often with no education experience, select the teachers, set the curriculum and choose the classmates. When problems emerge, they’re the ones making decisions about other people’s children.
“What’s happening in the micro-schools is we don’t have a network for our teachers to say, ‘What do you do when so-and-so decides they don’t want to put their shoes on?’” said Emma Emmerich, the director of Emerging Sprouts Forest School in Berkeley, Calif., who has been consulting for learning pods, including Ms. Brady’s. “A lot of parents have expectations, but they’re not educators, they don’t have the same lens to use to say that’s actually a developmentally appropriate behavior.”
And so when one child acts out, other children’s parents may be the ones deciding the consequences, as happened in one pod of kindergartners in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn. The teacher was overwhelmed and needed help. So parents started supervising lunch. Once they were in the classroom, in the basement of one family’s home, some of them expressed concerns about one child in particular.
“All of a sudden these parents are bearing witness to the behavior of the child, now everyone knows and now they’re embarrassed,” said Traci Maynigo, 39, a clinical psychologist with a child in the pod. “What else could the teacher have done? It’s not like she has an assistant teacher.”