For years, my husband and I have had a dream of a location-independent lifestyle. We saw ourselves traipsing across the world, working remotely, and experiencing life while we are still young and healthy enough to enjoy it.
Though we never made it our full-time reality, we did flirt with the idea. We spent just over a year living in Mexico, building a company there and traveling on weekends. Years later, when our older son was 9 months, we hopped a plane to Thailand and spent over 2 months doing “slow travel” – a month in Thailand, a month in Czechia, and a week or so in London.
Years passed, another kid came along, and the desire dulled. Once we were fully ensconced in school and sports, it felt like the ship had sailed and we weren’t really going to have the opportunity again until our kids were out of the house. I knew that we could make it happen, but it always felt like the trade-off would be too big for the kids.
I follow a lot of families doing “worldschooling,” which is where you focus your kids’ education on exposing them to the world. Some people do this locally and maximize their PTO and school breaks, while others homeschool their kids and live nomadically around the world. Communities have sprung up in places like Luxor, Egypt, for worldschooling families to congregate and experience some community and stability amidst their travels.
Finally, when James was 6 and Jai was 9, I had more career flexibility, having left my tech startup job. We weren’t particularly happy with how our public school education had gone for either child during and after the pandemic, with Jai needing more gifted services than he was receiving, and James needing more support on handwriting and other skills. So, with time and flexibility and a husband with a lot of work travel coming up and a desire to improve our kids’ education, we decided to take the leap.
What We Hoped to Get from Worldschooling
There were a lot of things about public school that I didn’t (and still don’t) love. I didn’t love that neither kid was getting the support they needed – one needed more challenge, and one needed more support.
I didn’t love that they were rushed through lunch and often came home having eaten little because the line was long and they only had 8 minutes to eat before being rushed out the door again.
I didn’t love that the learning is so prescribed and regimented, and that teachers aren’t rewarded for creativity and passion so much as test scores and volume.
I didn’t love that little fear nagging in the back of my mind each day…what if there’s a school shooting today. What if it’s at our school.
I wanted to escape all these things, and I wanted to show my kids more of the world. I wanted to escape the rainy Seattle winter and enjoy sunny Mexico in our new vacation home. I wanted to escape the ordinary and try something completely different.
Structuring our Worldschool
I knew pretty early that homeschooling the boys myself was not in anyone’s best interests, so we worked out a financial model and landed on hiring a teacher who would travel with us and teach the boys on the road.
I specifically did not want to recreate public school in my home. I wanted to meet the core standards that the kids would be expected to know, but I wanted it to be more immersive, hands-on, and responsive to their interests than a typical classroom could be. I dreamed of lessons relevant to the places we were visiting, that combined different disciplines in one and let the kids’ interests lead.
I knew this was possible because during the pandemic, my mom homeschooled the boys. She is one of the most experienced, passionate, and gifted teachers I have ever seen. Her career as a public school teacher and librarian spanned more than 2 decades. She created fantastic lessons, and my kids rarely if ever fought the idea of school. She had them learning well ahead of grade level when our schools opened back up, and she was the gold standard in my head that I was looking to replicate.
But…I wanted to this on the road. I envisioned us traveling 3-4 months of the year, and I wanted to travel slowly enough that the boys could maintain a normal school schedule as well as see the sights.
When we were at home, we would have a dedicated classroom with desks, a TV, and plenty of wall space for posters and learning materials. The space, the room above our garage, had 2 large closets, lots of windows, and a kitchenette. We put in a couch, a teacher’s desk, and cozy touches like rugs and pillows. There is a half bathroom just outside the door.
What Worldschooling with a Private Teacher was Really Like
Our worldschooling journey was short and fraught. We started in mid-August and parted ways with our teacher at the end of October. We continued on with homeschooling through December, and rejoined our local public school in January.
Though I had super high hopes for the experiment, it broke down for us pretty quickly. My kids became very resistant to the idea of school, and flat-out refused to learn on some days. They missed their friends and the structure and variety of their school, despite my earnest attempts to schedule as many play dates as possible and get involved in organized activities like sports.
Behavior problems soon followed, and both boys became defiant, mean, rude, and moody. They physically and emotionally lashed out at each other, our teacher, and us parents. They enjoyed the travel portions of our worldschooling plan, but resisted doing school on the road.
They quickly fell behind academically, and we (the teacher and myself) agreed that things weren’t working. We tried some interventions, but they did not produce results quickly enough for our needs.
We were able to take two amazing trips during our months worldschooling, and they convinced me that we can maximize our time off of school to travel in the future in the way I want to. On our first trip, we spent 3 weeks visiting Iceland, London, Israel, and Egypt. On our second trip, we spent a month in Pescadero, Mexico at our beach house and established quite a list of things to do in Pescadero, Mexico with kids.
How to Hire a Private Traveling Teacher
There really wasn’t a guidebook on how to hire a private teacher, so I made it up. I found one company that acted as a recruiting firm, charging an up-front fee to source candidates and then charging 1% of the teacher’s first year salary if you hired one of their candidates.
I went through the intake process with them in addition to sourcing my own candidates. I found their process to be very slow, and they only brought one candidate to me to consider, at a higher-than-market-rate salary for her years of experience. I was unimpressed and won’t name them here.
I have hired lots of people in my career, so I went about writing my own job description and finding my own candidates. I joined job boards like Schoolspring.com and teacherjobs.com. I did not find either to produce interesting candidates, and I wouldn’t recommend paying the fees to join and post jobs.
Additionally, School Spring syndicates the job postings across job hunting sites like Indeed, so I randomly started getting a flood of interested candidates after I had hired someone…and I couldn’t figure out how to make it stop.
I got the most interesting candidates by posting directly on Zip Recruiter. You get the first week or so for free and then you pay daily to have a job posting live. If you take your job post down, you can still see and interact with the candidates who previously applied, so if you want to keep it economical and you have a few favorites you are considering, you could pause the job and stop taking new applicants while you work through the interview process.
I was surprised to find qualified teachers on Zip Recruiter, but I found many! I invited some to apply, and some found me through the posting. I ultimately hired someone off Zip Recruiter and if I were to do it again, I would post only on the main job sites like Zip Recruiter and Indeed.
Private Teacher Salaries
The salary requests we got were all over the place. We decided to match the public school salary for a teacher in our district, because we felt that while we were asking more of the teacher in some ways, we were also offering many benefits they would not otherwise get in a normal teaching job. In retrospect, the job is harder than any of us anticipated, and I would pay above market if I were to do it again.
We had some candidates ask for public school salaries (these are usually published online by your school district, so they are fairly easy to find) and some ask for $100,000 or more, so it really was a wide range.
The recruiting firm I spoke with pushed me to make my range $70,000-$75,000 with a stipend for healthcare to get a young teacher (the candidate he put forward had 2 years of teaching experience). In our district, the salary for a 4th year teacher is $55,000, so that is what we paid, and we paid a healthcare stipend on top of that so that she could purchase a health and dental insurance plan through our state’s marketplace. Again, if I were to do it in the future, I would plan to pay more, get a more experienced teacher, and start our contract several months before their teaching time actually begins (more on all this below).
What Qualities Make a Good Private Traveling Teacher?
I have thought A LOT about this question, both during the hiring process and throughout our worldschooling experience. I thought I hired the perfect private teacher for our needs (and she remains a wonderful teacher, just not perfect for this role). In retrospect, what I actually needed in a private teacher was far different from what I thought I wanted.
Breadth (and Depth) of Experience
The private teacher we hired was starting her 4th year of teaching. She spent one year teaching kindergarten and 2 years teaching elementary Spanish across all grades. When we interviewed her, I thought that this was a good mix of classroom and specialist experience, and enough years that she would have her feet under her but still be flexible and able to roll with this new situation.
If I were to hire again, I would look for someone with more overall years of experience, and specifically more years of general classroom experience.
I learned that there is a big difference between a classroom teacher and a specialist that sees each class 1-2 times a week. Specialists become an expert at their field, but not necessarily at managing a classroom of children over the long term. They often aren’t confronted with as many discipline challenges or differing paces of learning, and they benefit from the repetition of teaching the same thing to many kids, as opposed to the nuanced learning styles of a few specific kids.
If you’re hiring a private teacher, look for someone who ideally has taught the grade(s) you’re hiring them for and who has enough experience to confidently cover a variety of subjects.
Another note on the breadth of experience: none of us realized how challenging it would be to teach 2 grades at once. My older was in third grade and my younger was in first grade. I had hoped and assumed that we could adapt most lessons to accommodate both kids, but in reality, this did not happen. Our teacher was doing double duty to prepare separate lessons for each kid, and this meant that there was a lot of downtime when one child was working on their own or waiting for help or instruction. I had hoped to cut down on the downtime and wasted time of a typical classroom with 20 students, but we weren’t able to solve that challenge during our time worldschooling.
I do think it is possible to adjust the lessons to each learner (because I watched my mom do it), but I think our teacher’s relative inexperience held her back in being able to make this vision a reality.
Classroom command goes somewhat hand in hand with just general experience, but I’m calling it out separately because I imagine it’s a skillset that develops at different times for different teachers.
If a teacher does not establish their authority in the first few minutes of the school year, they will struggle to establish it as time goes on. This turned out to be an enormous issue for us and one that led to the downfall of our private teacher worldschooling experience.
If I were to hire again, I would probe in my interviews about how a candidate approaches the beginning of a school year and how they think about their role in the classroom compared to the role that their students have. I would ask about times when the class got away from them, and how they re-established their authority and boundaries.
What I found was that my kids sensed a weakness and exploited it in our teacher. They recognized that she was hesitant to discipline them or take charge of the class, and they used that to their advantage to resist subjects they didn’t like and shape the day to their desires. They are good kids, and yet they showed no mercy in barreling right through a weak spot in our defenses.
Though I wasn’t hiring a teacher to be a babysitter, in the kind of environment we were working in, there was a lot of overlap in the role. I hired a teacher who didn’t really have a lot of experience working deeply with children in a childcare capacity, and my naïveté didn’t realize how much of a distinction there is between a good teacher who can impart knowledge effectively and a good caregiver who can engage and discipline children.
I needed a teacher who was also familiar with the ups and downs of children…how to keep siblings from fighting and how to recognize when kids need a change of pace in order to stay motivated.
In a typical school, there is a support structure for teachers when it comes to interdisciplinary issues. If 2 kids are having issues, the teacher can ask for help from the school counselor or a more experienced teacher or the principal. In a worldschooling environment with a private teacher, the teacher must be able to navigate these situations alone, much as a parent would. If the teacher you are interviewing does not have extensive childcare experience, and is not a parent themselves, they may be unprepared for this aspect of the job.
We ultimately reflected that our au pairs in years past, while they were not skilled at teaching, could handle the boys’ moods and sibling drama much more effectively than did our teacher.
Flexibility and Adaptability
One area our teacher shined was in her flexibility and adaptability, and I still believe this is a crucial skill for any private traveling teacher. She was down for anything – teaching in a hotel room, changing the schedule to accommodate regular occupational therapy appointments, and adjusting our rhythm as we worked to settle into a worldschooling routine.
I firmly believe that if you have a teacher who is very established in how they teach, with a need for stability and a strong belief in traditionalism, that you will struggle to make your worldschooling experience a success. My mom, again one of the most gifted teachers I know, flat out refused to world school with us because she disagreed with our assumption in the ability for kids to learn in the varied environments we wanted to throw her into. She is an exceptional teacher…but she needs things just so. Aim to find a teacher with a similar level of mastery, but with a desire to mix things up.
Independence and Desire to Work Alone
Many schools these days pair up younger teachers with more experienced teachers…for several years…before the younger teachers are let loose to manage their own classroom. If you are hiring a newer teacher, consider either how you are going to support them and give them the mentorship they may need, or reconsider the level of seniority you need for your private teacher.
One challenge we faced was the isolation of teaching alone. Our teacher underestimated how much camaraderie and support she experienced as part of a school, and how hard it would be to teach fully independently. Consider these dynamics as you source and screen a private teacher, and encourage your best candidates to consider the impact of teaching alone on their own happiness and sense of community.
Creativity in Curriculum
My dream had been to adapt our curriculum to the places we were traveling. I imagined us creating multi-subject lesson plans that brought our destinations to life while meeting the core standards for each grade level.
We planned to go to Iceland, so I had hoped we would do science lessons on volcanoes and geothermal properties. I envisioned a lesson combining reading, writing, science, and math, where the kids went deep on geology. I
What I didn’t fully understand was how much time and effort it would take to execute this dream. Most modern teachers aren’t given much leeway in what they teach – they are handed a curriculum and they teach through it. Because of this, the teacher we hired, skilled as she is, was unprepared to design her own lessons and incorporate our destinations.
If it is important to you that your private teacher customize the lesson plans to your life, make sure to interview for this. And more importantly, plan in the schedule when the teacher is going to have time to develop these lessons. If they are with your child all day long, there is little to no time for curriculum development.
How to Manage a Private Teacher
A lot of the challenges we faced in our experience were preventable on my part, and families considering hiring a private teacher can learn from my mistakes to have a better experience themselves. None of these are specific to managing a private teacher, per se, and all of them are lessons I have learned as a manager in the past. I found them challenging to remember and apply in this situation, however, and would remind all families that above all, this is a boss/employee relationship and the things that work “at work” are necessary in this situation as well.
Most teachers have only a week or two under contract before the school year begins, during which they prepare their classroom and prep their lessons. For a teacher walking into a new environment teaching in a private home, this is simply not enough time.
In retrospect, I wish I had started our contract 1-2 months before teaching began, so that she had ample time to work through the thorny issues like adapting lessons to each grade level, and developing multidisciplinary lessons rather than being pressed for time and having to follow the curriculum exactly. I let her lead on the timing here, despite my husband encouraging us to get started as soon as possible, and ultimately it was a mistake. Even if we didn’t end up needing the time, it would have been good to have it rather than need it (like we did) and not have it.
Specify Expectations and Manage to Them
One thing I’m constantly learning from my husband about leading teams is the need to over communicate and the importance of giving clear, timely feedback.
I wanted to give our private teacher a lot of leeway and autonomy to establish our worldschooling year how she thought was best. In retrospect, I realize that I left her with too little guidance to be successful. As a newer teacher, she needed more support and direction from me on how to structure the year – on what kinds of lessons I expected her to come up with, and what I expected her to be able to handle without my involvement.
Autonomy is good, but clear expectations and both positive and constructive feedback is better.
This one goes together with the expectations point, but I list it separately because I was too trusting and asked too few questions in our worldschooling journey, even when I saw things weren’t going so well. I didn’t want to insult our teacher by asking what felt like elementary questions, and I assumed that she was following through on my expectation that she teach to the common core standards for each grade.
In reality, she was doing her best and still wasn’t able to get through some important subjects. It wasn’t until my mom came to observe and support her that we uncovered these things. Why? Because I was too hesitant to sit in on full days of lessons for fear of offending her or disrupting the boys. But my hesitation there meant that we didn’t do things like spelling until way late in the year.
Reflections on Hiring a Private Teacher
Would I hire a private teacher again? Yes…under certain circumstances. I would run my hiring process very differently, looking for different qualities than I thought I needed. Most importantly, I would only do this with the full and enthusiastic consent of my kids. They were reluctantly curious about this whole idea when we went into it. As they continue to get older, their full cooperation would become even more critical to the success of any kind of homeschooling setup.
I’m glad we tried it, because I would always have wondered otherwise. I’m glad we traveled as much as we did in such a short time, because those trips taught us a lot about international travel with kids and the pace that we’re comfortable with. And I’m glad that we were willing to admit what wasn’t working, and go back to our priorities in deciding the way forward – the education and happiness of our kids first, travel and flexibility second.
Have you ever considered hiring a private teacher and traveling the world while educating your kids?