Emily Brigham is a homeschool success story. Her mother, a former teacher who left the classroom to educate her daughters herself, was such an inspiring role model that Brigham and her two sisters grew up to become teachers.
She was so gung-ho that she began tutoring and offering music lessons at age 14 and continued through high school and college. She interned in a classroom every semester of college.
“I just wanted to help kids however I could, seeing what a vulnerable place they’re in,” said the 23-year-old. “I want to be a friend to them; I want to help guide them. I want to help them learn to love learning and to love discovery.”
Last year, Brigham landed her first full-time teaching job on the San Jose campus of Seaside Charter School in Jacksonville. It was a dream come true for the University of North Florida graduate. But when schools prepared to reopen this year amid the continued threat of the coronavirus pandemic, Brigham made a tough decision. Like countless other teachers, she resigned her traditional teaching job to join the growing number of educators interested in assisting families who are exploring other educational choices such as homeschooling and learning pods.
A USA Today/Ipsos poll conducted in May showed that one in five teachers said they were unlikely to return to the classroom in the fall. Hillsborough County Public Schools, which typically sees about 150 requests for leave each year, scrambled to fill more than 500 teacher vacancies.
Teachers weren’t the only ones fleeing. Six in 10 parents with at least one child in grades K-12 who participated in the survey said they likely would pursue at-home learning options instead of sending their children back for in-person instruction. Nearly a third of parents, 30%, said they would be “very likely” to do that.
Brigham disagreed with one finding of the USA Today poll that showed two-thirds of teacher respondents said the pandemic made them unable to properly do their jobs. On the contrary, she said, she felt confident and supported at Seaside Charter despite the challenges of a quick transition to virtual learning last spring.
“It was an amazing school for my first teaching experience,” she said. “I learned so much, not just about how to handle classroom discipline and how to grade papers but how to teach the whole child following the Waldorf tradition. I can’t imagine having a better first-year experience.”
That tradition, which brings a holistic approach to developing students’ intellectual, artistic and practical skills, allowed Brigham to be creative, she said. She was looking forward in May to “looping” with her 19 first graders by becoming a second-grade teacher. But as summer began, parents who were dissatisfied with distance learning or who feared sending their kids back to campus due to COVID-related safety concerns reached out to her for homeschooling guidance.
She turned them down at first. But then she realized the new venture would allow her to return to her “homeschool roots.” She explained her decision in a farewell letter to Seaside families, none of whom had asked her for homeschooling help, stating that it took a great deal of time to make up her mind.
Just six weeks into the new school year, Brigham’s new path already has begun to widen. In addition to assisting three homeschool families online and two in person, she also is teaching online classes for a Christian school in Pennsylvania.
While she enjoys the freedom and variety of what she’s doing, she acknowledges that not everyone has the luxury of taking a drastic pay cut to pursue a dream. She lives at home with her parents and can afford to work for less money, unlike some of her peers who have children and mortgages that necessitate a higher salary and benefits.
But for Brigham, a devout Christian who likes to bring her faith into her lessons, the trade-off is worth it.
“I’m able to live my faith and educate the whole child,” she said