- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 11, 2000

A home-schooling mom from Maryland recently wrote to me to ask: "Is it really possible to work, even part time, and home-school? Every mother I know who is working at a paid job and home-schooling is overwhelmed and feels that she isn't doing enough with her kids. I don't feel that I'm doing as good a job as I could be if I weren't working. My work cuts into my days, ruins my routine (and I know kids like routines) and sometimes seems impossible. I know you work part time, and I wondered how you schedule your days, how you deal with priorities, how your kids handle it, and how you handle the extra stress of work and home-schooling."

This is a key topic for many of us. Everywhere I meet home-educating parents, the limitations of finances are an issue. We live in a society where housing prices, college tuitions and car prices are based on the assumption of dual-income families. Being a single-income family in such a setting creates real constraints. Because most of us do our studies during regular school hours, this makes it hard to work a full-time job. Yet our cars still need gasoline, and our houses need to be heated, no matter what.

The solution many of us have chosen is to work part time. I have done this over the years in various ways: working with temp agencies, working at jobs that let me adjust my hours to have some concentrated instruction time, and working from home.

All of these are options. A surprising number of employers are supportive of home-schooling. With two jobs, I started later in the day and had permission to supervise my children by phone, use the fax machine to send assignments or answers, and use the copy machine for lessons (for which I reimbursed the company). I had a house guest, a certified teacher, staying with us, so I could pay her to tutor the children while I was gone.

Working from home probably is the best-case scenario because you can adjust your hours and your workload to fit schooling needs. You are on site, so if an emergency arises, you are able to respond. The downside is having to stop in the middle of a study session to answer the phone or to stop in the middle of an urgent job to answer questions. You run the risk of feeling stressed and as if you aren't doing either job in a concentrated, fully focused way.

Another option I have used is to share home-schooling with another family. My children took their books and materials to the other family's house for the portion of the day I was in the office, and I compensated the family accordingly. I also taught both sets of children during the part of the day I was home, so it was an equal sharing of the instructional responsibility.

Now I work from 4 to 8 p.m. on school days and another shift on weekends at a part-time job. I also do some small jobs from home. I found I needed the intensive school time with my children, as they are now doing high school courses and need a lot of support.

The good thing about doing some work outside the home is that it offers opportunities for exposure to possible educational experiences. One job I had gave me the chance to bring my family and another on a personally guided tour of the U.S. Capitol.

In deciding whether it is realistic for you to work while home-schooling, you should weigh several factors. How much time do you feel comfortable working? What are the costs to you? Will your spouse be able to handle things if you are gone during key hours of the day? And of course, how much money can you realistically expect to net if you take a job?

Part-time workers usually don't get health insurance or other benefits, so that may be another consideration for your family. Also, if you have demands that make a regular schedule difficult, such as an invalid or high-need family member, you may need to do work that lets you create your own schedule.

Here is the bottom line, from my viewpoint: While we all need to live, eat and have shelter, our primary responsibility is to invest in the education of our children. We have a limited number of years in which we can have a significant impact on them. During those years, schooling must be the No. 1 priority for us, no matter how difficult our financial circumstances. If we really need to work, our decisions must account first for a complete education of our children.

Home-schoolers receive no salary, no tax benefits, no earned-income credit, no prestige and a lot of questions about their decision to educate their children. Our only reward is in the safety, academic progress and happiness of our children. These rewards are important enough for us to continue to make the investment and the sacrifices necessary along the way.

Yes, home-schooling mothers are doubly burdened if they work at a paying job as well as teach, but I don't see any way out, at least for the duration of our children's prime learning years.

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a free-lance writer living in Maryland.

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