Traveling teachers work with families who travel the world — here’s what it pays

Lucy Alexandra Spencer spent 16 weeks abroad last year in Oman, France, Switzerland and Portugal.

Unlike with most people, traveling is how she earns — rather than spends — money.

The trips are paid for by Spencer’s employers — they’re wealthy Europeans and Americans who hire her to travel with their families for weeks and, occasionally, months at a time.

Spencer is a former primary school teacher with experience teaching students with learning difficulties. She embarked on her first traveling teaching role seven years ago.

Since then, she’s spent about two years abroad, including an eight-month trip to Europe, the United States and the Middle East, she said.

The cost to hire a teacher like U.K.-based Spencer is comparable with private school fees for multiple children — about £8,000 ($10,050) a month to work with three children. Families also pay the cost of her flights, accommodations and meals. 

Lucy Spencer, near the Italian island of Capri.

Source: Lucy Spencer

Rates can rise to £10,000 if families require teachers with specialist skills, such as playing a musical instrument or foreign language instruction.

However, teaching assistants, who help with a basic curriculum, can be hired for around £2,500 a month.

Different from traditional school

The children Spencer teaches attend sessions with her for about four hours a day because one hour of private tutoring is akin to three hours of regular school, she said.

She consults with teachers at their schools, she said, to create lessons that cover what they would be learning back at home. She can also prepare them for exams they have on their return.

Spencer also incorporates information about local culture, cuisine and customs into her sessions. For example, Spencer said, when she was in Oman she was working with a family who hadn’t experienced an Arabic country before.

It’s demanding on your teaching skills because you’ve got to really understand the family and their cultural beliefs.

Lucy Spencer

Education Boutique

“It’s not about me imparting knowledge,” she told CNBC Travel. “It’s about me being there as more like a facilitator to make them curious and ask questions about things that they’re experiencing — spotting differences, spotting similarities.

“It’s demanding on your teaching skills because you’ve got to really understand the family and their cultural beliefs, and how you can make those little humans that you’re working with into better versions, even than their parents.”

An educator, not a tutor

Spencer’s progressive outlook is not for all families, she said. 

She tends to work with startup founders who want to expose their children to alternative ways of learning and thinking, she said.

She prefers to be known as a “facilitator” or “educator” rather than a teacher or a tutor, she said.

Lucy Spencer in Oman.

Source: Lucy Spencer

“There will certainly be educators who travel with a family, and it looks just like school,” she said. “But to me, that’s not the world schooling that I specialize in — that’s simply doing international tutoring.”

The change in title also means she must manage families’ expectations about her role, Spencer said. She needs to ensure families won’t confuse her for a nanny who provides extensive child care, or an au pair, who may be expected to do light chores.

“My remit is definitely education. I’m not with the family, staying in their house. I always stay separately, although I might join them for dinner sometimes. It’s an interesting conversation to have — defining that idea and expectation that it’s not a holiday nanny role,” she said.

That means interviewing is a two-way street, she said.

Lucy Spencer said this was her “classroom” while working with a family in the French commune of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat.

Source: Lucy Spencer

“For many families, they probably feel like they are interviewing you as the educator, but it’s as much me interviewing them, too.” 

Now, as she has her own house and two dogs, Spencer only accepts shorter work trips of up to four weeks. She can, however, match families who need a traveling teacher with one of the 30,000 teachers who are a part of her private tutoring business Education Boutique.

Making traveling teachers more accessible

Traveling teaching gigs comprise around 10% of Education Boutique’s business, while the rest matches educators with students with learning issues or who need private exam preparation. Spencer started the business in 2016 after spending nearly four years as a schoolteacher the United Kingdom and Dubai. She has a bachelor’s degree in primary teacher education.

Spencer said she wants to make traveling teachers available to more families, by creating cheaper options, such as pairing families with trained students taking a gap year.

“There are lots of very engaging young people who are paying a lot of money to travel the world as part of a gap year and will likely go on to good degrees and careers in the future,” said Spencer.

“Why couldn’t we position a gap year as, instead of someone having to pay, they could educate students as they go around the world,” she said. “And if a family knows that they’re going to, say, Thailand, rather than that family paying for the flight for an educator to join them there, we become that connector [for] someone who is already going to be there.”

Lucy Spencer in Austria.

Source: Lucy Spencer

Spencer said she’s committed to both sides of Education Boutique — finding jobs for traveling teachers and those who want to support special education children.

“We see our role as an important one, supporting the most privileged children globally and the most disadvantaged locally,” said Spencer.