Teaching - 4 Reasons to Teach in a Private School

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Teaching in a private school has many advantages over teaching in a public school. For most of us, it comes down to the reality that all we really want to do is teach. We find the administrative side of the job confining and time-consuming. Minimal bureaucracy has to be the biggest advantage of teaching in a private school, but there are other advantages.

Private schools create a climate for serious teaching with the following:

  • thin management structure
  • small class sizes
  • small schools
  • ideal teaching conditions

Thin Management Structure

A private school is its own independent entity. It's not part of a large administrative group of schools, like those in a school district. So you don't have to go up or down through layers of bureaucracy to deal with issues. Private schools are autonomous units of manageable size. The organization chart typically has the following upward path: Staff-->Department Head-->Head of School-->Board. You will find additional layers in larger schools, but even there it's a pretty thin management structure. The advantages are obvious: responsiveness to issues, clear communication channels. You don't need a union to help you deal with issues when you have easy access to administrators.

Small Class Sizes

This issue goes to the heart of what we teachers are all about. Small class sizes allow us to teach effectively, to give our students the individual attention which they deserve, and to accomplish the goals which have been entrusted to us.

Private schools typically have class sizes of from 10-12 students. Parochial schools generally have larger class sizes, but even they are smaller than those in comparable public schools. Contrast this with your public schools which range from 25-30 or more students per class. At that class size, you become a traffic cop, not a teacher.

Union mandated class size is not an issue in private schools.

Small Schools

Most private schools have 300-400 students. The largest independent schools top out at only 1100 or so students. Compare that with public schools with 2,000-4,000 students and you can understand why students in private schools are not just numbers. Teachers can get to know all their students as well as others throughout the school community. The community is what private schools are all about.

Ideal Teaching Conditions

Teachers want to be creative. They want to teach their subject. They want to light the fires of enthusiasm for learning within their young charges. Because private schools adhere to the spirit, but not to the letter of state-mandated curricula, there is great flexibility in the choice of texts and of teaching methodologies. You don't need a union agreeing to the adoption of this text or that methodology for use in the classroom.

Common Goals

Private school students are there because their parents want them to have the best possible education. Parents are paying serious money for that service. Consequently, everybody expects the very best results. If you are passionate about your subject, you feel the same way.

Only the best will do.

Resources

Why Teach In a Private School?
Am I Too Old To Teach?

Public Vs Private Education: Differences

while there are many differences between public and private schools, the primary difference is the approach to discipline. In a private school the rules of the school are clearly laid out when you sign the contract to attend a private school. By signing the contract you agree to abide by the terms of the contract which include consequences for infraction of the discipline code.

In a public school you have rights - constitutional rights which must be respected. The disciplinary process takes time and frequently is a cumbersome, complicated process. Students quickly learn how to play the system and can tie teachers up in knots for weeks over disciplinary matters.

Discipline Promotes an Atmosphere for Learning

When you are not fighting for control of a class, you can teach. Because parents send their children to private school to learn, the focus is on learning. Of course, there will still be the usual teenage experimenting with authority and the limits. But, as a rule, that kind of testing is fairly harmless. Why? Because everybody knows the rules. The code of conduct spells out serious consequences for disrespecting a teacher or a classmate. The code of conduct is enforced. Bullying is unacceptable behavior. Disruptive behavior is unacceptable. Fighting is unacceptable.

Discipline promotes an atmosphere for learning.

Discipline is a critical part of the three-way partnership private school education is all about. When you sign the contract with the school, you commit to a three-way partnership. While the school takes care of the academics and provides a host of other services while your child is in its care, you are still required to be involved.

The school will not allow you to be a silent partner. It will insist on your involvement.

When you have no distractions in the classroom, you can teach.

Editor's note: Brian Horgan is the Director of the Upper School at Gilmour Academy. I asked him why he taught in an independent as opposed to a public school. Here is his response.

Most of the colleagues with whom I work and share the joy of independent school teaching, celebrate the aspects of what the late British historian of ideas, Isaiah Berlin, famously refers to as negative liberty--the freedom to act without interference from others.

Clearly this is a valuable aspect of independent school teaching. Most of us relish the opportunity to work free of burdensome dictates of state department of education mandates, strict and often misguided teacher certification and re-certification requirements, pat curricular designs and assessment procedures, and bureaucratic paper work including the submission of daily lesson plans. In my teaching career I have come to appreciate the benefits of this kind of liberty as well; however, I try to remain attentive to the opportunities, by way of responsibilities, this kind of freedom makes imperative. It is precisely these opportunities that give me cause to celebrate the independent school experience. More specifically, the freedom I enjoy as an independent school teacher affords me the opportunity to turn my attention to things that matter most.

Because I am free from the democratic, though nobly intended, policies of public education, I can work within a smaller community where individuals can meet the individual needs of other individuals.

Of course the demands of community become more pronounced in this small setting--the virtuous practice of sharing, listening, and compassion are paramount to the success of the independent school. A good public school system will, to be sure, have teachers who are committed to these virtues as well--my children have been in their classrooms.

But it is also true that there are teachers who are not so committed in part, perhaps, because they work in school systems where, by necessity or accident, sociological statistics and objective data collection have become more important than people. Unfortunately independent schools employ people like this as well but my sense is that this is accidental rather than the inevitable by-product of a large educational system overburdened by bureaucratic demands. The small community of learners to be found in an independent school invites us to listen to the individual needs of our students and respond to those individual needs rather than having to resign ourselves to the limitations that long class rosters and incredibly hefty teaching loads would normally dictate. It invites us to share our insights, strategies, and classrooms with our colleagues rather than wasting time and energy protecting turf and reputation. It invites us to self direct our professional growth rather than having it governed for us by people whom we have never met.

When we enjoy these benefits of independence, however, we must recognize that the source of our joy is an independence hat differs from the negative liberty of "no interference".

As independent school educators we must be constantly mindful that to be independent of outside demands is to be, at the same time, bound by professional and inter-personal obligations, and that monitoring these obligations has become, to a great extent, the responsibility of the individual rather than the state, or proficiency test results, or the superintendent, or even, in some cases, the department chair. Freedom should never mean that one is free to do whatever one pleases; rather it should mean that one has the opportunity to focus with greater clarity on the proper limits of independence. To be independent does not allow one to say "leave me alone and let me do my work"; instead it calls one to invite others to share that work in an environment that is grounded in trust. With freedom comes duty--a duty to move beyond the walls of individual classrooms and attend to the broad requisites of mission.

Unfortunately, I fear this aspect of independence is sometimes overlooked. Fortunately, many independent school teachers are mindful of the full scope of possibilities their independence affords and consequently enjoy the most rewarding benefits of teaching at an independent school.

Some people think that you have to wear an academic gown when you teach at a private school. At least that's the impression you get when you watch the Harry Potter movies. That's just one misconception people have about teaching in a private school. Myths abound concerning teacher salaries, teacher certification, faculty housing, same-sex partners and the impression that private schools are elitist.

Let's find out the facts.

Salaries

Myth: Private school teachers make less than their colleagues in public schools.

As with most things, that's not necessarily true. A lot depends on the kind of the school we are talking about. For example, a third-grade teacher in a parochial school will make about 10-15% less than her counterpart in a public school. Why? Parochial school budgets are traditionally the slimmest in the business because their tuitions are among the lowest in the business. Now, put that same third-grade teacher in a Montessori school and the salary gap closes significantly. Why? Montessori schools typically charge what the market will bear.

Highly qualified teachers with terminal degrees working at the top prep schools will make very close to what their colleagues in public education make. Ditto for administrators.

Elitism

Myth: Private school students are spoiled rich kids or n'er-do-wells who have been packed off to private school for remediation.

Yes, there are day schools in many parts of the country where you will see more luxury cars per square foot in the school parking lot than you can possibly imagine. Yes, it is impressive seeing Josh's dad land on the soccer field in his company helicopter*. The reality, however, is that most schools are remarkably diverse, inclusive communities.

Ignore the popular stereotypes which Hollywood loves to perpetuate.

Same-Sex Partners

Myth: Same-sex partners are not welcome in private schools.

That may still be the case in most conservative religious schools. On the other hand, some of the top prep schools including Andover welcome same-sex couples on their faculty and staff. They enjoy all the rights and privileges which heterosexual couples enjoy.

Housing

Myth: Private schools require their faculty to live on campus

Some do and some don't. Boarding schools typically want their junior faculty to be dorm masters. In other words you are required to live in an apartment in the dorm and be responsible for supervising the students who board. Senior faculty and staff generally live in school-provided housing located on campus. Day schools don't require their faculty to live on campus as a rule.

Dress Code

Myth: Private school teachers have to wear academic gowns.

American and Canadian private school teachers 'dress up' in their full academic regalia for state occasions such as prize day and graduation only at schools which have a tradition of such formality. Personally, I think that an academic procession with faculty wearing their gowns and hoods is inspiring.

Some English schools such as Eton have a very formal dress code. Gown and mortarboard are de rigeur in the classroom. (Considering how cold and drafty English classrooms can be, that's probably not a bad idea.)

What is the dress code in most schools? Generally, it follows the lead of the student dress code. If a blazer, shirt and tie are required for young men, male faculty will dress similarly. The same applies to women faculty. They will wear clothes appropriate to the young ladies' dress code.

 

Article edited by Stacy Jagodowski

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Kennedy, Robert. "Teaching - 4 Reasons to Teach in a Private School." ThoughtCo, Jul. 5, 2016, thoughtco.com/reasons-to-teach-in-a-private-school-2773330. Kennedy, Robert. (2016, July 5). Teaching - 4 Reasons to Teach in a Private School. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/reasons-to-teach-in-a-private-school-2773330 Kennedy, Robert. "Teaching - 4 Reasons to Teach in a Private School." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/reasons-to-teach-in-a-private-school-2773330 (accessed September 20, 2017).