Public Vs. Private School Teaching

Comparing Two Very Different Environments

A teacher in a classroom full of students

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Teaching jobs can be found in both the public and private sectors, but most teachers generally apply for positions in one or the other. This is because the two are markedly contrasted and new teachers tend to use these disparities to determine their best fit.

Deciding where to concentrate your job search can be difficult if you don't know how public and private schools differ. Though similarities exist between the types of schools, significant differences that will affect your overall teaching experience are more prevalent. These deserve your consideration before you begin applying for teaching positions.

Teacher Education

Knowing what your qualifications are and what they must be for teaching jobs should be the first step in making your public vs. private decision.

Public

Public schools tend to require and prioritize the same teaching credentials and certifications. A minimum of a Bachelor's degree in Education is needed for all public school teaching positions today and Mathematics and Language Arts concentrations are commonly most appealing. Teaching jobs are usually assigned by area of specialty.

Private

The credentials required for private school teaching positions are not as consistent. Some private schools might mandate that all of their teachers have Master's degrees or particular certifications, while others might not require official teaching degrees at all. Many Montessori schools, for example, will allow you to teach at the Early Childhood level with a high school diploma and training.

Diversity

Consider the differences between students enrolled in public and private schools. Your teaching experience will be influenced tremendously by the makeup of your classroom.

Public

The law requires public schools to admit all students without discrimination. Because of this, teachers in public schools tend to teach a diverse population of students in terms of race and ethnicity, socioeconomic status, levels of need, and more. If you value diversity, public schools might be for you.

Private

Private schools are allowed to choose which students to admit. This generally means that they put their applicants through admissions processes, which often include interviews, and grant admission quite selectively based on their school values.

Private schools also charge tuition, which means that are primarily attended by students with wealthy families with the exception of students who demonstrated enough financial need to receive scholarships. Upper-class, white students and teachers comprise the majority of most private school populations.

Curriculum

What you are actually expected and allowed to teach in a public or private school comes down to government involvement.

Public

In public schools, state mandates determine subjects offered and topics covered. Further, public schools must use government-assigned standardized tests to measure learning. Most public school curriculums are constructed around state standards and provided to teachers. In addition, teaching religious topics is strictly prohibited.

Private

Private schools are allowed to choose and use their own tests and lesson plans and some private schools don't have curriculums at all. The government wields little power over the day-to-day administration of private schools because they are not funded by taxes. Some private schools provide religious instruction in addition to academics and may be closely aligned with a church, synagogue, mosque, or other religious institution.

Resources

Resource availability represents perhaps the biggest difference between the public and private school sectors.

Public

Public schools are tax-funded but different districts receive different levels of funding. This means that the resources available to you will depend on the specific school in which you teach. Public school funding tends to be consistent with the financial resources of the surrounding community.

Private

The price of attendance often becomes a factor in determining the socio-economic makeup of the student body, although some private schools offer scholarships to students with demonstrated financial need. Because of limited funds and a lack of mandates, teachers encounter fewer special needs students in private schools than in public schools, so if you specialized in special education, you might not find many available positions in the private sector.

Class Size

Is a bigger or smaller class your sweet spot? If you know that you teach a particular group size best, decide where you will find it.

Public

While public school districts prefer to keep class size down, overcrowded classes due to teacher shortages and underfunding are common in public schools. Even the more affluent districts face issues with class size when they are forced to admit more students than they can accommodate.

Private

Private schools often tout small class sizes as an advantage over public schools. private schools teachers find it easier to remove disruptive students from classes and the school itself. It takes a pretty serious offense to get a student permanently removed from the public school system.

Parental Involvement

Teaching takes a village, but there are stark contrasts between public and private schools when it comes to family communication.

Public

The degree to which parents and families of students in public schools engage in their children's education is entirely dependent on a school's community and population.

In some public schools, student families are privileged with enough time and money to attend events and meetings, even volunteer, regularly. In other public schools, families do not have the option of taking time off of work, lack transportation, or cannot afford babysitters to watch younger children when they come to school.

Private

Private schools naturally see parents that are more involved in their students' lives because it takes more effort to get students into private schools in the first place. Wealthy families with time to spare are likely to give their time to education. With greater parental involvement, private school teachers often feel well-supported.

Salary

One of your greatest concerns when choosing a teaching position might be the salary you receive. Of course, public and private schools differ greatly in this respect.

Public

Public school teaching salaries are relatively constant. Elementary school teachers make less money than secondary teachers and starting salaries across schools are comparable. With the exception of higher-needs schools with more government funding, you can expect about the same salary from any public school.

Private

Private school teaching salaries are commonly a major disadvantage for teachers. Private school teachers generally earn less than their public school counterparts, with teachers at parochial schools at the lowest end of the salary range. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, private school teachers earn an average of $10,000 – $15,000 less than comparable public school positions.

Teacher salaries in private schools are drawn from student tuition. Because these schools charge different admissions prices, their teacher salaries can represent a wide range. Some private schools may pay much more than public schools, but most pay less.