Teaching at a Private School

It is safe to say that not all schools are created equal. There are clear benefits to being a faculty member in an independent school environment. However, one must compete with a number of highly qualified candidates to get through the gate.  After nine years of teaching, I only know and fully understand private school culture. Guybe Slangen [see note below] gives a take on being a faculty member in a private school:

Taking all this into consideration, here is a partial list of privileges that I receive as a teacher in a private school. Like the McIntosh piece, this is by no means a scholarly analysis of the institution of private schools, but rather personal observations in my daily experiences and particular circumstances. I feel that I personally did not earn many of these privileges, but rather others earned these for me and I benefit from them everyday.

  1. I can go to my school and feel confident that it is a safe place to learn and work.
  2. I work in buildings and facilities that are in impeccable condition.
  3. The school has two fully equipped libraries (lower and upper schools).
  4. Our 15-acre urban campus also has a variety sports fields (soccer, baseball, tennis), a gymnasium (basketball, volleyball), and a pool.
  5. We have a maintenance team in charge of upkeep of our facilities.
  6. We have a very effective development team in charge of raising funds for both long and short-term campaigns to support the school.
  7. My classroom has enough seats for all of my students.
  8. My classes are small: 12 – 16 students.
  9. All students have basic supplies and current textbooks.
  10. Almost all students have access to a computer at home.
  11. I have the time, freedom, and resources to cater to a variety of different learners and learning styles. We have full time school counselor and learning specialist. We also have free on-campus tutoring for students.
  12. I have access to almost any technological resources I want.
  13. We have regular assemblies to which we invite performers, speakers, artists, musicians, filmmakers, politicians, authors, etc. Some notable figures that have spoken to our students are John Glenn, Arriana Huffington, and Jared Diamond.
  14. We have a community garden that serves not only as a source for organic food served in our café, but also as a working classroom for all grades.
  15. Our café serves healthy food using local and organic ingredients whenever possible. The food is fresh, varied, and nutritious.
  16. We have top-notch music and art programs.
  17. We have co-curricular and extra-curricular programs such as debate, service learning, and global education designed to enhance and enrich the student experience.
  18. We have rigorous admissions standards to ensure that we have the most capable, qualified, diverse, and committed students and families.
  19. Our faculty consists of highly trained professionals with a wealth of experience in not only their fields, but also in teaching their fields. Many have advanced degrees, some even with PhDs.
  20. I am not held to either federal or state testing standards such as NCLB.
  21. I am certain that my students are both challenged and supported.
  22. I can assign homework and be confident that students will complete the work in safe and encouraging environments.
  23. I am confident that parents are actively involved in their child’s education, and do what they can to help them succeed.
  24. Many of our students come from homes where their parent(s) went to college.
  25. Many of our students come from financially well-off families. For those that struggle to afford the tuition and expenses, we make every attempt to provide financial aid.
  26. We have a 100% graduation rate. College is the norm, not the exception. I am confident that my students will be successful in college and beyond.
  27. I can choose to ignore the issues that public schools encounter everyday (for example mounting budget cuts, high stakes testing, and constant faculty turnover to name a few).

* The entire article can be found at the Independent Teacher.


13 thoughts on “Teaching at a Private School

  1. A fresh perspective on channeling privilege, a la Peggy McIntosh.

    Additionally, this is not representative of all independent schools. Each independent school affords a different degree of privilege.

    Re: understanding private school culture? I could write a book. No joke.

  2. I agree with Dillon. It’s unfortunate that she seems to assume that having the financial and/or ability to satisfy the “rigorous admissions standars” means to attend the school makes her students bright enough and safe from any sort of bad home life. Money doesn’t make you a good parent and I think it’s probably safe to assume that there are many neglected and verbally (if not worse) abused kids attending independent schools, rather than knowing, as she says she does, that all her students are encouraged to do their work at home.

    Also, and this may or may not be related, I’ve never heard of any of the people she listed as notable.

  3. I don’t know if we have any place to judge what she has to say. Aside from facilities that are in impeccable condition (i.e. the numerous broken sinks and toilets), most of those apply to our school as well. $27,000 is up there with those northern elitist schools though. I’m not sure if they’re paying for the crazy tax hikes in California, just paying to party, or are actually getting a decent education. I guess that is her call.

  4. How does one not know who Jared Diamond is? Guns, Germs, and Steel is a very influential book when studying history.

  5. Oh I apologize! I was under the impression you taught a form of history, ha ha.
    This list may be snobby, but it gives insight on how fortunate we as students are to attend this school. Sure, we may complain many times about the administration or work load, but we are getting a great experience.

  6. That list of speakers is pretty impressive. Yes all are big names. Diamond is actually a world renowned scientist. He uses his work to address anthropological and historical trends. I am with Marcy in that not all of this is true of many private schools. But, there is some truth to this list. The reality is that much of what is on this list is why I have opted to stay in private schools. Then again, all schools and cities vary in type.

    Here in Houston, there is a very elite and competitive school market. If you took HCHS and placed it in say Arkansas or Mississippi, we would easily have to turn away far more students than we have to do now. I have seen some schools — esp., church-based schools operate from church basements. Thus they lack the finances and facilities that others have

  7. I think many private schools illustrate the model even public schools schools should reflect. Hire the most academic and active faculty you can. Do not waste tax payers money with students who do not want to be in school. On my campus, we try to bring in students that reflect our values. Being open to ideas and differences, tolerant of all types of people and views, and look to make a contribution to the learning process.

    Still, we face issues of diversity due to some of the point addressed in this post.

  8. I often read The Professor, and rarely do I comment, but I must this time. I teach in a top notch public high school. Aside from the pool, I would argue the facilities of my school are unmatched to most private schools. The technology afforded to me and my students is second to none. My students are JUST as intelligent, supported, and able to learn as those of a private school. I agree, private schools are great. However, I think sometimes The Professor leans too heavily in support of independent schools. I do have classes of 30. I don’t love that. However, I am given the opportunity to educate all levels of students with MUCH more varied backgrounds. I don’t get to choose who walks through my door. Good or bad, I have the opportunity and responsibility to educate them all. Much of our staff is also highly educated; holding advanced degrees is the norm. I feel it is important for your readers to know that we in the public arena are successful. Students graduate from many public high schools well equipped to succeed in life and in college. Success is NOT exclusive to private schools.

  9. Arkansas Girl:

    I do agree with you. Remember, as I stated above, my only experience is that of private schools. I suspect the author of this post has had very little contact outside of private schools, too.

  10. Wow, talk about a good way to make one envious. As someone who teaches in a public (government) school, I can say that most, if not all of these do not apply. Point number two is quite interesting to me. I teach in a portable classroom whose floor is damaged and is in desperate need of being replaced. Until this year we did not even have internet access out here. Until March we could not print anything out here and were forced to go into one of the buildings in order to do so.
    Points 7 & 8 are also interesting. At the start of the 2007/08 school year I had two AP World sections. One had 45 students and the other had 43 students on the first day. My class has 31 desks. Early in the morning on day two I asked to get my classes balanced out, as students were sitting on the floor the day before. 2nd period (the first class of the day) had the same number of students. 4th period they dropped one student and added two. This continued throughout the week (although a few students early on realized they were not willing to do the work required and had themselves removed from the class).
    So what I am getting at is that Mark is right. Schools need to (or perhaps it is society) stop wasting money on those students who do not want to be here. A new model is certainly needed.

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