When I started teaching I NEVER, EVER, EVER wanted to leave the public school system. I was so passionate about teaching underprivileged students. Naive as I was, I wanted a “Freedom Writers” type experience with my students. This was so much so that my senior year of college I applied and was accepted to do Teach for America in inner city Dallas. I ended up, after many discussions with my college professors and Jesus, deciding to stay and serve in my local community in the upstate of South Carolina. My heart was led to giving back to the need that was right in my backyard.
I accepted my first official teaching job at a public school with over 50% of students below the poverty line. Those first two years of teaching at that school were HARD, but I also LOVED where I was and had a great respect for my administration. I never wanted to leave!
Two years into my teaching career my husband got a promotion that moved us to the lowcountry of South Carolina. I was beyond blessed that when I went down for interviews, I received job offers at both the local public high school and a private Christian school. Making the decision between the two was truly one of the hardest decisions of my life. I ended up going with the private Christian school for several reasons, and I am so thankful now for that decision. However, my first year at this new private school was about as rough as my first year teaching.
If you are considering making a switch from one to another, know that every school has its issues. Also know that every school is SO DIFFERENT and it is important that you evaluate each school you consider, not just public vs. private as a whole. Here are some of the questions that I considered when I made my decision that will hopefully help you as you make yours. Below each question I will share how it was different to me at my public school versus my current private, to hopefully give you some things to think about.
Disclaimer: My school experiences are not your school experiences. In no way am I making generalizations about all public and private schools. Also note that I am being VERY honest with my experiences, so I may come off a little negative at times. I have grown to LOVE all of the schools I have been in, but every one has had its challenges.
1. What are the different duties/weekly expectations of teachers that are required?
Public school: I had so.many.meetings. We were constantly meeting to analyze data, re-evaluate IEPs, random professional development, faculty meetings, and the works. I also had a hall duty every day for 30 minutes of my planning.
Private school: We MAYBE meet twice a month for a 30 minute faculty meeting. We have devotions on Tuesday mornings before school for 10 minutes and that is it. This freed up so much time in my day to actually work on things for my classroom – planning, prepping labs, and grading.
2. What is the pay scale increase like?
Public school: We had a very consistent and publicized salary table that showed how your salary changed as your education level and years of experience increased. What I would make was clearly defined and known, but also very rigid.
Private school: We have no guarantees. I was luckily offered initially the same salary I would make at a public school, but I am not guaranteed a pay raise each year like at a public school because it is all based on enrollment. At the same time, I also have potential to increase my salary more rapidly than at a public school. This inconsistency hasn’t bothered me, but could be a major issue for some.
3. What opportunities are there for my position to grow and evolve over the years?
Public school: Politics were well and alive, from my experience. I knew that if I ever wanted to teach anything but freshmen biology and physical science I’d have to put in a LOT of years and a LOT of schmoozing with the administration. AP biology or an upper level science elective would only be offered to me when one of the teachers ahead of me in line retired or moved. Part time would never be an option when I had children. This rigidity was not something I favored, but others may find the consistency preferable.
Private school: In the last four years alone I’ve already changed in my role so much, which I LOVE. I am at a Christian school and next year will be teaching science only half of the day so I can be over high school girl ministry for the other half of the day. I also had the opportunity in just my fourth year at the school to take on AP biology. Staying on part time after future maternity leave is not only a possibility, but an encouraged opportunity. I love that my career won’t be stagnant for the next 20 years, with my professional growth based on someone else’s retirement.
4. What professional development and certificate renewal options are available?
Public school: Although often times boring and irrelevant, I never had to worry about maintaining my renewal credits or my evaluation to maintain my state certificate. All professional development was honored by the state and there was so much support as I was formally evaluated and went from an initial to formal state certificate. I never had to worry or think about any of this while at public school.
Private school: This is entirely on my own. None of our professional development (although it is SO applicable and relevant since it is catered to such a smaller faculty) is recognized/accredited by the state, so it doesn’t count towards my renewal credits. I have 5 years (I’m in year 4) to acquire 120 renewal hours which I will have to pursue entirely on my own. This has resulted in lots of conversations with the state department of education (you know that’s just been a JOY…) trying to make sure I’m not wasting money or time on something that won’t count. I still haven’t gotten a clear answer on what will happen in a little over a year when I need to be formally evaluated again. This has definitely been a headache that was a non-issue at my public school.
5. What support is provided for higher education?
Public school: My state offers lots of scholarship opportunities for current teachers in the public school system to pursue higher education. We were also constantly forwarded emails about discounted programs through various universities to receive more education. This was how I was able to get Gifted and Talented certified through a local college by taking two online classes for less than $200 my 2nd year of teaching.
Private school: This is encouraged, but not financially supported. Any and all higher education I’d want to pursue I’d have to find on my own and pay for on my own.
6. What is the faculty environment like?
Public school: I was one of 5 biology teachers, thus I constantly had a work community. My job was extremely collaborative. The work environment was very social for me. This community was encouraging at times and distracting at times. The 5 of us worked pretty well together, but if you had a bad apple or two or three, it could make this type of environment really rough.
Private school: I am the only teacher in my subject areas and literally am solo for anything and everything. This made my first year at the school extremely lonely, and much harder to build relationships with people in different disciplines since our paths rarely cross during the day. However as a whole, being at a private Christian school has been amazing because I am CONSTANTLY being encouraged by my administration and coworkers. I am surrounded by positivity. It’s a drastic change!
7. How many preps do most teachers have and how much planning time is there?
Public school: I taught physical science CP, physical science Honors, and biology CP and Honors, BUT I only taught 2 of those a semester, so I never had more than two preps. I also had 90-minutes of planning a day.
Private school: I teach physical science CP and Honors, biology CP and Honors, AP Biology and a Bible course. I have 50 minutes of planning a day. It is a LOT to get used to managing, especially with such little prep time.
8. What guidelines and resources are used for developing curriculum?
Public school: As a first year teacher, it was AMAZING to walk into my school and have curriculum handed to me. Once I got started though, I realized a lot of the curriculum was pretty terrible, and it was frustrating each year to receive new initiative after new initiative from the district that we were mandated to implement.
Private school: I was given absolutely nothing other than the NGSS to guide my curriculum development. This would have been traumatizing as a 1st year teacher, but coming in as a 3rd year teacher fresh out of graduate school with a passion for curriculum design, this was my dream. Several years later I’m still so busy writing curriculum, but still loving my total autonomy so that I can really be creative.
9. What differences are there in parent and student culture?
Public school: Students could be amazing or really, really challenging to deal with. Parents were borderline non-existent. I still had to call them all of the time so I could document it, but I never got any support (or criticism) from the home front.
Private school: Definitely was hard dealing with more entitled students, especially after leaving the public school system. Parents also were a 180 from my past experiences. I DAILY communicate with parents. The nice part is that they can actually help improve student behavior or work ethic. The bad part is you have to devote WAY more time to interacting with parents, whether it be via email or face to face. I had 18 parent conferences my first month at my new school. That kind of rocked my world.
10. How will this affect my retirement and benefits?
These were non-issues for me either way because of the way my retirement is set-up (and I am on my husband’s benefits!) so it didn’t affect me. A lot of my public school co-workers said this would be a huge issue for them though if they were to make the switch, so definitely something to consider how it will affect you long term.
At the end of the day, you have to weigh out the positives and negatives. No school will be perfect and have every single thing that you want and need. It is your job to assess what is most important to you in a school in this current season of your life, because I truly believe different seasons call for different things.
Have any of you made the switch one way or another? What have your experiences been? Any other questions you’d add to the list to advise someone considering a switch? I’d LOVE to hear in the comments!!