Last week I wrote a little about my experience of switching from teaching at a public school to a private school and 10 things to consider if you too are considering the switch. This week I want to give some advice for private school teachers to not only survive but thrive in the private school environment. I hope these are helpful for teachers new to private school, either with a public school background or fresh out of college, as well as teachers who have been in private school for a while.
1. Have consistent parent communication. (Ex. Biweekly newsletter, class website or blog, class Instagram, etc.)
I was pretty shocked by the difference in parent interaction when I switched from public to private school. I was amazed at how much time I was spending talking to parents rather than working with students. But what I’ve learned about these private school parents is that they are paying a LOT of money for their child’s education, so they want to be very aware of anything and everything going on. I also learned that they were okay with me challenging their students (although some were NOT happy about their students receiving their first non-A grades with me…whoopsies!) as long as they were up to date with my expectations and my due dates. This is why I set up a class website and started sending out a biweekly e-newsletter.
My class website is pretty basic. Each day before I leave school I spend 5 minutes typing my class agenda that I write on my whiteboard each day onto my website. I also upload links to my YouTube lectures for the notes students missed. Even though it seems like a menial task, I have loved being able to point students and parents to this site when they have questions or are absent. Plus I now am able to have a “No Excuses” policy with absent students (who have pre-arranged absences for sports, trips, etc.) that they HAVE to get on my website before they return and catch up on the work they missed (plus they already have all of the handouts I use since I use a packet strategy in my classroom.) This has also saved me so much breath from answering the, “Did I miss anything?” question when students return from an absence.
My newsletter is also pretty simple. I have an intro paragraph where I briefly describe the awesome topics we are currently learning. I’ll even insert a picture or video if I have one from the week. Then I have a list of upcoming major due dates. I know this seems silly since we all use online grade books (Can’t they just look this stuff up there???) but most parents like to have the information multiple times. Plus I can attach rubrics and project details if any of those major grades are at-home projects.
2. BE ORGANIZED.
Like I mentioned above, these parents want to know what is going on, and preferably weeks in advance. This requires major organization from a teacher standpoint, but organization is kind of my love language, so this is an area that isn’t hard for me. My parents have LOVED my packet strategy and that because of this organization, I am able to put all due dates into the grade book the first day of each unit, so there is no guessing when things will be due. I’ve found this consistency and organization has allowed me to set high standards for my students. My private school students and parents are okay with the high expectations as long as they are very clear, which is what I can do on my end.
3. Put in all due dates at the beginning of the unit.
Like I mentioned above, on the first day of each unit I put in the due dates for the entire unit. This is so much easier for me to do at my private school than at my public because the schedule doesn’t change as much and things don’t randomly pop up. Our calendar is pretty set in stone which gives me the ability to do this. This keeps the class moving at a set pace and keeps parents happy because I am able to be incredibly organized! (See first two points.)
4. Send positive email updates once a week.
Anyone else feel like all you do is talk to parents when something bad happens? I’ve started once a week trying to email a handful of parents positive things I’ve noticed throughout the week. These don’t have to be long notes, but a quick positive note goes a LONG way. As I’ve highlighted in the first 3 points, having parents on your side makes ALL the difference at a private school. You don’t need to suck up, but building these positive relationships goes a long way, and you will get a lot of support from the home front if it is there. So set a timer on your phone for once a week to pause and spend 10 minutes sending quick notes. You’ll be amazed at what it does for your relationships with both parents and students!
5. Really push your students.
When I taught in a public school, I legitimately had to worry about my students coming without their basic needs met (i.e. needing food and/or a shower). I also had a lot of students that had just been passed along and were incredibly behind in their reading level. This was not the case when I taught in a private school. Don’t get me wrong, all students have their struggles, but some of these major distractions for my students at public school just weren’t as common.
I also have way less interruptions in my classroom for assemblies, standardized testing, etc. This makes it possible to push the kids farther than I felt like I was able to at a public school. My CP level class is truly CP (College Prep.) My Honors class is truly a stepping stone of preparation for students potentially moving on to take AP. Really go for it with these kids because you can!! (Disclaimer: This totallyyyy doesn’t mean that public school kids aren’t as capable as private school kids and that you can’t push them to the same high standards. You absolutely can! There are just fewer obstacles in your way at a private school so take advantage of that and run with it!)
6. Be entirely objective and fair with grading.
Of course, every teacher should be doing this, regardless of what school you are in, but I have found that in my private school students are much more comparative of their grades and argumentative when graded work is returned, trying to earn points back. Because of this, I grade my open-ended assessments (lab report analyses, open response questions on tests, etc.) one question at a time. This is so I read all of the “question #13’s” at a time and can give the most consistent partial credit and feedback this way. This has improved both my objectivity (because you lose track of whose test you are grading) and helped me be fairer, which has helped to eliminate some of the combativeness I originally received when going over tests with my classes.
7. Go to any and all extracurricular events.
Again, this is important at every school, but I think especially so at a smaller school, as most private schools are. When a smaller population, students, and parents REALLY notice your presence at their volleyball game, soccer match, and theater production and it really shows both parents and students that you care. It has also helped me build positive relationships with parents that have helped me garner more respect in my classroom. Parents see my commitment to their students’ lives outside of the classroom and then trust what I am doing in the classroom more and more.
8. Don’t give your personal contact number to parents.
As much as the relationship with parents is important at a private school, you have to set boundaries. Because you have more face time with parents, they become way more conversational and less aware of when your job officially should “end” when you get home. They expect you to be able to respond to any communication within the hour, and that is just not realistic or healthy. Because of this, I am very careful that parents do not have my personal phone number. Although it is challenging to keep in touch with parents via phone if I only use my classroom phone, it is so much healthier for me as an individual and my family. If you use your cell to contact parents, they will forever have your number and may start texting or calling at all hours of the day. I remember one Sunday grocery shopping and answering a phone call from an unknown number, and it was a parent who had pulled my number out of our church directory and was calling with a question about a project due the next day. I know many teachers (at my school at least) give out their personal numbers to make it easier to keep in touch, but I really think creating that boundary is a really healthy one to have! Plus with email on our phones nowadays, it makes responding via email a really easy thing to do!
9. Daily tutoring opportunities
I can’t tell you how much this has helped my students’ success as well as my respect level from students and parents alike. I offer tutoring every day from 3-3:30. I never make plans, never have meetings, and never make any appointments during that time so it is protected. I talk to coaches so that students who have practice can still come to tutoring first. I keep track of who comes so that if parents ask, I have a record of how often their child has come for extra help. It is always my first piece of advice I give a frustrated parent or a struggling student – take advantage of this tutoring time!! It helps me protect pieces of my day (like mornings because I need some alone time to settle in before classes start) and not have me feeling like I am CONSTANTLY answering questions 24/7.
10. If at a Christian school, pour into your students spiritually.
This has been the sweetest and most life-giving part of teaching at a private school. Having that spiritual relationship with my students has transformed everything about my classroom culture and relationships with their parents and my coworkers. It is such a blessing to share my faith in my workplace, so if this is possible for you to do, take advantage of it!!
Those of you with private school experience, what did I miss? I’d love to hear your tips in the comments below!!