Public or private?

I’ve recently started looking for teaching work again. It turns out that you can take the teacher out of the school, but you can’t take the love of teaching out of the teacher. This doesn’t make for a very catchy slogan, but it’s the truth. It’s time for me to get back into the classroom with the kids. After almost a year of not posting in this blog, it looks like I’ll be back in business sometime soon.

The big question for me when I decided to get back into teaching was whether I should go into public schools or independent schools. I’ve taught at both before, but since this is really going to be where I stick around for the next 20-30 years, I figure I’d better make sure I’m in the right spot.

Both public schools and private schools have a lot to recommend them, as well as their own downsides. In my experience, here are the pros and cons of each:

Pay: If you teach at a private school, you can count on getting maybe $10K less per year than your public school counterpart (your mileage may vary). It turns out that even though private school students pay well for their education, this is more than made up for by the tax base of any school district. If money is your motivator, you should probably stay out of private schools.

Work environment: No matter what kind of school you’re interested in, you’ll find schools with good environments and some with bad ones. I’ve seen great public schools and I’ve heard of poorly-run public schools, and the same goes with private schools. My advice to you when you interview is to ask a variety of people at the school both what they like and what they don’t like about their school. Believe me, when you give people a chance to give you the dirt, they’ll tell you exactly what’s on their mind. Stay away from schools where answers include “it’s too political”, “the parents run the school”, or “the administration doesn’t respect the teachers.” This is a real red flag, and given that readers of this post are chemistry teachers who typically have several options to choose from, one that should have you moving on.

Culture: To overgeneralize, private schools have more “family”-like cultures, while public schools are more of a “clock in-clock out” type of deal. I’m not about to disparage one or the other because both have their places. If you’re the type of person who wants to do their teaching and then go home and not worry about it, you’re better off in a public school. If you’re a person who wants to get involved in “something larger”, then go to a private school.

Respect: I hear a lot about how teachers are not given any respect these days, but I haven’t noticed this to be the case. In public schools, teachers are usually respected as dedicated public servants who are dedicated to helping their kids get ready for the future. In private schools, teachers are also treated as role models and mentors. As with work environment, if you get the impression during an interview that the teachers are not given respect, move on.

In my own personal job search, I’ve been fortunate enough to have interviews with a number of good schools. Some of these schools are private and some are in large school districts. All of these interviews have given me a lot to think about, and I’m still trying to figure out where I want to go. One common thing about many of these schools, however, is that they’re concerned I won’t want to make the commute to where they are. Fortunately, I like audiobooks and NPR, but I can certainly understand why they’re concerned.

My best advice for job seekers in education is simple: Trust your gut. If you have a good feeling about a school, it’s probably going to go well. If you feel as if something isn’t right, move on. I think that’s probably good advice for job seekers anywhere, for that matter.

Wish me luck!

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