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Students each wearing matching uniforms calmly making their way to classes. Classes full of well-behaved, eager-to-learn children. Or classes full of snobby, entitled students daring you to challenge them. The latter are some of the ideas - albeit - mostly wrong I’ve had about private schools in my hometown and in general. Last Spring, I was offered a job at one of the largest private schools in our town, and have had my eyes opened to the reality of this environment There are a few things schools in the public sector could learn from them.
Happy Students and Happy Teachers
I am a Gilmore Girls fan and quite often think my new school reminds me of Chilton where Rory attended. Even our dress uniforms look similar. We have a beautiful Common room with a beautiful window embellished with a stained-glass crest of our school and soft leather furniture for students or faculty to sit upon. I’ve had students bring their library books, and we meet there to read for half of the class period. Speaking of reading, my students love having the time to read and discuss their books. It finally dawned on me why. We do not have those standardized tests that kill the love of reading and writing. We do have finals at the end of a semester and maybe a quiz here and there as one measure of their learning, but we do not live under the specter of state testing. Maybe that is one reason every teacher I now work with is actually happy.Opinion: What Public Schools Can Learn From Private Schools Click To Tweet
My classroom had been recently painted before I moved in and the HVAC had been updated. Our classrooms now have the latest in Promethean board technology. I mention this because my former classroom of 14 years still has holes in the sheetrock, peeling wallpaper, outdated colors from the year it was built. Yet by golly, the district updated the football field for Friday Night. We have monthly lunches or treats provided by the PTA in appreciation of our hard work. Any meetings we have are before school on our late start day. No after-school meetings whatsoever. How many times in my former school did I lose my conference time for unplanned meetings or stay till 6 pm getting ready for the next day because of meetings after school? Too many. My new conference/planning time is used for just that - planning. We might have our weekly middle school team meeting, but those are generally short and actually informative and productive. For example, this week is progress report time and instead of sending home a never-to-be-seen grade report, we each send a personalized email to our advisory class’ parents with something positive about the child and any concern we might have. They believe in personal connections because relationships matter.
As you might expect, we have a weekly chapel and prayer, but we are an inclusive campus that welcomes all faiths. After chapel, we meet with our advisory students for an SEL lesson we lead them in provided by our school counselor who actually gets to do her true calling. There are quite a few “perks” I am seeing working for the first time in the private school sector. Yet I believe the public school sector could take a page from this often misunderstood system.
If you want happy teachers, show them you truly care. As mentioned, we have monthly Teacher Appreciation events. Beyond that, my Head of School and Assistant Head of School are always touching base with me and the other new teachers to make sure we have everything we need. I am taking my first personal day next week to attend our first grandchild’s first birthday. Both my team and our head of school encouraged me to take as long as we need. No guilt trips for taking my personal days. Wish I had that in public school because I left with over 80 unused forever lost days.
Our campus cleans desks and other surfaces several times a day. To set me up for this practice, the teacher in charge of ordering supplies provided me with everything I need. Her storage closet packed to the brim with Clorox spray, paper towels, buckets to hold these in, Kleenex, etc. I have been assigned a mentor to be my go-to person for any questions I might have. You’d think after 18 years of teaching, I would not have a ton of questions, but I still do since this is a new type of school for me. My former school in the public setting also provided mentors. I served as an official and unofficial mentor for new teachers on campus. Provided support for teachers - both veteran and new is invaluable.Opinion: What Public Schools Can Learn From Private Schools Click To Tweet
Reasonable expectations are set. We each submitted our SMART goals for the year for our own subject as well as department goals. How we meet those are in our control. One of my first questions involved curriculum. I was informed I could use anything I felt would challenge my students. Just ask, and it would be purchased. There is a level of trust that as long as I follow the scope and sequence to ensure each grade level learns the required elements - how lessons are taught is in my control. The only requirement we all are asked to follow is to provide student choice. So - that is my next thought --I’ve always provided this even in public school. Choice provides ownership of the learning.
Perhaps public schools should provide reasonable expectations and trust for their teachers. You might retain a few more. Ask for SMART goals that are not just passing standards for the standardized tests. There is more to life than 75% passing in Math and Reading. If you make the learning experience engaging, student-centered, I believe the desired results will come. In both my former classrooms and the current, I strive to provide high-order thinking experiences and writing opportunities. I rarely if ever did kill and drill testing nonsense. Guess what? My students always did well -my Pre-AP, Inclusion, and General Ed. classes.
Another “perk” my private school has is they literally put a cap on class size. One teacher apologized for one of my classes being “too big”. “Um - your idea of too big and mine are two different numbers.” I thought. My biggest classes in public school were between 35-40 per section. My biggest section right now is 18. It is heaven.
Our school has worked round the clock to provide us with a hybrid schedule - 3 days a week we have 45 min classes and the other 2 days are 80 min blocks. I actually have time and the ability to work one on one or small group interaction with my students. All of my students -- not just the ones who struggle in those 40 person scenarios.
I believe the common thread I see with my new experience in teaching in a private school is -trust and compassion = happy teachers. Our school did have a big turnover, but it was due to either retirement of a few or moving for job opportunities for others. I’ve been told this year was highly unusual for our school in teacher turnover. Regardless of the reason, I am very thankful the door opened for me. For the first time in my entire career, I come home every day with less stress and happy. Every teacher, no matter where they teach, deserves the same.