It’s difficult to answer this question without knowing the schools involved. Having taught in both environments, I can tell you that every school has its unique attributes. It would be impossible to find a perfect school. Inevitably, the school you thought looked perfect on paper will prove to have some things that make you unhappy, but you’ll always have to weigh the good against the bad. My guess is that you probably already have a good idea of what your local public school offers (and if you don’t then you need to make a visit soon), but you’re probably waffling between the two systems based on most people’s perception that if it’s private and you’re paying for it, it must be better.
I can’t speak for all private schools since I only have experience at one of them, but I can advise that if you’re choosing a private school, there are a few things you’ll want to find out.
Ask – What do the teachers make per year? Case in point, when I worked in a private school, the perception from the general public was that it would be a swankier, more posh environment, not to mention that it would pay more because parents were paying for it. This was far from the case. In fact, we made less than half what our counterparts in the public system made, we didn’t have the luxury of annual raises based on a scale (as established by the teachers’ union which we weren’t members of given that we taught at a private school), we got what we got from the time we started until years later when we left. We literally lived hand to mouth each month and I can tell you that we didn’t go get a university education so that we could struggle financially. You want a teacher who can afford to stay at that school. Good teachers aren’t going to stay if they aren’t appropriately compensated. There are plenty of other places willing to pay them what they’re worth. Do you want to be left with the teachers no one else will take?
Ask – What are the qualifications of the teachers? I can’t speak for everywhere, but in some cases schools are not required to hire accredited teachers, meaning that anyone can teach if the school deems them qualified. If you’re paying for this education, don’t you want a qualified teacher?
Ask – What kinds of facilities to you have on campus? Is there an outfitted science lab? A library with a wide selection of books? A gym and equipment? An art room? A music room and instruments? Again, don’t you want your child to have access to all these things?
Ask – Do the teachers have prep time? Prep time isn’t a lot of extra time in most schools, but it does give the teacher a chance to get things prepared for the next lesson. Teachers often plan on that time when they plan their days/weeks. For example, if a teacher has a science experiment planned for science, the teacher may use the time the students are in music class to set things up. Without this prep time a teacher may hesitate to do certain things because it requires ‘set up’ time that can’t be done when the children are present. You’re considerably at a disadvantage if you don’t have this prep time. Teachers also have the chance to do some marking – maybe a teacher wants to give the kids a quick quiz before the big test so that each child knows what he/she needs to study. If this quiz can’t be marked at any time during the day, how do you return it before the test the next day? At our school, for example, we didn’t have any prep time so all marking, etc. was done at home during evenings and weekends. It may not seem like a big deal, but is it fair when you’re taking home bins of marking and finding that you have no life outside of school and that bin? We were exhausted by the end of the day because we were running from task to task and didn’t have spare moment to breathe. There were also things we didn’t get to do because we just didn’t have the time or facilities to do them. You want a teacher who has a life outside of school – it’s all about balance.
Ask - What kind of breaks to the teachers get during the day? In our case, we didn’t have lunch hours because we were expected to be with our children while they ate and then take them outside for the other 35 minutes remaining in the lunch period. We’d barely have the chance to eat while we supervised the lunch period in our classroom then took our students outside. Not having a single break and sometimes having to take your lunch outside to try and eat it while standing on the playground, talking to students, running to pick up those who fell, etc. meant that you ate a lot of dirt at the same time and really never felt like you’d had a chance to regroup. We didn’t have a staff room or anywhere to get a hot cup of coffee or tea, even just a place where we could have a moment of silence.
Ask - What time do teachers arrive and what are their responsibilities? In most schools, students will remain outside until the bell rings and then they go inside. This gives teachers a chance to arrive and put together their plans for the day – ie. note on the board, organizing the classroom, preparing for a science experiment later in the day, grabbing the video machine for a learning lesson, fixing the pencil sharpener, whatever. This time is sacred and sets the tone for the day. Imagine if you walked into work every day and were greeted by your coworkers rushing at you with stories from the night before and problems to discuss. Trust me, it would be overwhelming and you wouldn’t look forward to arriving every day to have a few minutes to get your wits about you. We were expected to arrive before the children (who were allowed into the classroom so it could be chaos if we weren’t there to accommodate the children who got dropped off early).
Ask - What are the expectations of the teachers if a child is struggling? Yes, children struggle and I can assure that teachers are doing their best to help. Many teachers use their lunch hours, recess time and even prep time to pull a struggling student aside and help them. However, in certain cases, there may be children who need special help. Perhaps an aide in the classroom is needed or perhaps that child needs to have a psycho-educational assessment to determine learning disabilities and if that’s the right school for that child. In my case, because the school wanted to fill the classrooms, all students were let in with the school boasting that they’d raise their academic level. Not all students are ‘A’ students. Some students have difficulties that prohibit them from becoming highly academic students, and if the school doesn’t have a certain degree of support in place, then it’s left to the teacher to try and fill in the gaps. Teachers can do this to a certain degree, but there are only so many hours in the day. We were expected to stay late to help struggling children because the school boasted that everyone could achieve a certain academic level, even though the school didn’t do any formal testing to ascertain a child’s academic ability or intelligence. Imagine after already not having a single break since you’d arrived early in the morning, then sitting in a classroom after school each day working with a child who you know is not capable of being an ‘A’ student. You felt awful for the student who try as they did, couldn’t achieve what was expected in a highly academic setting. However, the school and the parents expected it so you’d try day after day to no avail. It’s frustrating for that child, not to mention bad for his/her self-esteem when achievement isn’t to everyone else’s expectations.
Ask - Is there a support staff that supports the teachers? Putting together projects and assignments can take some time when you have to prepare more than a few of them. Having a support staff to assist with this kind of thing or help with laminating, etc. is a necessity. There’s a lot of time spent doing this kind of thing (and unjamming the photocopier) so knowing that you don’t have a classroom of kids waiting while you stress out to get something put together is also of huge benefit – your child’s teacher will be much more settled.
Ask - Is there a janitorial staff? Many schools feel that they can cut back costs by having the rest of the staff look after the classrooms and common areas. Of course, children should be picking up after themselves and cleaning off their desks, but vacuuming, cleaning windows, dusting, bleaching their desks? Really?! Is this what you’re paying for in your child’s private school education? Check out the bathrooms – what do they look like? Between the teachers not getting a break and being ‘on’ the entire time your child is there, how much time do you think they have to clean the bathrooms and again, is this what you want to see your child’s teacher doing?
Obviously, my experience at a private school was less than positive, but it did show me that not all schools are the same and just because parents are paying for it, doesn’t mean that it’s better than the public alternative. There are a lot of great private schools out there, but it’s up to you as the parent to do thorough investigating. Don’t take the school’s sales pitch as gospel. Talk to the teachers, not just the ones the school suggests you speak with, but the other teachers who you see in the halls. Have your child spend several days at the school and don’t be afraid to ask if you can sit in on the lessons for a day or two. You want to know what your child is learning and what the average day is like. Find out what support the teachers have in terms of resources and materials. If there’s a lack of materials or library, is this going to be someplace your child can learn research skills or have a love of reading nurtured? Where do teachers go for resources if the school doesn’t have anything in place? Make sure to investigate several private schools and talk to parents. Find out how long they’ve been there. If there’s a high rate of turnover, why is this? What’s going wrong that parents aren’t keeping their children at that school?
I realize that I’ve probably given you more questions than answers, but more than anything you want to do a thorough investigation before you send your child somewhere. Young minds are impressionable and important – choose well.
i believe so, why? private school is a place where kids cant judge any one. thay all where the samw clothes same earings etc., and kids just cant say there outfits better cause there the same. private school is also where kids can stay focused on school without worring about getting beat up,called a name, or some person touching them, and or worry about preps. i teach third grade these are a problem but in a private school you wouldnt have to ask
I have had two children go through the public school system one is now student teaching and one now in his final year of high school at a private school. I agree with the expert on this you must do your research this is your child's future and the school, teachers and administrators will have a major impact on forming your child's future. While both schools were exceptional for us, there is no comparison to the education that my youngest has received at the private school. On the other hand the strict discipline, sometimes over the top and the fact that the school did not have to answer to a board or the state on many issues could sometimes pose a problem. Check and see exactly what their discipline measures are and what the chain of command is. More importantly interview current students and former students, do not just ask about the curriculum but ask about incidents that happened and how they were handled. Attend a extracurricular event and see how well attended it is, not only by the students but staff. When the staff truly cares about their school they will go and support their students, not every event but an occasional one.
I'm absolutely sure private school is better in most ways, except one - public school can prepare kids for life in real world. They will see by the example of some classmates that not everyone earn enough money, that classmates parents have awful jobs and that if child want to have bright future he should do his best!