What’s the best type of school system to work for? This is a typical question new teachers ask themselves when they start looking for that illusive first teaching position. It’s a valid question, and one that many teacher-training programs fail to properly answer. In her article Where to Work: Public, Private, or Charter Schools, Molly Donovan compares the different types of school systems to one another in order to see which one would make the best fit for each teacher. It’s important to really keep this question in mind when applying for jobs because it will have a definitive influence on your future career. So let’s start by briefly examining what exactly our choices are.
- Public Schools operate solely based on the financial funding of federal, state and local tax dollars. Public schools offer free education to all students that live within that school district. As of 2011 there were approximately 99,000 public schools in the United States – this includes elementary, middle and high schools. This number accounts for 80% of the total amount of K-12 schools in the country. Teachers will have to deal with large classes of students, but their general salary will be slightly above other school systems.
- Independent Schools, hence the name, are completely privately funded and governed by their own board of trustees, meaning they do not have to comply to federal or state regulations. Class sizes tend to be small, and teachers are sought for their excellent understanding and knowledge of their subject. Pay tends to be slightly less than in the public sector, and teachers are expected to be involved in after school activities, such as coaching a sport.
- Private Schools are very similar to independent schools in that they offer similar working conditions for their staff, such as a lower student-to-teacher ratio and the likelihood of after school involvement. The difference is that not all private schools are completely independent. For instance the high school I attended was a private Jesuit school, but it received some funding from the state, meaning it was not completely independent and thus had to comply to some of the government regulations.
- Charter Schools are relatively new to the United States. They are similar to public schools in that they receive funds from the state, but they enjoy a certain level of autonomy because they get to choose the schools rules or guidelines through a charter they create for themselves. They often are placed in tough inner-city areas in the hope that they can support the failing public schools in the area.
So where should you work, well, the answer really lies in what motivated you to go into education in the first place. If you want to have small classes in which you can devout all your time to enriching lessons and passing on your love of the subject matter, than I would say aim for the private and independent sectors. But if you became a teacher to help those students that are less fortunate than the public sector should be your calling. You will probably face more classroom management issues, but the reward of helping struggling students will be well worth it. But keep in mind that no matter which school system you end up working in, the purpose and objective of your job will be the same – to improve the lives of our students by passing on the gift of knowledge.