This issue's Talk Back teacher says parental involvement and academic expectations are the major differences between public and private schools.
I have taught in both publicly and privately funded schools – the last five years in a private school. My passion is finding unique ways to interact with children and finding fun ways to help them learn. In my experience, I have found pros and cons in both public and private schools. The trick is to balance what you think is best for your child with what you can afford.
In the private school where I teach, the relationship we have with parents is very important. The families pay a lot of money to send their child to the school and expect to be kept in the loop.
Both public and private school teachers are expected to contact the parent if there is a concern with a child in the classroom. However, in a private school, I have found that parents are keen to know this information not only to help their child in the present, but also to ensure their future. Eventually their kids will attend other private schools. The parents need to be aware if there are any problems, because it could mean the child may have difficulty getting into other private schools later.
In publicly funded schools, the focus of a parent-teacher meeting is not based on future schools. The meetings are to discuss the current progress of their child and if the teacher sees any areas in which the child needs more assistance.
In public schools, some principals send home newsletters to every student and teachers do have contact with parents, but not to the same extent. Individual classroom letters are seldom sent home.
In my experience, the academic program that private schools provide is always above grade level, but they still tailor them to match each child’s abilities. It is the teacher’s responsibility to create lessons that accommodate all grade levels. It is extremely time consuming. When I worked in the public system, we were not required to provide a variety of levelled worksheets. The curriculum was the same across the class.
Even with capped classrooms of some boards, the class sizes are high compared to private schools, so it can be difficult to give each child the one-on-one attention that he or she deserves. The small classrooms of private schools make it easier to sit down with children and assess their progress.
Private schools’ enrollments are, generally speaking, more linked to academic results. This can make it challenging and stressful for students who are expected to keep up the school image.
Report cards can be just as frustrating to teachers as to parents, but report cards in private schools are more stressful. I have actually had parents remind me that their child is applying to a certain school and to keep that in mind when I am writing the report.
Public school families tend to be a little more laid back. Perhaps because they aren’t paying out of their own pockets, they don’t feel as entitled to come forward and complain about the report card.
Publicly funded schools expose children to a more diverse community – both ethnically and economically. In a private school, teachers are generally dealing with wealthier families. I was sitting down with my kids telling them about my Thanksgiving. I told them I was so excited to have leftovers; they were my favourite. A boy in my class raised his hand and asked, “What are leftovers? Isn’t that what poor people eat?”
Private school parents love to be involved, and in my experience, they can afford to volunteer. When I send out notes asking for volunteers, the moms can’t sign up fast enough. If they notice a mom has written her name down and she has previously helped, they are very quick to tell you that that parent has already had a turn. I have to keep records to allow all moms to participate.
In the publicly funded Catholic school where I used to work, I never had those challenges. Perhaps when you’re paying big dollars for your child’s education, you want to make sure you are getting the most out of your investment. And the reality may be that in public schools, more parents are working outside the home and less available to volunteer.
Published March 2010.