Our begging worked! Girl Ninja wrote a post :)

December 22, 2011 · 37 comments

Applying to a private school was something I said I would never do. I grew up in public school (until college) and saw value in the education and experience I had. Private school teaching (although it is in line with my faith) went against my philosophy of why I want to teach, bringing hope and love to students who may not get it elsewhere.

In San Diego, I worked in a tough urban area. It was literally down the street from a well-known intersection called “The four corners of death”. Child protective service agents were in and out of our doors weekly. We had class pets…cockroaches (yuck!). Some students lived in hotels, some came to school on the city bus or in a cab, and rarely was education something to be valued.

This is what drew me to teaching.

I wanted to show love and hope, and invest in lives that many deemed “a lost cause”. This was way more difficult than I ever anticipated. I went through an exhausting year filled with poorly behaved students, a severe lack of support from my administration, and ultimately a feeling of inadequacy in my abilities to be an effective teacher. Fortunately, I had the support of Ninja when I came home. He’d often prepare dinner so I didn’t have to, he’d listen as I cried over my exhausting day, he’d take me out on dates to de-stress, or he’d just fill the bathtub and give me time to relax.

In my job hunt last spring, I was ready to apply for any and every teaching job available. (Teaching jobs aren’t necessarily in surplus right now. This is how I ended up in my current private school job)

The good news is, in the last 3 months of teaching, I have come home from school crying only twice (and once was because I missed San Diego). I get positive feedback and encouragement from my principal and coworkers, the students’ parents are involved and supportive, and I was even given a stipend to help cover costs associated with setting up a new classroom. Until this year, I never realized how neat it is to teach students about the depth of God’s love for them. I get to incorporate God into all aspects of our day. Obviously, this wasn’t allowed when I taught public school. It is such a gift to see the faith of a child, and to experience their forgiving and deep love. Two years of teaching kindergarten, and two totally different experiences.

It seems like a no-brainer; I am so much better off emotionally this year, right?! But let’s not forget I started teaching to make a difference. I have a heart for kids that are in need of hope and love – kids like those in my San Diego classroom. Instead, I am working in a place where most of my kids come from supportive and loving homes, homes where parents are more financially and emotionally invested in their child’s education. Amidst this environment, I have found ways to help, shape, and influence my 20 five-year olds in practical ways. I am learning that I can still make a difference, just in a different way than in public schools.

As the year goes on, I will be faced with the decision of sticking with my lower paying private school job ($10,000 less than public school position) where I am supported and have a better work/life balance, or stepping back into the less stable public school system so I can meet the needs of those who need it most. I still don’t know what I’m going to do.

Ninja’s thoughts: As GN mentioned, she had a very difficult year in San Diego and often came home extremely upset. This year, she has had a much more positive experience. I’m torn. Honestly I could care less about the pay difference. It has been awesome having Girl Ninja come home, excited about teaching, and with plenty of energy to enjoy the rest of the evening. But another part of me, wants to encourage her to give public school another shot. As she stated she wants to “bring hope and love to students who may not get it elsewhere.” We both also agree that the majority of her ill feelings towards public school are probably the result of a lack of support from her Principal (who actually got demoted at the end of the school year) and administration and not from the “challenging” students. She’s got a heart for public school, but has thoroughly enjoyed private school. How the heck do I help her make a decision!?

What are your thoughts on public school? What about private? Any advice for us?

{ 37 comments }

1 eemusings

That is really tough – two very different situations and no clear answers. I would hope that maybe you could find a public school with better support and better resourcing – if it was me I would only consider if for the “right” school.

2 cashflowmantra

I think you should pray about it, apply where you feel led, and God will open and close doors as He sees fit.

3 Tanner

To be honest… I have friends in the public school system, in multiple states and the story seems to be the same. They work to make a difference in the world. That is their goal, and they do it everyday, but…

They hate it. It is hard, too many politics all over the place and the admins are generally jerks working for an agenda and looking out for themselves. Admins (and other teachers) will NOT think it twice to throw someone under the bus, ruin your reputation so that you cant move to better places and will first get rid of you rather than deal with the real issues. Tenure is a double edged sword and it is not unheard of they will get rid of you JUST so you don’t get tenure. A lot of parents will be more troublesome and less supporting than the kids themselves. Yes, the kids do need passionate and compassionate people like yourself and like my friends; that cannot be denied. But the hardships you may have to endure at the public system come par with those of a social worker and will rip your heart (and desire to teach) out. You’ve experienced it, so you know what I am talking about. But this is CONSISTENT throughout many states. I’m not sure it was only that one school.

So my advice is this: if you can ‘fall back’ to private school if so you chose at a later time (as in, if you have strong connections there), then give it a hand and go back into public schools. But otherwise, you cannot make a difference in the life of every kid across two different fields, so while you may choose to make a difference in the lives of public school kids, you may not be making a much needed difference in the life of private school kids. Just because they (well, their parents) have money to pay tuition does not mean they will not experience hardship. I’ll be a jerk and say that you have to look out for you, on this one. I have a lot of gripes about how the public school system works and treats their teachers, so I’ll let you know I am biased. But while you may think that putting yourself underwater while helping those that may need it most, God doesn’t want you to be miserable. He wants you to prosper and be happy. Best wishes and lots of luck on your decision!

4 Jared

Good morning Girl Ninja,

Let me start by saying that my heart goes out to you. I was a teacher in the San Francisco bay area and my student teaching was at a school in east San Jose (urban, low SES, kids and families that didn’t care about their education) that sounds very much like the school you taught at. Pretty much every teacher worked on his/her own and there was very little contact with the administration (unless something went wrong) or other teachers (unless the administration was trying to implement a stupid project of some kind). I wanted to make a difference and came home in tears a couple times when I felt that the system and I were failing my students.

I then went to teach at a continuation high school in another city for a year. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with continuation high schools. In a nutshell these are alternative ed schools for students who are failing at regularly high school and the district sends them all to a single school that can (allegedly) “better address their needs.” In practice these schools get dropouts, truants, students with gang issues, and all of the girls who get pregnant (even if the girls are succeeding at their local schools!). I went to this school because I believed in second chances, I believed that no student was “too dumb” to do well at math (my subject), and I wanted to make a difference in the lives of students who didn’t have much or any educational support. My first day there was traumatic and ended in tears. I almost quit several times in the first two weeks. I was failing as a teacher, I was failing as a partner to my now-husband, and I questioned my self-worth every day I came back from work. After a couple of months my job was more about surviving the day than anything else, and it was a completely toxic situation for me.

After that I went to the completely other end of the educational spectrum and worked for a private gifted youth program. I was able to work with students who loved math as much as I did, who needed a teacher who could challenge them and meet their needs in ways that other teachers couldn’t, and wanted role models that they could look up to and emulate. It was night and day. I felt good at my job, good with the kids, and good with the parents. The pay was less, similarly to your situation, but you can’t put a price on coming home from work with a smile. You can’t put a price on feeling like you did something well. You can’t put a price on feeling like you have your energy back to put into your marriage/relationship.

While I’m currently in my early thirties and can’t claim to have “decades of experience” about working life, I can say that what I’ve learned from my experience and that of my friends and family is that having a job that you love is about finding the right fit. There is no person who is perfect at every job, and there is no job that is perfect for every person. Finding a job that you love is rare enough in this world unfortunately, and finding a job that you love and are good at is even rarer. If you’re feeling good about where you are now then that’s probably the right place to be at that time.

I’m not a religious person and don’t believe in God, nor do I believe in the adage that “everything happens for a reason.” That said, I do believe that every experience in life offers lessons, and that we can learn from everything that we’ve seen and done. I’ve taught in public and private settings, I’ve been on school administration, and now I’m in a doctorate program for education leadership, and everything I’ve done informs my perspective, my goals, and my behavior. Being at a public school may have been the right decision at the time, and being at the school you’re at now may be the right decision for right now. And maybe in the future it’s not going to be the right place for you, but if you’re loving it now then I think you have your own answer about what you should do.

Mr. Ninja has my e-mail address, feel free to drop me a line if you like.

5 graduate.living

I cried almost every day for the first three months I taught (public) high school. By the time I turned in my resignation to go to graduate school, I was crying because I didn’t want to leave.

As someone who was raised in the public school system, I’m a big advocate for public education – I think it does a lot of good, and I think privatizing the system the way it’s done in some places only increases the education gap between poor and affluent students. I always wanted to work with under-privileged students, which is another reason I ended up leaving my teaching job. It was too safe. It was near home. I needed a change. If I hadn’t gotten into the PhD program, I’d be teaching in my city, which is a large urban city with many low-income areas.

You have to do what makes you happy. If you’re happy where you are, then stay. But if you think you want to go back to working in the public school system, then just see what’s available. No harm in looking around, right?

6 mom4you3

I think if you can afford to make less and love what you do that is a gift from God.

Also, the children whose life you touch now may seem so perfect from what you can see, but having a teacher that truly cares about them at their introduction to education sets them up to be successful in the future. No one knows if their futures will stay as bright as the present and giving them a great foundation, a love of learning and a teacher they can adore is not a trivial thing.

I am sure your hearts will lead you in the right direction and the best thing is where ever you end up the children will benefit because you rock!

7 Becca

Is there some sort of mentoring/tutoring program you could get involved in that would fulfill your desire to help the kids in public school who need it, while still keeping your current job? After all, you will eventually want to be a SAHM (right?) and this could be something you stay involved in even after that happens. I imagine your desire to help won’t fade just because you have kids of your own, and something that is a smaller commitment may be sustainable despite that transition.

8 Kaye

Okay, so I’m throwing in my two cents. I am not a teacher, BUT I grew up in a family full of them. Seriously…my mom taught for 42 years (!), both of my sisters, 7 aunts and uncles, and more further back. I cannot be a teacher. I would be arrested for strangling someone’s child. I know my limitations and therefore I’m an engineer where I only have my own children to love and educate. =)

However, I will speak from my mom’s experience. She taught in public schools for 35 years. We all attended public schools. I personally prefer public schools and advocate them as long as the child’s education and safety are not at risk by attending said public school.

As a teacher, my mom LOVED teaching. She’s one of those teachers who everyone (students) respects even if they don’t necessarily like her because they see value behind what she is doing in the classroom. She was a FANTASTIC teacher.

Then the apathy began. She taught the older ones (juniors and seniors) so by the time they arrived in her classroom, it was pretty heavily ingrained in them. But she pushed forward making the most of her opportunity to teach them the value of history, economics, government, and HOW to learn. Then the apathy of the parents began. She got to the point where she didn’t feel like she could make a lot of headway with the kids when she was getting no support from the parents.

I’m sure NinjaGirl saw a LOT of that in an urban public school.

Then she retired. Six months later, she was teaching at a church run private school.

Guess what? Same apathy.

Parents were essentially helping their kids cheat by buying course material and supplying it to memorize. They were pulling some of the same unsupportive crap that the public school parents were. And they were paying for the opportunity for their children to not learn anything or even attend school. It was pathetic.

So she retired from there too.

It was amazing to her that the parents in a school where they were PAYING for an educaton were not supportive of the kids actually learning anything. They could have attended the public schools in that area (which are still decent schools with no real safety issues) and gotten the same non-education out of their own apathy.

All of that just to say….

I’m glad NinjaGirl has found a supportive private school. I am glad that there are people like her who thrive on really making a difference in the world and in the lives of children who don’t have as many opportunities laid at their feet at others do. People like her really impress me.

She has to follow her heart and do what she loves or she’ll hate it and feel unfulfilled. As others have already said, the two of you should pray about it and go where God leads. If it is private school, then she was meant to be there to change lives or those who may need help even if it isn’t as obvious. If it is public school, she has to know that the task may be a difficult one. Unfortunately, as you can see in my above notes about my mom, the public vs private is never a clear indication of what is better.

9 JP

Never understood why people come home crying from work. It’s just a job.

On teaching – seems to me like you can only help those who want to help themselves. If the kid wants to learn, that’s what you’re there for. If they’re just there because they have to be and don’t care to do the work… I don’t think it’s the teacher’s responsibility to force it. Just fail ‘em and move on.

10 Me

Even loving and invested parents send their children to “SCHOOL” (private or public) to get a good education, from a teacher who cares and WANTS to make a difference. You are still a valuable piece of private school students’ education. ALL students need good teachers, and it sounds like you are one of the good ones. If the private school job gives you satisfaction with less stress, I say THAT’S the job you should keep. Like Becca stated above, you could dabble with tutoring public school students who need extra help in order to touch their lives in a positive way, offering reduced rates that those people can afford (or pro-rating it based on their ability to pay?)

11 Kevin @ Thousandaire.com

Everyone needs teachers. The richest kid in the world needs teachers just as much as the poorest kid in the world. Sure, the richest kid in the world has more options available to him, but at the end of the day everyone needs teachers.

You can help the poor and disadvantaged by teaching them directly. Or you can help the poor by instilling a sense of humility and charity into a filthy rich kid who might grow up and start a business with his parents’ money that creates hundreds of jobs for lower and middle class people.

If you are living right, it doesn’t really matter where you do it; it’s going to impact the entire world and not just the people you interact with face to face.

12 Oldfangled

That’s good stuff, Kevin.

13 Brian

I am the product of public school and my Mother in law teaches at one. Personally I think the world needs great teachers in public schools, but like your experience the great ones get crushed by lack of parental envolvment and lack of support from administration.

Like others have said you will have to do some soul searching and you can and will make a difference no matter where you teach.

14 Therm

I’m also a product of public school. Public schools in the heart of bad neighborhoods with the same problems and I’ll say one teacher is not enough. The whole administration has to be on the same team or else the teachers end up frustrated and tied hands.

J, it’s not just a job. It’s the future of our country at hand.

15 krantcents

I am going through a similar yet different change. I went from teaching at a low performing Title 1 high school to a high performing affluent middle school. The differences are huge. There is a huge difference between high school and middle school. I spend much more time on class management.

16 ParatrooperJJ

There’s something to be said for teaching at a school where the students for the most part want to be there and learn…..

17 Emily

It’s great that GN is enjoying her job. It’s even more awesome that the pay may not matter. I’m not so sure the argument for helping the kids who need it most can be narrowed down to public school vs. private school. I do know that working in a place you enjoy is 1000x better for yourself (I myself have had many nights where I’ve come home from work and just cried). I also know that kids who need love and guidance aren’t only in the school systems (boys & girls clubs, juvenile detention facilities, group homes). There’s always the opportunity to volunteer (non-profits REALLY like that) and life is definitely very flexible. GN’s teaching degree should get her into any field working with kids.

18 livworld101

I am the product of the public school system. I was fortunate to have phenomenal teachers that encouraged me and helped me in my path to achieve my goals. I thought this was a typical high school experience. But when I got to college, I realized that this is not the case. Part of me wants to tell you that you will make a difference, even if its just one kid, but I do understand your frustration.

I concur with some of the commentators earlier. Have you thought about teaching at an after school program for under privileged kids? Like Big Brother Big Sister? This might be a first step into achieving all your goals. You could remain making a difference and feeling appreciated at your private school, and during your spare time, make a difference in other neighborhoods, as well.

19 Em

@JP, we are talking about children, not adults. Your POV is more suited towards college students, where they are independent adults who can make their own decision to be poor students, then they need to suffer the consequences of failing. But that logic doesn’t quite apply to children, especially under-privileged children who maybe much more worried about violence, staying fed, and many other troubles that make it difficult to concentrate and learn. That’s why a good, supportive, and motivating teacher who steers them towards a solid education is crucial to their success.

@NinjaGirl. From this post, it really does seem like you are leaning towards giving public school another try. I fully support that decision, especially if you feel like the majority of your ill-feelings towards public school is due to the awful Principal you had to deal with. Perhaps with a different Principal, things will be much easier. I think that if you stick with private school for the long run, you may live with the feeling that you didn’t get to accomplish, or even try to accomplish, something that you are very passionate about.

On the other hand, it is great that you come home from your private school job happy and full of energy. Like what the other commenters said, maybe you can channel that extra energy into working with underprivileged youth in other ways. Perhaps there are non-profit orgs that providing tutoring and mentoring activities after school for these kids. Or pretty much any youth group that aims to keep these kids off the streets and away from gang-related activity. I am certain there are plenty of orgs in Seattle that aim to help urban youth.

In the end, like many things, I don’t think it’s an either-or decision. Perhaps blending the two by being a private school teacher and volunteering your time in other ways will suit your needs the most.

20 Em

I just did a quick search and came up with:

Helps at-risk and low income youth through several programs
http://turningpointseattle.org/

Has links to several youth programs
http://www.mrsc.org/subjects/humanservices/youth.aspx

21 Diane

Girl Ninja,

So happy to “meet” you!

What an awesome person you are! Follow your heart always. You are fortunate enough to have a choice.

22 Diane

T

23 Tiffany

I don’t have any great advice, except to tell you that either way, what you are doing with your life and career has value. Either the public or the private school will be lucky to have a dedicated, caring, motivated teacher…and both groups of kids need that.

24 Mike

although I have never been a teacher, I have held a job that was immersed in our public system’s dysfunctions and I remember what it was like to hate going to work each morning. I would never take a job again where I hate the smell, look, idea, thoughts, or its existence for more than 1 minute. The Money isn’t worth it, the temporary feeling of “making a difference” isn’t worth it. For me, private all the way.

25 OnceARunner

Honestly, my take is that since you are only going to be teaching for a limited time (as ninja has stated you will be a stay at home mom) I would take the challenge and extra stress to possibly make the more significant impact in a life that may otherwise go unnoticed. I understand the lack of support and stress you may feel in the public work environment but if you approach it as a temporary condition (albeit a few years) I think that would put things in perspective a little better. Whatever you decide though, as has been mentioned above, you WILL be making a difference no matter what…my personal opinion though is you have greater odds of making a greater impact in the public school system and much more so the more challenging that school is to teach in. Best of luck and happy holidays!

26 Kris

Just thought I’d put my two cents in as a product of a private school education. Obviously I don’t know the dynamics of the public school system, but I can tell you from my education that private school kids don’t always have the parental support system that people think they do. A lot of people I went to school with may have had money, but they were given things to make up for parents that weren’t there. There were other kids who were allowed to run free and do whatever they wanted because their parents just didn’t care. The only difference is that drugs were done in nicer houses, vandalism happened in nicer cars. Parents all over from all economic backgrounds can treat their kids the same way.

GN, looking to help, love and care for students is something ingrained in you, and isn’t something that can only be accomplished by teaching in a public school. You can help kids whether or not you go to public or stay private. A lot of people I know are 30-something trust fund babies that sit around all day doing cocaine and smoking pot while living with mom and dad. Their’s is a different life than the 99%…but pretty depressing nonetheless. There were still suicides in my school, anorexia, bulimia, alcohol abuse. I’m not trying to say that private schools are bad or whatever – I’m just trying to say that a great teacher who loves and cares about kids can find a way to help no matter where they go. You can be an inspiration anywhere, if that’s what you strive to be.

So I guess my long-winded two cents really is that if public makes you happy, wonderful, but if you do decide to work in private schools, please don’t feel like a sell-out. You won’t be a sell-out either way. Wonderful, life-changing teachers are needed for all socio-economic backgrounds.

27 Kim

I agree – and with the increasing administrative burdens placed on public school teachers (especially urban) – the data collection, etc., teachers don’t remain in the system as long as they used to. Avoiding burnout isn’t a bad thing! I’m sure your urban school skills are highly valued in private school since you probably have experience with special needs – since private schools don’t typically have teachers skilled in special needs, you’re doing a good service for a child who otherwise wouldn’t get the right attention in the private school.

28 Angie

The schools definitely need teachers that are willing to give their all, but at what expense? There is a public school out there somewhere that you will fit in at; be able to do the job the way you want to do it, and get support while doing so. But on the other hand, if you plan on having babies in the next 5 years or so, please remember what stress can do to a pregnancy. I know you plan on being home after the baby is born, but I am guessing you will work during your first pregnancy. Just something to think about…

29 Angie

I forgot to mention part of my point (too early, not awake yet!). It could take 5 years to find that perfect school. Maybe the best tradeoff would be private during the year and maybe public for summer? That way it would be short duration.

30 Nick

If you’re happy with your job now, I wouldn’t jump back into a public school…especially since you’ve mention things like “It is such a gift to see the faith of a child, and to experience their forgiving and deep love.” You can’t do that in public school.

You also can’t put a price on being happy with your career. If you’re happy now, there’s not really a need to change it unless the $10,000 is worth potentially going back to the way it used to be.

31 Mo D.

I totally agree with Nick. If the intent you and Ninja have is that you will be a stay-at-home Mom when the kiddies start arriving, it might be a better option for you to stay in your current position; besides, it sounds like you’re really enjoy teaching there.

Wishing you and Ninja the Merriest of Christmas’ and the Happiest of New Years’!!

32 Chariot

If your current job makes you happy, stay there. I’d look for other opportunities to help needy children–free tutoring or Big Sister programs, perhaps.

Also, what about the fact that you’d have 3 jobs in 3 years. Even if you choose to leave that doesn’t look good on a resume – Job Jumpers have difficulty finding good opportunities as time goes on. I recommend staying with this job for 5 years and then consider switching to public school.

33 Erica

I’m confused as to why the private school pays less then the public school? Wouldn’t it be better if some of that extra money that the public school pays went back into the school?

34 Kim

Private schools don’t get money from the state/county to cover costs, and can’t use economies of scale for things like bookkeeping and school buses. Thus they have less funds to work with. So one of the ways private schools saves money is by paying teachers less. Also many private schools don’t require a teaching license, so can pay less. Which is funny, because sometimes (not always), the private school is better. As for the extra money the public school pays…well, teachers aren’t paid much in the first place, regardless of what the MN legislature claims – no one teaches to get rich!

35 Bridget

Schools are very standardized where I live (Alberta, Canada) and while there are some differences between schools, the disparity between a public and a private school that you’re describing is impossible for me to imagine so I’m not sure what to answer. I think peace of mind is more important than an extra $10,000 but I’m not sure how measurable the difference you could make in the lives of children in the public school system so it’s a tough call.

36 Melissa Z

There’s some really insightful commenters here. Here’s my 1/2 cent to add (don’t have enough insight to offer the whole 2 cents): Can you effectively help those you want to help in the setting available? If you are discouraged & coming home crying, lacking support from the administration, are you still able to give your BEST to the kids? If the answer is no, then maybe it’s better to be in a situation where you can give those you teach your best, regardless of whether it’s a public or private school.
*Best wishes as you make a decision*

37 Weirdo

My wife and I are having the same debate since our first child is growing inside of her. She was home-schooled and I went to public school. I feel I am a better person for going to public school. From a Christian perspective, you’re not shielded from the world, which is good and bad. Good because you have a chance to go head on with the challenges and temptations and be ready for them later in life. Bad because you may be exposed to things you don’t to be exposed to.

I’m all for public schools. And I’m all for paying teachers what they are worth. Some are worth $1, but I have had teachers who were amazing and had a huge impact on my life.

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