There are teaching fundamentals that are relevant in every classroom, from lesson planning, knowledge sharing, and homework marking.
But the kind of school you teach in can make a big difference to your work life.
There are many types of schools out there but all of them fall into one of two categories: public or private.
Choosing where you work can affect everything from who and what you teach to how much you get paid.
So, what are the main differences between public and private school teachers? And how do you know which one will suit you better?
Once you better understand the main differences between teaching at a private school vs. public, you can make sure that you will make the best decision for your teaching career.
This article will discuss:
- What is a public school?
- What is a private school?
- Teaching curriculums
- Teacher salaries
- Teaching qualifications
- Working hours
- Job security
- Deciding which is right for you
What is a public school?
Public schools are normally run by the government, paid for with taxes, and students are legally required to attend them until the age of about 16 (depending on the country they’re in).
As such, students in public schools are children and teens, separated into classes by age or ability, who study a range of key subjects like math, language, science, and humanities.
What is a private school?
The main difference between public and private schools is that private schools are run independently of the government so they are in charge of their own curriculum, ethos, and funding.
Private schools are often funded by private sources such as parents, students, alumni and donors.
Students may be children, teens or adults and study a range of subjects.
Beyond that, private schools also cover a variety of functions and there are many different types of private schools, such as:
Private schools that follow something equivalent to the public curriculum. Students probably attend these every day, in place of going to public school (i.e. boarding schools).
International schools that follow the same (or similar) curriculum as public schools in the “home” country of families that live abroad but want their children to be educated in their native language or education style.
Schools for skills that only teach one or a few disciplines. Examples include language or music schools.
Schools for communities that tailor their lessons to suit the community needs such as religious schools or military schools.
Schools for teaching methods that prioritize types of learning not practiced in public schools such as Montessori, Reggio Emilia, and Waldorf (or Steiner) education.
Special needs schools that cater to students with disabilities.
Public School Curriculums
In a public school, you will probably have to teach according to a government-approved curriculum.
At some levels, this will also involve the responsibility of preparing your students to take exams that could help to define their futures.
Overall this will mean that you might not have much freedom in terms of what you teach.
Having said that, most public school teachers will still be encouraged to let their natural passion for their topic shine through and personalize their lessons to suit their students’ learning needs.
Private School Curriculums
After reading about the different types of private schools (see list above), you will notice they can get pretty specific, so it follows that the teaching can get pretty specific too.
If you’re a teacher with a niche (or looking to develop one), private school teaching might be the way to become an expert in your specialty, whether that is working with kids with special needs, teaching the flute or working with bilingual students.
Some private schools stick closely to the standard curriculum.
That is why your job might involve preparing students for the same standardized tests they would take in public school.
However, most private schools will offer their teachers more freedom to decide what they teach and how they teach it than public schools do.
Private schools also often have smaller classes than public schools, making it easier as a teacher to monitor and support students’ learning on an individual level.
The student, or their family, have made a choice to be there so you might find they are more motivated to learn than in a public school setting, making for a very productive learning environment.
Disclaimer: kids will be kids so this isn’t always the case!
Public Teacher Salaries
You can normally rely on being paid on time and getting a fair salary (relevant to what other teachers in the system earn) in the public school system.
There are also clear pathways for career progression and salary increases.
It’s hard to say for certain whether your salary would be lower or higher in the public or private system because public schools in some areas are better funded than others and there are so many different types of private schools.
Private Teacher Salaries
Pay for teachers in private schools really depends on how well-funded that private school is.
In some cases, you’ll find that the pay is significantly higher and the school is much better resourced than in a public school.
In other cases, they might only have part-time positions for teachers and your payments could fluctuate according to demand for your lessons.
Remember, private schools are businesses and there are good and bad business managers out there.
This could affect your salary and working conditions.
Make sure you do your research before you sign up to work with any private school!
Look up online reviews and try to talk to as many teachers who work there as you can to get a realistic idea of what the working conditions and pay are truly like.
Teacher Requirements in Public School
National or local governments will normally require teachers to have specific qualifications in order to work in public schools.
The required qualifications will vary from place to place so make sure you double-check that any qualification you sign up for will be accepted in the school district you want to teach in.
Making sure you get the right qualification will open up job opportunities in a whole network of schools that could stretch throughout your state, country, and even overseas.
Teacher Requirements in Private School
As the type of teaching you do in private schools can vary, there are also all kinds of qualifications that might help you work in one.
To work in an international school or a boarding school, for example, you may need a teaching license.
To work in a language school as an English teacher, you need a TEFL certification.
In some cases, private schools also have the authority to hire teachers based on experience alone, so you may not need qualifications at all!
A good place to start is by researching the kind of teaching you want to get into and taking a look at what schools in that sector ask from their teachers.
Public School Working Hours
School runs Monday to Friday and the average school day lasts about 6 hours.
Although this will vary based on the school board, it’s important to be mindful that the average workday is much longer.
In addition to the classroom hours, there will be extra time offered to those who need it after school, teacher-parent conferences, making home phone calls, answering emails and other administrative work.
Private School Working Hours
If you’re working in a private school your working hours might fall outside the standard 9–5.
Plus if you teach extracurricular subjects, that might mean that your classes happen at lunchtime, evenings, and weekends.
There might also be periods of the year, such as school holidays or before exam season, where there is an increased demand for your classes.
Even if you work in a private school, it might be written in your contract that you need to work the occasional weekend to take kids on trips or supervise out-of-hour activities.
Job Security in Public School
Public school teaching jobs are normally very secure because they are funded by taxpayers.
Instead of working for a private employer, you’ll be working for the government and for your local community.
You will get to enjoy all the job protection that comes with that!
On top of this, public school teachers often have strong unions that can offer advice and support if you ever do run into difficulties at work.
You can be pretty confident that as a public school teacher you are part of a standardized system where workers' rights are well-protected.
Job Security in Private School
In private school settings, you don’t have the same level of job security as in public.
However, if you have a good track record with your performance, there is a low-risk of anything happening to your job.
It all depends on your personal preferences, as it can cause some stress for those that enjoy the guarantee of long-term security.
Deciding which is right for you
Still not sure where you would be better suited? Well, the good news is there’s nothing to say that you can’t do both!
There are plenty of TEFL teachers who work abroad in private schools and then return home to get qualified to work in public schools.
There are also plenty of public school teachers who get itchy feet and decide to take their career overseas by teaching in private TEFL academies or international schools.
You might also find that hopping between public and private school systems helps you advance your career by allowing you to pick up new skills and apply for new positions and promotions.
So, keep an open mind.
You might find that the perfect choice for you is a blend of both public and private school teaching.