There are teaching fundamentals that are relevant in every classroom (lesson planning ✔ knowledge sharing ✔ homework marking ✔) but the kind of school you teach in can make quite a difference to your working life.
There are many types of schools out there but all of them fall into one of two categories: public or private. Choosing which one you work in can affect everything from who, what, and where you teach to how much you get paid.
So what are the main differences between public and private schools? And how do you know which might suit you better? Read on to find out.
What you need to know about teaching in public schools
What are public schools?
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 qualifications do I need to work in a public school?
National or local governments will normally require teachers to have specific qualifications in order to work in public schools, whether that’s a Bachelor’s degree, Master’s degree or teaching certificate. 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 job opportunities in a whole network of schools that could stretch throughout your state, country, and even overseas. 🌍✈️
How’s the job security for teachers in public schools?
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 with all the job protections that come with that. On top of this, public school teachers often have strong unions that can offer advice and support if ever you do run into difficulties at work. As such, you can be pretty confident that as a public school teacher you are part of a standardized system in which workers' rights are well-protected.
What’s the salary like for teachers in public schools?
In the same vein, 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 should also be clear pathways for career progression, salary increases, and so on.
It’s hard to say 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 (more details on this below).
What are the teaching conditions like in public schools?
As students are normally required to attend public school by law, classes are often filled to their maximum capacity and have a diverse social mix of students from different backgrounds. There can be benefits and drawbacks to this, and maximizing the benefits often comes down to good classroom management. For example, in a well-managed classroom, different social backgrounds provide a learning opportunity for all (teachers included!) and large classes provide a lively, social atmosphere.
As students (or their families) don’t really have a choice regarding attending public school in some cases you might also need you to put your classroom management skills to use to curb behavior problems and motivate students.
Can I teach what I want in public school?
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.
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What you need to know about teaching in private schools
What are private schools?
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. This means that they 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 everyday, in place of going to public school, for example, 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 such as 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 practised in public schools such as Montessori, Reggio Emilia, and Waldorf (or Steiner) education.
Special needs schools that cater to students with disabilities.
What do they teach in private schools?
After looking at all the different types of schools above you might 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, and your job might entail 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.
What are the teaching conditions like in private schools?
Private schools often have smaller classes than public schools, making it easier as a teacher to monitor and support students’ learning on an individual level. As the student, or their family, has made a choice to be there you might find they are more motivated to learn than in public school making for a very productive learning environment. (Disclaimer: kids will be kids so this isn’t always the case!)
How are private schools run?
One of the difficult things about working at a private school is that, ultimately, the school is a business and your students are also the school's clients.
You might find that different students (or their families) have a different idea of value for money when it comes to education. Some will prioritize enjoyment, of course, others will be very results focused. On the other hand, your school might prioritize keeping students happy over educational rigor, which can be tough when as a teacher you know that studying is a rewarding, but not always enjoyable, process.
As a teacher in a private school, you’ll have to walk the line between pushing your students to achieve and keeping them coming back to class. A good place to start is by working out what your school’s ethos is, and then communicating clearly with your students about what you want to achieve together in the classroom.
What qualifications do I need to teach in a 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 might 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.
What are the working hours like in private schools?
If you’re working in a private school your working hours might fall outside the standard 9–5. 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 increased demand for your classes. Even if you work in a private school, it might be written into your contract that you need to work the occasional weekend to take kids on trips or supervise out-of-hours activities.
What’s the pay like for teachers in private schools?
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 pay 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.
I’m still not sure whether I’d be better suited to teaching in public or private schools!
Well, the good news is there’s nothing to say 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.