Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Why I choose public school.

I became a teacher as a second career. I began my working life in the field of public relations and marketing but always yearned to try out the career I had promised my great grandmother I would pursue--teaching. While serving as a public relations manager for a major California company, I had the opportunity to volunteer a couple of days each week in a first grade classroom through the nonprofit, Junior Achievement. Within a week or two, I was hooked and knew that I wanted to become a teacher.

Within six months, I quit my job and applied to substitute teach in a number of districts in the area, became a frequent substitute in Monrovia, California and enrolled in a credential program. I loved working in Monrovia and the school where I was a regular kept me busy with long-term assignments that brought me there almost daily. The teachers treated me like one of the gang and for that I will forever be thankful.

During my credential program, I was told I needed a more "permanent" position and I sought out employment at private schools. I was thrilled when I got the call for an interview at a well-established (expensive) private school that had been in business for generations and was quickly hired by the principal who was easily five to ten years my junior.

Soon after I was hired I started to get the feel for private school life. The parents expected an array of "enrichment" activities that took away from my teaching time and didn't really provide the children with anything more than a fun time away from the core subjects. There were no credentialed teachers in the school and I, being in my credential program, made me the most educated person on campus. I quickly came to realize that many of the students, although receiving high marks on their report cards, had genuine learning, developmental and social problems ranging from extremely poor reading comprehension to undiagnosed speech problems in older students to an inability to cope with group conflict due to class sizes that were often less than 12 students.

It was heartbreaking to see students struggle. I saw teachers assure parents their children were on track when it was very clear the child was behind...far behind their public school counterparts based on my own personal experiences in the system. I lasted at the school six months and quit after the teacher next to me, who was just starting her credential program, was fired for refusing to give a student who never turned in his work an A. I knew that this was not an environment for me, nor a place where I could make a change in the lives of the students. The education system at the school was so poor, even my advisor in my credential program suggested that I leave the school and made an exception for me to continue my program as a substitute teacher.

After receiving my credential while working as a long-term sub and then regular classroom teacher, I became a reading intervention teacher. I dove into this new role with passion and vigor. I read all of the research and work tirelessly to provide my students with differentiation instruction that would help them learn the skills they needed to become readers and advocate for those who needed more than I could provide them.

My private school days were behind me but every once in a while they would creep up on me when I would be referred a new student. It was not uncommon for me to be given a private school transfer student who was seriously lagging behind his public school counterparts. In fact, it was more the norm than the exception. I heard from parents how they were told their children were advanced when they were really toward the bottom of the scale. It was heartbreaking for both the student and the family.

I know that many families have great private school experiences but for me, having experienced what I have in regards to private schools, I would not feel comfortable sending my children to anything but a public institution. Private schools lack the oversight of public schools--many of which with little to no set teaching standards. Many private schools do not offer credentialed teachers, meaning those who are teaching children have had little to no training on child development, identifying learning disabilities or alternative ways of teaching in order to best suit a child's optimal way of learning. While I am sure that private school teachers work hard to provide their students with a quality education, many do not have the background knowledge or skills afforded those with a teaching credential or the district support that provides teachers resources like psychologists, speech and occupational therapists, and much, much more.

I'll admit, the public school system isn't perfect. Class sizes are big and teachers are asked to put in long hours and fill out mountains of paperwork. For newer teachers, the system is even more frustrating because the status of their employment is often not concrete from year to year, meaning  many teachers do not know if they will have a job until the school year actually starts. Unfortunately, I fell into this category and for that reason have left teaching so that I can provide my family financial stability year to year.

I miss teaching and admire those who stick it out, year after year. I miss the kids and making a difference. I am proud to see my own kids thriving in the public school system where we live and look forward to many great years of learning and growing along with them and their amazing teachers. This is why I choose public school for my family.

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