Private vs. Public Schools
Many people think that a private education is better than a public education, in some respects it is, but in others it is not. I have experienced both private and public education and am here to discuss the academic, parental experience, and social differences.
Private school is more supportive regarding students’ academics. Smaller class sizes allow for more one on one time between student and educator. For me, this was a huge difference from public school where I was often overwhelmed by the class sizes. My parents quickly noticed that I was disengaging with school, making the decision to place me in a private school; an experience that many do not have the privilege of. The switch to private school for my primary years was undoubtably the best investment for my education. I was more engaged, and teachers recognized that I was bright, but needed that extra support. The smaller class sizes allowed for me to receive the support I needed to be successful.
In grade 3 I was placed in the “roots program” a program for those with learning disabilities. A common misconception is that those with learning disabilities struggle in all aspects when this is simply not the truth. Those with learning disabilities score high in academic assessments in one area, but score below average in other areas. Math was my weakness, but teachers never discounted me or assumed I was a lost cause. I was supported to improve my skills. In grade 4 I was placed back into mainstream classes but was put back into the roots program after my parents realised, I was not quite ready for the mainstream classes. Throughout my time at private school, I was supported in creating good academic habits that would allow me to be successful. Having the one-on-one time with teachers makes a world of a differences as the teacher can create a more personal relationship, this means that students will trust them and be more willing to ask for help. This relationship also makes it much easier for Teachers to spot a student who is anxious, being bullied, or has issues outside of school. All these factors and many others that may go unnoticed in a large class sizes can have a negative impact on the student.
Teachers are better paid in a private school, there is no question about that, this allows them access to more resources and plan more fun learning activities rather than just handing out work sheets. This also leads to more engaged educators in my opinion. Many of us have seen and learnt from a burnt-out teacher and it is no fun for anyone involved, they don’t want to be there and so the students do not want to be there either. One good teacher can be the difference between a child being engaged in their learning and a student who is uninterested and disengaged from learning. My first year in private school was split between public and private school. My teacher at private school was one of the kindest and most engaged teachers I had ever had, she knew the issues I had faced in public school and found ways to reengage me. My parents said I was a whole new person when I was engaged in school, I was much happier in school and outside of school. The first half of my grade one year was spent in public school and my teacher was just as disengaged as I was, the only memory I have from that class was when the teacher got mad, I was playing with the Velcro on my shoes while he was teaching. I am beyond lucky to have the parents I do and that my family has the privilege we do. Many other children in that situation would have lost their passion for learning because their parents may not have realized the issue or had the resources for the educational assessments (TDSB will not provide an in-school psychological assessment prior to grade 4) or for private school tuition.
In grade 7, the issue of disengaged and burnt-out teachers continued. I went back to public school and quickly blended into the crowd. I was an average student, but teachers would often ignore the needs of students who struggled to focus on the students who were already excelling. Math was still my weakest subject and I struggled as many students were taking math classes outside of school and teachers tended to use the top student as their marker for where the class was.
I also noticed that often time the support a student received was influenced by race and socioeconomic position as their parents may not have had the time, language skills, or resources needed to advocate for their child’s needs. When I struggled in math I shut down, I did not want to go to class as I would leave feeling a blow to my ego as I was not at the same level as others in my class. Cue my parents realizing this and knowing something needed to change. My mother is a true mama bear and if anyone messes with her kids, she will be all over them. I am lucky that my mom has the time and resources to be able to advocate for me and my siblings; she had to fight tooth and nail through the bureaucracy to get me the help I needed in school. The solution was that I would take math with the applied classes in grade 7 and 8 while remaining in my core class for other subjects such as English, history, social studies, and science, but not everyone has a parent who can advocate for this. Parental involvement in a child’s education is agreed to with a positive correlation on a child’s success. More involvement generally leads to more success.
This, however, does not mean schools will make it easy to be involved in getting a child the help they need or allowing for open communication between parent and teacher. One of the weirdest things to me upon entering public schools was the fact that teachers often did not provide a contact point for parents. This means parents often do not know their child is struggling until report cards roll in and it is most likely too late to bring their grades back up. At private school, parents were in constant communication directly with the teacher. Parents could easily get updates and teachers would email or call home if signs of trouble for the child’s academic or social well-being were beginning to show. When I was bullied in grade four, the school was in contact with my parents immediately because I was beginning to shutdown socially and in the classroom. This quick contact is ultimately allowed for the necessary intervention because I, like many children who are bullied was too scared to tell my parents. In grade 7 when I went to the guidance counsellor to say I was being bullied, there was no contacting home, just an “ignore the bully” and pat on my back.
This is not to say public schools are all bad socially, private schools create a very sheltered atmosphere. Prior to entering public school, I could count the number of students of colour in my grade (and entire private school) on one hand. Public school exposed me to so many diverse cultures. While I do miss the country club access, pool parties, and cottages that my private school friends had, I am so glad I got to be exposed to such diversity in public school. As the child of an inter-racial marriage (Irish and Chinese+ Guyanese), being exposed to diversity was one of the best things for my confidence. In private school, my nationality was always a question for students and teachers, but overtime the question began to make me feel a sort of shame about my ethnicity. By the time I was in grade 3, I stopped telling people I was Guyanese because I was tired of having to explain where Guyana was and the “oh” that accompanied finding out part of my ethnicity stems from South America. It took me years to be comfortable and confident enough to claiming that part of myself again. I do not think I would have that confidence had I continued in private school and not been exposed to other cultures.
Overall, private schools and public schools are two very different places and experiences academically, for parents, and especially socially. One is not necessarily better than the other, each has its pros and cons and teaches students in different ways not only in the classroom, but about themselves.