I was at a Holiday party last night with a number of young teachers who work in the public schools. The vast majority of them are tremendous, thoughtful teachers who are currently dealing with a system that puts 35-40 students in a classroom with a focus on standardized testing (and the resultant test prep). These teachers–many of whom I have studied with–understand the value of experiential and authentic learning, collaboration, and social/emotional development, but are unable to develop curriculum that builds on these skills due to the aforementioned focus on test prep. Furthermore, these teachers are told on a daily basis, by the national press and (more importantly) the local community, that they are overpaid, lazy, and don’t deserve the minor benefits they receive.
From an outsider’s perspective, it was a sad party.
I couldn’t help but think of my own frustrations as a public school teacher, in which bureaucracy reigned, and the myriad ways in which I was told my ideas about education wouldn’t work because they’re weren’t traditional enough. My frustration finally boiled over and, as a catharsis one night, I sent a single resume to a local independent school that was looking for a history teacher. In what can only be described as a one-in-a-million shot, within a week I had a new job. More importantly, a new world of education opened up–one in which I had academic freedom, willing and able students, time in my day to work with those students beyond any predetermined curriculum, and (most importantly) no test prep. Moving to an independent school made me a better, more thoughtful teacher, and it allowed me the chance to actually work on all the skills I had come to believe are essential to good teaching. To be honest, had I not made the move, I would certainly not be in the field of education going on five years later.
I looked at these teachers and felt their frustrations. I saw that they were excellent teachers, but hanging on by a thread. It wasn’t about money, it was about respect as professionals. And, in looking at these teachers, I considered my role as someone who has a voice in the hiring process at an independent school. It is my understanding that many independent schools hire wonderful academic resumes but not always great teachers.
Independent schools need to make a conscious effort to find these wonderful, but frustrated, public school teachers and recruit them into our schools. These teachers, suffering from years of neglect but not burned out, will thrive in the independent school world, and the independent schools will benefit from these teachers’ experience with advanced pedagogical practice in areas such as differentiated learning.
Over the coming years, these young teachers will be leaving the public schools en masse, as their frustrations boil over. If they don’t move quickly and scoop up these wonderful educators, they will be missing a golden opportunity to improve the learning environment in their schools and these teachers will move on to other careers. There is a coming market inefficiency, and independent schools are in a great place to capitalize on it.