It inevitably happens in the supermarket. I cross paths with a former colleague from my public school career. She frowns and cautiously asks, “So, how’s it going in that private school?” I say “fine” or “great” or “ok”, depending, as my profession always has, on the vagaries of the moment the question is being asked. She looks unconvinced and replies “Really?” As our conversation meanders towards its inconclusive ending (does she really want to know the details?), I find myself wondering why I never manage to answer the question definitively in her mind or mine.
After 17 years of successful teaching in public elementary schools in California, I made a surprising career path change by accepting a job teaching 7th and 8th grade math in an independent school. I say surprising because it never occurred to me that I would be teaching in a private school. I am now in my second year of this new job and I am happy both professionally and personally, and yet, I face a certain level of rejection from my public school colleagues. They question my commitment to education and society as a whole. The more I ponder this, the more I tend to conclude that the differences that exist between the public schools where I have worked and the independent school where I am currently employed are not those of mission or purpose, but rather of scale and freedom to act in the best interest of students and of society.