Originally published in Private School Review • February 13, 2016
by Robert Kennedy
Parents have many reasons for deciding to take their children out of public school and enrolling them in private school. This circumstance is something which can happen at any stage of your child’s education. You could face this issue as early as nursery school or as late as high school, or even somewhere in between.
Recently I spoke with a mother who had taken her son out of a Montessori school and put him in the local public school. The problem with the Montessori school was the teacher. The public school worked fine for one year. Her child loved his new teacher, and the new teacher seemed to love her children. Ironically the public school teacher seemed to do a better job of following the child than the Montessori teacher did. Considering that following the child was one of Dr. Maria Montessori’s principal tenets, you would have thought that the Montessori teacher could have gotten that right. In any case, this mother reported that they had one good year. Her son was happy. The teacher was happy. All was going well. Unfortunately, during the second year, things began to unravel, largely due to an inflexible teacher who expected all the children in her rather large class of 25 first graders to march in lock step.
Against that backdrop, let’s you and I explore a couple of typical scenarios where a change of schools just might be the only answer for your child.
Your child does not fit in.
So, you have decided that your child does not fit in. Before you go through all the hoops of changing schools, take the time to analyze what’s going on. Start with a parent-teacher conference to discuss your child’s progress. You do not have to wait until the next regularly scheduled meeting time. Email the teacher and schedule a conference as soon as possible. Next, prepare for your meeting by listing the items which concern you. In your face to face meeting with the teacher allow her to discuss your child’s progress first. Listen carefully. You may find that you have some common ground. Don’t react emotionally or hysterically to anything with which you disagree. Thank the teacher for her time. Review the situation when you return home.
In the case I mentioned earlier, the child was functioning three grade levels ahead of the rest of his rather large class. The teacher did not have the expertise to manage children learning on several levels at the same time. Also, one of the students in the class was autistic. Apparently the teacher found frequently herself distracted by that child’s needs. In this case, the fit was wrong.
Your child is unhappy.
An unhappy child is never a good thing. Take time to understand the reasons why he is unhappy. Is one of his classmates picking on him or making fun of him? Is he having difficulty with math or reading or some other skill? You want his classroom activities to build confidence and self-esteem. Success sends your child the message “I can do this!” Learning how to master skills and solve problems at age 7 or 8 will lay a firm foundation for his future growth and maturation into adulthood.
Your child is bored.
Most often a bored child is a one whose parents have taken their child’s education seriously, literally from birth. They probably have their child reading several grades above grade level. They have equipped their child with basic math and science concepts. Consequently, when your child finds himself in a classroom with other children who are learning skills and concepts which he learned years ago, naturally he will be bored. Yes, his being bored is your fault! One viable solution is to find a private school with small classes and the kind of educational philosophy which will allow him to learn at whatever level he happens to be on.
Your child doesn’t look forward to going to school.
The scenarios which we reviewed above may be reasons why your child doesn’t look forward to going to school. Try to find out why your child feels this way. Are his classmates making him feel uncomfortable? Bullying lurks in the shadows at most schools. What your child may be experiencing could well have been unnoticed by his teachers. Has the teacher made him feel uncomfortable? I can remember to this day being terrified of my third-grade teacher at Roslyn School in Westmount, Montreal. She had a nasty habit of rapping your knuckles with a ruler if you were doing something of which she did not approve. Fortunately, 21st-century teachers don’t rap knuckles with rulers. Whatever is causing your child not to want to go to school needs to be investigated. Take the initiative and resolve this situation as soon as you can.
Your child is being held back.
This circumstance ties in with your child being bored. He knows the subject material and wants to move ahead to tackle something new and interesting. Some teachers are experienced and adept enough to teach on multiple levels at the same time. Others are not so experienced and skilled at teaching in this manner. Moreover, what will happen next year?
Your child’s teacher will ultimately determine your child’s happiness in school. Knowing what kind of teacher your child will have from year to year is never easy in most public schools. There are several variables which influence the selection of teachers in public schools which do not exist in private schools. Budgets, increases or decreases in school populations, retirements, politics and so on turn your expectations into a gamble at the beginning of each year. That is not the case in most private schools where consistency and stability in teaching and the curriculum are hallmarks of the school’s reputation. You are paying for your child’s education with the implicit and explicit understanding that the school will meet certain expectations.
There undoubtedly are other reasons why you might consider changing schools. I would counsel you to explore and thoroughly understand the reasons why you feel such a change is necessary. I suggest that you use the Benjamin Franklin approach to making decisions as outlined in his letter to Joseph Priestly. We parents are very emotional when it comes to our children. As a result, it is wise to make decisions based on facts tempered by our emotions.
Questions? You can reach me via Twitter. @privateschl