I used to teach private school. That is actually how I got my start in teaching. When I graduated with my teaching credential, the state of California was in a hiring freeze, and a friend of mine taught at a private school that was hiring. It was a good place to begin — as it was a full time job. My second teaching job was also with a private school, and the administrator that I worked for was so great that I stayed in that job for fifteen years.
I should mention, because you might not know this, that private school teachers typically earn 1/2 of what public school teachers make. Shocking, right? It has to do with the fact that ALL the overhead is covered by the private school -- everything, and that cuts into the budget for salaries. Although, private schools charge high dollars for tuition, teachers make less in the private school system -- UNLESS they work at a very exclusive private school.
Private schools are also VERY selective about who attends their schools. I used to give the elementary entrance tests for incoming students. They would have to read, write, do some calculations, and spell for me. I would then recommend their placement in our school. If a student scored to low, our administration might recommend attendance elsewhere.
Sometimes a student would come into our private school, and struggle behaviorally. Teachers and administration would discuss that maybe we weren't a good "fit" for that student, and if they ended up leaving, there would be a sigh of relief, and a general attitude of, "Whew! Thank goodness! We don't have to worry about THAT kid anymore!"
Lately, I've been thinking a lot about that. The exclusivity that can come along with a private school, or even some popular public schools -- the idea of being particular about "what types of kid attend" -- on a certain level means that we are setting some kids aside or even writing them off. I have worked in education long enough to recognize that there are some children who have such extreme needs that the average classroom isn't the right placement for them but those students are rare.
Because in a larger sense, they are ALL our children -- the soft-spoken and compliant, the loud and boisterous, the respectful, the disrespectful, the quick to learn, the slow to learn, the strong, the weak, the beautiful, the wounded -- they are all our children. Whether we find a way to encourage, and educate them within our classrooms or send them out -- they are OUR children and we WILL care for them in the future. It isn't as if a child sent away from our private school back in the day, disappeared and ceased to be -- they still continued to exist and to be a part of our larger community. We will pay the price if we fail to find a way to educate them.
I have always believed that every child has a right to a solid, thoughtful and empowering education. It is our responsibility not only a Nation, but as a community of humans. Those who argue for exclusivity say things like, "Well, I want to be careful who my child goes to school with. I need to keep them away from kids who have different values." I understand that thinking, but lately I've been looking at it from another angel. The children being educated right now, will remain on this earth after we are gone, and they must learn to function together. We need to make sure that EVERY child is capable and able to function in society. We owe it to them to make that a possibility if for no other reason that they will outlive us -- we have to ensure that as this earth continues to spin decade after decade, it does so in a way that involves a community of humans who can work together to solve the problems that will come our way in the future.
When I first started teaching, students bad behavior used to irritate me. I would react with appropriate correction, but internally, I would react judgmentally; thinking of course that students who behaved correctly more often were "good kids" and students who had more misbehavior were the "bad kids" or the "trouble makers". Now, I am old. I have come to understand that all of us have good and bad behavior swirling around inside of us, and when it comes to children — bad behavior ALWAYS comes as a result of something else. Children misbehave like babies cry -- to communicate something to us. I've learned how important it is to listen to those cries and to try to interpret them. If Old Teacher Me could travel back in time and visit Young Teacher me, the most important message Old Teacher could deliver is this: You have to listen closely and look so much deeper. Your students are speaking to you about what they need. It is your job to interpret and respond. Don't get distracted by the surface. Don't react. Listen. Look.
Which, of course, takes me straight back to the Talmud? "When you save one life, you save the whole world entire," which of course leaves us to understand that reverse must also be true — when you lose one life, you've lost the world entire.