Teaching at Boarding School Experiences
February 10, 2015 9:54 AM   Subscribe

Asking for a friend. Friend is contemplating moving from teaching at a private school in New York City to a private high school or middle school way outside the city. Options include rural MA, VT, NH, CT and Upstate NY. Do you have experience teaching at one of these schools? What was it like? What positives and negatives are there about teaching and living in these areas?

More data points:
They have a family. Do schools like these often offer housing, temporary or permanent, for spouses and children?
What about trailing spouses? Are there opportunities for them in environments like this or do they often find themselves in a job desert?
These are often hallowed and expensive institutions. Is there 0 diversity or do some schools live up to their promises of providing financial aid and opportunities for a wide variety of kids?
Surely there are differences between schools--some are failing and some are expanding, some are highly intellectual and some are diploma mills. How would you go about looking into a school remotely? What criteria would be the highest on your priority list?
Is it normal to expect a higher salary at a fancy "name" school? Or is it the opposite?
posted by Potomac Avenue to Work & Money (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I don't have experience teaching at one of these schools but I attended an all-boarding NH high school, and the way it worked for faculty was:

-all faculty received (free) faculty housing, which was either attached to the dorms (which were a mix of nice old Gothic buildings, modernist 60s buildings, or whatever) or "off-campus" (but on school-owned land). Not sure what the hierarchy was for this kind of housing, but some of the off-campus faculty houses were really nice... like one guy basically had a farm. Housing obviously met whatever needs one had re: family/children. All faculty, regardless of where they lived, had to be "on-duty" at the dorms on a given night of the week for a few hours, which I imagine was easier for those who lived in the dorms (who wants to leave the house on a freezing NH winter night?).

-a lot of the faculty were married couples who both taught at the school, or one taught and one held an admin position. Hard to think of many couples where the other spouse had an independent job not involving the school, although there were a few who had things like law/doctor practices in town, or whatever. The town was small but only an hour from Boston, so some spouses commuted.

-diversity was... eh. The school did attempt to recruit kids from a socioeconomic/racial range, but it did not result in a diverse student body, just one with little pockets of non-WASPs. Lots of international students (all over, but lots from South Korea, Hong Kong, and South Africa).

I can't speak to your other questions, I think take-home salaries were probably not that impressive, but then again, faculty had free room and board (we had a dining hall that was, in retrospect, very good, along with access to all the amenities as far as the gym/tennis courts/squash courts, whatever.
posted by Aubergine at 10:13 AM on February 10, 2015

Response by poster: Should have said it in the OP, anyone's detailed knowledge of boarding schools from any perspective (student or admin, etc) is welcome. ;)
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:21 AM on February 10, 2015

Best answer: I know a married family who worked at a big-name boarding school in Vermont. According to them:

* housing and meals are included
* teachers are expected to do dorm/house duty
* teachers are expected to coach various sports
* sometimes non-teaching spouses can get admin positions; not always
* they're not diverse schools; most of the kids are upper-class and white
* the pay is substantially less than one would make in a public school
* the "wow" factor at having taught at a school like this can open a lot of doors
* depending on the school, the curriculum is given to teachers and there's little room to explore outside of it

Lastly, the big reason they left and both went into public teaching was what they called the bubble factor. The school becomes a weird bubble of privilege. It's filled with a lot of very entitled rich kids, the unspoken administrative rule is that these kids will pass because of the financial contributions of their families, most of the students are generally considered brats who have internalized the message that there will always be someone to bail them out, and lastly, the kids can be pretty disrespectful to the staff. They know their parents hold all the power and they can be pretty cruel to teachers. So when you're living where this type of thing is the norm, it feeds upon itself and can feel unpleasant.

From their experience and their networking with other boarding school teachers, this situation appears to be fairly typical.
posted by kinetic at 10:48 AM on February 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I taught at a semi-similar school 6 years ago. It was in Ohio and was definitely not top tier. Almost all boarding (two students were day). It was very rural. (I'm not going to give names or numbers to try to maintain a mask of psuedonymity, but memail me if you want concrete information.)

I was fresh out of college so I lived in the Boy's dormitory. My pay was almost low enough for an earned income tax credit (single, no children), but my expenses were similarly low (it was typical for teachers to eat in the cafeteria at the school, so my only real expenses were the car and the cat). It was a bit isolating, especially my first year, as I really didn't have any friends among the staff that year. I got along well enough with them, but I wasn't friends. My second year was better and I made some good friends.

I can't speak to other boarding schools in that regard, but one of the things I would consider if I was doing this again is distance from previously established friends in another city. I had friends an hour and a half away (in the nearest city), which really helped my mental health. Another thing to ask about is what are the classes like - my school was so small that my calculus class being 12 students was considered very large. I also had tremendous (in fact, my first year, probably too much) freedom to design my lessons as I wanted. (The geometry teacher had gone to St. John's, and influenced by this had wanted to use Euclid in her class. It was an interesting but unsuccessful experiment- she switched to a regular textbook after the first few weeks.) If your friend has taught before great. If not, finding out how much guidance they would get is useful.

As for diversity, there was and there wasn't. A significant percentage of the school was international (I think about a third), but they all came from families well enough off to pay for schooling. There was very little money for financial aid (I know there was some, but not much), so the majority of students were from upper middle class families. There were some from less well off families, but overall, there was not a great deal of economic diversity that I could see.

The school I taught at had two houses on campus that went to married couples and a structure that was used to house staff who did not live in the dorms. A lesbian couple who would have been married (this was Ohio, 6 years ago) was in one of the apartments. The second apartment went to another teacher. For teachers with children, if they did not get one of the on-campus houses, they lived off campus. Housing in the area was very cheap. I'm not sure what you mean about trailing spouses. For the married (or would have been married) couples, they both had jobs teaching or otherwise working at the school (one was the librarian). Some of the older, established teachers, were married with their spouses working a job not at the school, I did not inquire into how that had resulted. The only couple I knew who moved there without both spouses being employed by the school was because she was being a stay at home mom for her 1 year old. I don't know what she's doing now.

I also attended one of these schools, one with a rather impressive name. I know the salaries there were not great, although I do expect they are higher these days than the school I taught at. I'm under the impression that at least initially, you tend to make more as public school teacher, although your expenses can be seriously lowered by living on campus.

It was a great job and I'm happy I did it, but I also learned that the rural life is not for me. I'm now in New York, which suits my disposition better. Also, at least at schools like the one I taught at, turnover is rather high. I think it is lower at higher tier schools. Two years there was not a great anomaly.
posted by Hactar at 10:49 AM on February 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh yeah, I forgot to add, I believe nearly all the faculty had mandatory non-teaching commitments such as coaching sports, or serving as the faculty adviser for a student group (which ranged from kind of niche hobbies like carillon, to more traditional offerings like debate, chess, etc.). Plus the dorm/house duty, which also doubled as a kind of "office hours" when students from the teacher's class could come to that dorm to get extra help or tutoring.

I don't know how much academic freedom faculty had, but there was a HUGE offering of elective classes (that were mostly only available to juniors and seniors, although sophomores could squeeze one in if they wanted) that seemed to be offered entirely on the basis of there being a teacher willing to design a curriculum and teach the class (I only remember a few, but they included sub-topics like literature about genocide, modern African short stories, Bach's cantatas, and so on). So, some of these classes could be pretty small (5-6 kids). Most classes were pretty small anyway (usually under 12), so classes were discussion based.

One additional perk is that faculty kids got free tuition (which, since the school cost 50K+ a year, was a realistic concession to teacher's salaries).

The bubble thing is very true, probably more so for the faculty, the majority of whom have been there for years. I think if you have a family already and want to settle down, it would be fine, but it's not ideal for the young, single folk.
posted by Aubergine at 12:46 PM on February 10, 2015

I went to a hallowed CT boarding school in the '70s and it was social hell. The students were merciless backbiters. The faculty, especially my dorm master, gave no indication they had any responsibility for their students' emotional well being.

As with almost any high school, athletes had an advantage, but our athletes were not (with some post-grad exceptions) the dumb jocks of Red State America. They were not-so-little clones of their Ivy League dads. They froze almost everyone else out.

On the other hand, except for the druggie slackers who were there because of their old man's clout, the students were the most socially precocious bunch I have ever been around. How could it be otherwise? Their parents were connected achievers who knew their way around life in the big leagues and it had clearly rubbed off on their kids. No code switching for that lot.

I've since learned that friends who went to public high school in Oregon received better vocational guidance than I did. I suppose it's because the school believed the students already had their futures sewn up by virtue of their upbringing and family connections.

I think the headmaster believed he was teaching values in his sermons at chapel, but I don't remember a word he said.
posted by ADave at 10:10 PM on February 10, 2015

the "wow" factor at having taught at a school like this can open a lot of doors

Now that I have four decades of life experience since that lovely June day when I received my diploma from a hallowed institution in CT, I can say I have experienced no "wow" factor from having gone to a school like that.

My late mother, who had a big life for a daughter of midwestern gentry, told me one of the reasons for going there was so that nobody could ever hold it against me that I hadn't. She didn't live long enough to explain what sort of life she had in mind for me. I suspect Edith Wharton or Tom Wolfe might have had some fun with that statement.

But Mother was on to something: going to an Eastern boarding school only makes sense in hindsight if the rest of your bio follows the correct social and cultural path. I didn't follow my classmates into the Ivies or private gentleman's colleges in New England, so I was never around that set again.

If I had gone to Harvard (and been from a multi-generation Ivy League family) and gone on to a career on the Eastern seaboard, the fact I went to prep school might carry some weight, but only as one of many emblems that are required for membership in that sector of our society.

I had profound culture shock when I got to my Big 10 midwestern college: it was highly selective, but very few students came from the boarding school milleu. I met a woman at a party freshman year who I sensed was also a preppie, but I had to pry that out of her. I sensed she was ashamed or embarrassed.

When I learned that a frat brother had gone to prep school, I told him I had, too, in an attempt to claim some sort of bond, and his reply was a flat "So what?"

And that about sums it up. Nobody in Oregon cares where I went to high school, or at least the very few who might be impressed are in the one-percenter circles and I'm so lacking in additional credentials that my high school history is just laughable.
posted by ADave at 10:39 AM on February 11, 2015

Best answer: Was a day student at a boarding school in rural MA - it was grades 9-12 and the vast majority of the students were boarders. I went there for my junior and senior years of high school

I think that the answers to these questions are going to vary wildly based on the individual school. The school I went to was middle to upper end of the pack for academics but didn't take itself too seriously. Athletics were big in a few individual sports, but not in the same way that they were in the public school I went to in the same geographical area.

Students economic standing was hugely varied - this was the first time I had met incredibly wealthy people and it was revelatory. It was just a completely different existence - one girl's father kept a chauffeur and car for her nearby so she could leave campus when that was allowed. The school I attended had a long history of good financial aid and at least trying to have an economically if not racially diverse student population.

Interesting parts of the student population: kids who were causing trouble at home and their parents sent them away so as not to have to deal with them, kids of diplomats, kids from other countries with wealthy parents who were sent to the US for their education, local kids who were looking for better academics, kids from families where everyone has gone to the same boarding school for five generations, kids who are recruited for sports, kids doing a postgraduate year to prepare themselves for places like Westpoint/Naval Academy/AF Academy, kid athletes doing a postgraduate year to get their GPA up enough to get into college, and so on.

Bored students in a rural area do what bored people do: lots of drugs.

Faculty were the subject of a lot more gossip than in my public high school. The faculty was under a lot of scrutiny by the students.

So far as I know all faculty were required to either coach sports or lead some sort of club.

Academically, the courses I took were at the college level. In fact when I went to college, I was surprised at how easy the classes were for the first two years.

Personally, I don't know if I would be interested in teaching at a boarding school. It really felt like a fish bowl - and the school I went to was on the larger end of the spectrum for boarding schools. An entire world of teenagers with a limited number of adults. Even as a day student, it felt odd. Maybe it depends on where the school is - how rural the environment and how far you are from a bar or coffee shop where you can sit down and not see anyone you work with or teach. The separation of work and home becomes tenuous.
posted by sciencegeek at 4:44 AM on February 12, 2015

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