This week I am super excited to have our very first guest post here at Freedom101!
Last year when I wrote about our ongoing analysis between choosing Public School, Private School or Homeschooling for our kids, Chrissy from Eat Sleep Breath FI, had some great comments and insight to offer in response to the article.
Chrissy usually writes about her families journey to Financial Independence in a high cost of living area, and provides helpful frameworks, tips and motivation for others pursuing a similar path. But today, as a Mom of two boys enrolled in public school, with friends in private schools, and close relatives within the education system, she is providing us with her insight into both the pro’s and con’s of public schools, along with how parents can mitigate those con’s on numerous fronts.
While Mike and I have definitely been leaning towards the homeschooling route for our circumstances, Chrissy makes strong points about aspects of public schooling that are very much worth considering for anyone approaching this decision.
So without further ado – here’s Chrissy from Eat Sleep Breathe FI!
We all want the best for our kids—we want them to be healthy, happy, and safe. And we also want to give them the brightest futures possible. That means the decision of how our kids will be educated is a big one.
The big debate
For many of us, there are three main choices: public, private, or homeschool. For most, public school’s the default choice—but many parents feel it’s the suboptimal choice.
After all, private schools tend to have better funding, smaller class sizes, and a more focused, academic mindset. For parents who choose to homeschool, they gain almost complete control over their children’s education. They also enjoy the added benefits of time and location freedom.
But as ideal as these public school alternatives sound, they come at a cost. Private schools can be expensive and homeschooling requires an enormous commitment of time and energy.
‘Settling’ for public
In the end, the financial requirements of private school and time requirements of homeschool are too high for most of us. So we ‘settle’ and send our kids to public school.
But what if we turn that thinking around? What if we instead proactively dealt with the challenges and focused on the benefits of public school? Maybe it’s not so bad after all?
If you’re on the fence about public school, this article will help you see that it’s possible to overcome the shortcomings and help our children thrive in public school.
Who am I to write about this?
I’m neither an educator nor an educational expert. But I do have a range of experiences and knowledge to draw from:
- I grew up attending public school, my kids (aged 11 and 13) also attend public school. My twin sister’s a public school teacher and we discuss educational issues often.
- My husband attended a top Vancouver private school from Grade 2 to 12, and many of our family and friends send their kids to private school. (This has given me a very good understanding of what private schools have to offer.)
- I’m a fan of homeschooling—it’s appealing to me for many reasons. I’ve seriously considered it and have done some research on it.
- I know what it’s like to have a child with a learning disability in the public school system—one of my kids is twice exceptional. (That’s a pretentious-sounding term that means he’s really, really great in some areas but challenged in others.)
All this is to say: I have a pretty good understanding of the benefits and pitfalls of each type of education. Based on this, I’ll try my best to offer a balanced perspective on public schooling.
I’m neither pro-public school nor anti-private school or homeschool. My goal isn’t to ‘sell’ public school. Rather, it’s meant to provide other parents with an insider’s view of public education.
I also acknowledge that public school isn’t a viable option for some children and their families. Private schools and homeschooling meet specific needs that public schools simply can’t. I wholeheartedly support parents’ decisions to choose the best form of schooling for their unique situation.
I hope my experience helps others feel confident and informed in their decision to send their children to public school. My article is broken into two sections:
- Parents’ concerns with public school.
- The benefits of public school.
Let’s get started with the concerns…
Section 1: Parents’ concerns with public school
In this first section, I’ll address common concerns parents have about public school. For each concern, I’ll share my experience and tips for what parents can do.
Concern #1: My child will fall through the cracks
Public school classrooms can be crowded, teachers are often overwhelmed, and resources can be lacking. Parents worry their kids will get lost in the chaos or be unable to reach their full potential. This is especially concerning for parents of children with learning disabilities or special needs.
It’s true—public schools do have challenges. The above issues have affected our kids. (Not at all times, but definitely at different points in their school careers.) The good news is parents can help their kids navigate this imperfect system successfully.
Our son struggled through his primary years of elementary school. He was inattentive and lacked attention to detail. He also had fine motor skill challenges, which were a source of immense frustration and tears (for him and us). We recognized very early on that his struggles would compound over time if we didn’t step in and help.
As soon as we recognized his challenges (starting in kindergarten), we began to work intensely with him at home to build his skills and resilience. We had some help from professionals, but most of it was just him and us, and a lot of blood, sweat, and tears!
Our son eventually reached a point where he had enough skills and self-knowledge to compensate for his challenges and advocate for himself. I’m happy to report that he’s now thriving in high school.
What parents can do
- Be the squeaky (but polite and respectful) wheel. You need to advocate for your child to make sure they get the help they need.
- Find out what resources are available and which accommodations must be given to your child. (If your child has a learning, mental, or physical disability, a formal assessment and report can be of huge benefit here).
- Shore up your child’s learning at home by helping them learn new skills or improve on those they struggle with. This can help them to both overcome challenges and enrich their learning.
- If it’s in your means, get professional help (psychological testing, occupational or physical therapy, etc.) If it’s not in your means, do some research to see if you can access government funding or free in-school resources.
- Keep communications with teachers and support staff open. Be friendly and work as a team to benefit your child. When parents get combative, everyone loses. (I’ve witnessed this time and time again—don’t be those parents!)
Concern #2: Bad teachers
It’s true—there are bad teachers out there. Whether they’re uncaring, disorganized, or just bad at teaching, they do exist. Parents worry that getting a bad teacher could ruin an entire year for their child, and many believe that private school teachers are better.
Both my kids have had bad teachers. Our younger son had a long-term substitute who spent little time actually teaching and routinely told them girls were better than boys at everything. Yikes! (Interestingly, he was a man.)
Our older son also had a hard time with one of his elementary school teachers. This teacher had high expectations, but didn’t provide clear instructions or enough guidance. Our son floundered, despite our best efforts to help him and communicate with the teacher.
And yet, the next year he had his best year ever, and has continued to improve with each passing year. What happened? How did we turn these awful teacher experiences into future success? I’ll list some strategies below:
What parents can do
- Try the tips listed in Concern #1 above.
- Try to first work things out with the teacher. If you’re unable to resolve the issues, consult with the principal or vice-principal. They can usually intervene to assist the teacher in adjusting their teaching methods.
- If you’re still unable to improve the situation, the next step is to stop and BREATHE! Yes, just breathe, calm yourself, and make peace with the situation. When you reach the point where no further progress can be made with the teacher, acceptance is the best course of action.
- Next, put things in perspective:
- It might feel like it, but it’s not the end of the world! It’s just one year; just a blip in your child’s long educational life.
- Up to Grade 10 (at least in BC) your child’s marks don’t ‘count’. This single year will not affect their chances to access post-secondary schooling.
- Most teachers are good, and a handful are great. There are more good teachers than there are truly bad ones. That means next year will likely be a better year.
- Once your child reaches high school, they’ll no longer be ‘stuck’ with one teacher all year. Any impact a bad teacher may have in high school is diluted to a fraction of your child’s school week.
- Support your child and reinforce that they are not dumb or bad. Your most important goal for this year is to preserve your child’s self-esteem. Do this by focusing on their successes and continuing to build their confidence by teaching new skills.
- Make the best of it by seeing what lessons your child can take away from this. For our son, he learned that you sometimes get stuck with people you don’t work well with—but you still have to make it work. This happens to all of us, and it’s a critical life skill to learn.
A word about private school teachers
Having a bad teacher experience is often the last straw that pushes some parents to move their kids to a private school. But the reality is: private schools won’t save you from bad teachers.
We know many families who’ve had similarly-poor experiences with private school teachers. Private schools typically hire from the same pool of teachers as public schools—so they have the same mix of good and bad teachers.
Concern #3: Extra-curriculars are lacking
Public schools often lack the resources to provide students with extra-curricular or enriched educational experiences. Conversely, private schools and homeschoolers are able to offer their students a wide array of quality experiences.
I feel my kids have had just as many enriched experiences as private and homeschool kids. That’s because most public schools, with some parental support, are able to afford things like field trips and in-school presenters.
But what about after-school classes and clubs? How can public school students access those? Once again, parental involvement comes to the rescue!
What parents can do
- Look for after-school activities at your local community centre. These classes are just as high-quality, and typically very affordable.
- Many public schools do offer a variety of clubs—ask teachers and other parents if you’re unsure of what’s at your school.
- If your child is interested in a club that doesn’t exist, start one! At our school, one mom started a lunchtime chess club. She got permission to book a room at the school, then organized parents and a chess expert to come once a week to help teach kids how to play.
A word on extra-curriculars
As a mom with some experience, I want to help younger parents get a broader perspective on the whole extra-curricular thing. My stance is controversial (but really, it shouldn’t be).
Extra-curriculars won’t make or break your child’s post-secondary success.
This is confirmed by the admissions staff at our local big-name university. They do not care if your child is a soccer star, a dance pro, or a musical genius. That does not matter one iota.
What really matters? They want to know if your child has had life experiences, and can demonstrate what those life experiences have taught them. These life experiences can come from anything—not just paid, organized activities. Your child does not need to be a pro-level athlete or scheduled to the max with activities.
Now, know that I have nothing against kids’ activities. If your kid enjoys their activities, and you have the money and time—go for it! I just want to take the pressure off and urge parents to consider the reasons behind their decisions.
Concern #4: Bad influences
All parents fear that their kids will pick up bad behaviors when they start school. Public school, where anyone’s allowed to enroll, seems to be the worst choice in this respect.
Private schools appear to have an advantage here since most students will come from ‘good’ families. And homeschooling is even better because parents can more easily control who their children are exposed to.
But is public school really that bad?
My kids attend public school, and they’re definitely exposed to all kinds of influences—good and bad. And yet, they’re still good kids and haven’t gone astray.
My husband attended a prestigious private school. While it was true that the kids came from affluent, well-educated homes, he still knew plenty of kids who got into all kinds of naughtiness!
That leaves homeschooling—could it be the best option? It might be, but homeschooling isn’t feasible for most of us.
If public school’s your only option, fear not! Once again (you guessed it) parental involvement saves the day.
What parents can do
One word: connect. This is the one element that’s missing when kids go astray—they’ve lost their connection with their parents. (For more on this, I highly recommend reading “Hold Onto Your Kids” by Dr. Gordon Neufeld.)
If you build a strong, loving connection with your kids from day one, you’ll largely inoculate them against the poor influence of others. Here’s how you can do that:
- Be friendly and loving with your child, but always remember you’re their parent—not their buddy.
- That means you’ll sometimes have to make decisions that aren’t popular. That’s your job. Kids need firm, loving guidance from their parents to grow into responsible adults.
- Get to know your kids’ friends by hosting playdates or get-togethers. This will help you to identify and steer your kids towards the ‘right’ friends (and away from bad influences).
- Volunteer at school to get to know your child’s classmates and teachers. This, like getting to know your child’s friends, is key in helping to steer them towards the right people.
- Connect with your kids at every opportunity:
- Even if it’s been a long day, linger a little at bedtime. This is often when kids will unpack the day and want to talk about problems. In our house, we’ve soothed so many worries and plotted out plans of attack for so many issues at bedtime!
- Talk to your kids about their teachers and friends. Do your best to listen without trying to fix everything. They’ll often find their own solutions just by bouncing their thoughts off of you.
- If your child wants to tell you about their day, put everything down and LISTEN! Teens are especially in danger of disconnecting from their parents, so this is an even bigger priority for this age group.
Section 2: The benefits of public school
We just spent a lot of time going over the challenges of public school and the benefits of private and homeschool. But I don’t think the conversation’s complete without also discussing the benefits of public school (there are many, and they’re good)!
Let’s go through them:
Benefit #1: It’s free
This is the most-obvious benefit, and it’s a significant one. Public schools are free for anyone to attend. That means your child can get a good education—no matter what your financial situation.
Why this is a good thing
For those of us seeking financial freedom, choosing public over private school changes our plans considerably. With private school tuition ranging between $10,000 to $40,000+ per year per child, public school offers a massive savings.
These savings can help us to:
- Direct more money towards helping our kids build their skills.
- Afford conveniences to save time and decrease stress (which will free us to better help our children).
- Have enough income for one parent to stay at home with the kids, which also helps save the entire family time and stress (amongst many other benefits).
- Save more towards financial freedom, which could then result in one or both parents having more time and energy to help their kids.
Benefit #2: More diversity
Public schools are open to anyone, and I think that’s a major societal benefit. When our children are exposed to others from different socio-economic classes, learning styles, and abilities, we all benefit.
Why this is a good thing
- As our kids make their way in the world, they’ll be confronted with all kinds of people. Having lifelong exposure to a wide range of people helps them build the skills to successfully deal with others.
- It helps our kids build empathy towards others. I know parents who’ve complained about special-needs students in their child’s class. They feel there’s too much disruption and that it affects their child’s learning. I vehemently disagree with this. There is more to education than just book learning. I’m happy for my child to see how others work with someone who is ‘different’ and see how everyone can be successful in their own way.
- Knowing others from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds helps our kids keep things in perspective. (Maybe not getting that iPad for Christmas isn’t the end of the world after all!)
Benefit #3: It’s close to home
Typically, at least one public school will be within walking distance from your home. If not, there’s likely one just a few minutes’ bike ride or drive away.
Why this is a good thing
- You can easily make the school commute part of your exercise routine.
- Using a non-motorized form of transport to get to school is an amazing way to start the day and prime the brain and body for learning.
- It’s not only less-stressful to walk or cycle, but these activities actually help us to de-stress.
- Obviously, driving less saves money and is good for the Earth.
- Kids have the option to return home for lunch or grab a forgotten item.
- Being in the same neighbourhood as the school means that friends are just around the corner. My husband’s private school was across town, so he never could never have after-school or impromptu playdates.
- Living near your school also means your children’s classmates and their families are your neighbours. This makes it more likely that your family will put down roots and have a stronger connection to the community.
Benefit #4: It gives parents and kids some space
While the benefits of homeschooling are immense, most of us aren’t able to commit to the time and energy required to do it. As much as we love our kids, it can be beneficial for them and us to have some time apart.
Why this is a good thing
- Socializing outside the home is important for all kids*. Some kids (like my extraverted younger son) need a lot of socializing to be happy. Being able to see friends and teachers everyday helps kids like my son to keep their socializing bucket nice and full!
- Having the opportunity to interact with others without parental guidance helps kids experience the cause and effect of their own actions.
- When parents can deal with the necessities of life (work, chores, errands) while their kids are at school, they can be more present with them in the after-school hours.
- Having the kids attend school outside of the house gives at-home parents a good chunk of time each day. This can allow them to then take on a job or side hustle and contribute to the family’s savings.
- Even parents who have reached FF and no longer need to work still need time to pursue hobbies and interests. These pursuits lead to a more fulfilled life, which makes for happier parents (which in turn leads to happier kids).
*I do realize that homeschooled kids have many opportunities to socialize! But attending school outside the home facilitates socializing with a lot less time and effort on parents’ part.
There are definite challenges with a public school education. But it’s possible for parents to meet these challenges head-on and help their kids do well. There are also plenty of benefits to public schooling—parents shouldn’t overlook these points when making educational decisions for their kids.
I hope this article gave you a good overview of what to expect when enrolling your child in public school. Big thanks to Phia for giving me the opportunity to share a passion of mine with her audience. If you have comments or questions, please feel free to share them below. I’ll be happy to reply!
It’s me again (Editors Note:)
A huge thank you to Chrissy for writing such a comprehensive and insightful post! If you want to see more of Chrissy’s content, be sure to check out her blog EatSleepBreatheFI!
Next week we will be talking about 4 money related words that I (try) NEVER to say to my kids. As always, thanks for reading and have a great week!
Again a big thank you Chrissy for writing such a detailed post in response to this topic! It is great to hear your insight and learn from your experiences!
You’ve given me even more to think about as Mike and I navigate this choice for our kids!!
I was more than happy to write this post—thank you for the opportunity Phia!
Listen, I’ve been a teacher for many years. I love teaching. I understand curriculum. We also understand how to utilize any curriculum to the benefit of the students. We encourage them to think for themselves, use what we teach to benefit them, but also seek opportunities outside the classroom. I have students who are learning to be chefs, looking into starting their own businesses, researching their chosen careers, meeting with those in those careers, and so forth. Parents can share what is learned with their children, discuss what they’re learning, and use resources at home to bring more to their understanding. If their children are having great difficulties in a particular school, then further discussions and perhaps moving is in order. But opportunities are always right in front of us.
Hi Ryan – I think what your comment and Chrissy’s post underscores is that parental engagement is a crucial element to the success of any educational opportunities, and can mitigate many potential pitfalls a student may face, irrespective of what delivery method is chosen. Thanks for your comment!
I agree! Once again Ryan, we’re very much in alignment. Parental involvement is key in supporting kids’ education. You’re absolutely right that opportunities are always in front of us. As long as parents don’t get stuck in the blame game, they can constructively move forward.
Would love to hear what you think about public schools in different areas whether there is a difference in your opinion and why. (I.e., “west side” ca. “East side”).
I’d be happy to comment on this as I have a range of personal experience to share. I myself grew up attending inner-city schools in east Vancouver. Additionally, my sister’s a teacher in east Vancouver. Conversely, my children go to excellent schools in the higher-income neighbourhood we currently live in.
One notable difference is there’s far less parental involvement in lower-income neighbourhoods. Parents are busy just trying to survive. In place of parents, there are often a lot of very involved grandparents, and many speak little or no English. They love their grand kids and take good care of them, but they usually can’t help with homework, drive kids to activities, or host play dates.
Where we live, there are lots of full-time, part-time, or work-from-home parents. While this population is declining and more and more families are becoming full-time dual-income, parents are generally very available for their kids in our area.
This means there’s more homework—both because parents expect it, and teachers know that there’ll be help at home for kids to complete bigger projects. (For the record, I don’t think this is a good thing—kids shouldn’t have as much homework as my kids sometimes have.) There’s also a lot more pressure to keep up with everyone, whether it’s how many activities your kids are in or whether your kids have the latest (fill in the blank). We’ve taught our kids to not buy into all this nonsense, but FOMO is still hard for us to ignore at times.
In contrast, at my sister’s school, there’s very little homework or projects that require parental involvement. The teachers know it’s asking too much and it just wouldn’t get done. There’s also a lot less of the comparison game—parents are too busy to worry about such superficial things!
As far as learning environment, I feel that the teaching quality and ratio of kids with extra needs is equal in both areas. However, in lower-income neighbourhoods, kids have added pressures like not having enough food in the house, higher incidence of family dysfunction, and fewer means to help them when they’re struggling. From what my sister tells me, it doesn’t sound like this affects overall learning quality, but resources are definitely stretched a little thinner.
Behavioural issues are actually quite equal in both areas. In fact, the behaviour of children in my higher-income neighbourhood is often worse than what my sister sees in her lower-income school! Being more affluent doesn’t mean kids are any better-behaved. There’s just as much rude, obnoxious, disruptive behaviour in our classrooms. And in high school—just as much drug use, alcohol, and under-age sex as I knew of in my east Vancouver high school.
In the end, I don’t feel my education in a lower-income neighbourhood was of detriment to me. In fact, I feel it was of benefit as I had a more down-to-earth view of the world. Sure, we had classmates with issues who could’ve been bad influences. But our parents instilled good values in us, showed in all their actions that they cared about us, and were as involved as they could be. Their care and influence overrode any challenges our schools or classmates faced, and kept us on the ‘right’ path.
My kids might have fewer classmates with serious issues, and the academic culture might be more focused on excelling, but I don’t feel this is the biggest factor in making them successful later in life. From my point of view, it all goes back to the core message from my article: parental involvement trumps everything!
Hey Tom – further to Chrissy’s response, there’s also a really great Ted talk (albeit a bit dated) by Bill Gates, where he gets into the differences between “good teachers” and “bad teachers”. While just a small slice of what can make one school environment better than another, a major takeaway from his talk is that the effectiveness of teachers at a given school has a lot more to do with the culture of accountability, feedback and desire and emphasis on improvement for the TEACHERS generated within that school (by administration and the teachers themselves), and is much less correlated with geographic location etc.
Here’s the link if you want to check it out!
There’s always a difference. Parental involvement is crucial. It only makes sense that parents are the caretakers of their children, and hence, have a huge impact on their learning.
Chrissy’s sister here. 🙂 Thank you, Phia, for inviting Chrissy to do this guest post! As Chrissy mentioned, I am a public school teacher, so the issues in this post are near and dear to my heart. When parents and teachers have respectful, collaborative relationships, it does so much good for the child. Positive, loving, continuous parent involvement really does help to tip the scales to ensure your child thrives and grows to their full potential.
I’m also a parent so I know how hard and sometimes gruelling it can be to really dig in there and give your child the support they need, especially when your child is struggling. But know that every bit of that time and attention you give to your child is making a difference. Teachers can only do so much – we can’t do it without parents. <3
Hi!! Thanks for your comment! I was super pumped that Chrissy agreed to do this post! It is fantastic to draw on her experiences from a parents perspective, particularly since she has the additional insight from her discussions with you, as well as her husband’s experience at private school!
I couldn’t agree more with your comments that parental involvement lies at the heart of our children’s ability to succeed. I find the more I research and write about kid’s education, particularly in the capacity of financial literacy, the more that common thread of parental investment shines through as a cornerstone to providing them the security, confidence and independence to thrive.
I think that over the years there has been a very unfortunate shift in parental mindset, in which too many parents place the sole responsibility of educating their kids squarely onto the shoulders of teachers. It seems to be an era rife with the expectation that others will raise and teach our children for us, arising from so many social and economic factors, but nonetheless pervasive. I overheard a parent complain the other day that the school had failed their child by not teaching them proper manners – it made me cringe. The idea that manners would be the responsibility of a teacher to introduce, rather than simply reinforcing firmly established habits/expectations around social etiquette, made me wonder how far the pendulum will swing in terms of an overall loss of parenting ownership.
I can only imagine the types of comments you and other teachers cope with!
I’m shocked and angry to hear about the parent who thinks it’s the teacher’s job to teach manners! Oh my. I, like you, wonder how far the pendulum will swing. I hope not much farther.
By taking responsibility and ownership of our children’s education, we help them to avoid victim mentality (ie things happen to me because of others, and I can’t control it) and instead build resiliency (ie I can choose to handle setbacks proactively and improve my situation).
I hope more parents can learn this—lives change when people are able to take ownership and move past their victim mentality.
Super helpful post! We have two kids with our oldest heading into kindergarten. I’m a private school kid and my wife public. We talk a lot about the best approach for our children. We live in an average school district that seems to be up and coming. Right now we are going the public route and have been really happy with the pre school experience. However, at some point we may make the jump to private.
In whatever circumstances, teaching is always a challenge. As a teacher, I’ve always utilized my resources to best instruct the kids while also challenging them to think for themselves. Newer teachers seem to have more difficulties with changing curriculums and standards, but if you know what is important, what the kids and teens need to better themselves, all things can work out for their benefits. Case in point: We’re reading about some past worldly conflict so we can relate this to present conflicts, write about it (i.e. essays), discuss how we can better get along with our neighbors, and more.
Thanks for commenting Financial Pilgrimage! I think it’s every parents’ perogative to choose the best schooling option for their children. Public school isn’t right for everyone, and there’s nothing wrong with making the switch!
There are benefits to every type of education, and we just need to weigh the pros and cons based on our own family’s needs.
I’m sure you’ll make the best choice for your own kids!
Yeah. This is why we live in a democratic republic. Most people don’t know school didn’t exist early in our formative years. It’s not in the Constitution. School is something, we as a country, decided was necessary. And it can be very useful for preparation. Parents decide what is best for their children.
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