Teachers Coming From Public v. Private Schools to Nobles

Emilie Andrews, Staff Writer

October 20, 2023

Nobles prides itself on introducing students to a diverse body of faculty. While many new teachers come from other independent schools in New England, a multitude of faculty have spent time working in public school systems. Regardless of where they transition from, new teachers are welcomed to Nobles with a bustling first few weeks of school, as they become acquainted with students and fellow faculty. Nobles aims to make a smooth transition for all new teachers; however, it is worth noting that the experiences of those transitioning from private or public schools may vary.

Across the board, teachers from both independent and public schools highlight assembly as a key aspect of the Nobles experience. Compared to other independent schools, participating in an all-school assembly three to four times per week represents a departure from the experiences of many new faculty members. Within the assembly setting, new faculty often highlight the supportive environment. Having recently transitioned from Beaver Country Day School, English Faculty David Liebowitz said, “At Nobles, there seems to be a collective purpose and a sense of community. Whether that’s in bearing witness to assembly, or just the collective mission that seems to be central to both the faculty and student experience of Nobles.” 

As Lewbowitz discussed, the collective mission of Nobles is further fulfilled through engaged, and individualized learning during class times. The school strives to keep small class sizes – often no more than 12 or 15 students. Faculty who have transitioned from both independent schools and public schools emphasize the importance of maintaining small class sizes. English Faculty Mike Curran, having recently transitioned from the Waynflete School (in Portland, ME) and previously taught at St. Sebastian’s and the Belmont Hill School, said, “It’s easy to get to know each of your students individually and get to know the classes [as] a collective…The more you teach, the more you learn that each class has its own character or personality.” Like Curran, Liebowitz said, “In discussions with smaller classes, there’s no opportunity for students to sit back and allow the conversation to take place without entering into it. There’s an intimacy in smaller classes that’s actually a really beautiful thing.”

(Graphic Credit: Alycia Scott-Hiser)

Though many independent schools have the luxury of small classes, public schools such as Boston Public Schools (BPS) must cater to much larger classes of around 18 to 30 students. As a requirement of the BPS institution, teachers must provide a universal learning environment for all of their students, regardless of their initial knowledge level. This requirement can prove difficult for BPS teachers: it can be nearly impossible to provide a comparable level of individual attention in larger class settings as it is with smaller ones. History Faculty Melissa Lyons (N’97) said, “Since I don’t have 30 students in every class, I can give very individual feedback in ways that I can follow up on.”

Like Lyons, History Faculty Reginald Toussaint, who worked in Boston Public Schools for many years, said, “The small class sizes allow for a focused learning environment.”

Along with smaller classes, Nobles provides faculty with a multifaceted teaching experience. Most faculty use the Nobles “4/2” model, which allows teachers to teach four classes and help with two extracurricular spaces. Teachers transitioning from independent schools have found this to be both a similar and distinctive experience from their prior work. Curran, whose teaching experience has typically involved both in-classroom and out-of-classroom activities, said, “As an educator, [outside of the classroom involvement] really important because you get to know a broader range of students while witnessing students’ passions and interests outside of the classroom.”

Unlike Curran, History Faculty Melissa Lyons (N’97) transitioned to Nobles from BPS approximately six years ago. Though she hasn’t participated in Nobles’ afternoon programs since her time as a student, she strives to be a part of her students’ lives outside of the classroom. Lyons said, “I don’t coach; however, one of my goals as an advisor and a teacher is to try and see every afternoon program at least once a season.” In contrast, due to the regulations and contracts governing faculty in Boston Public Schools, teachers rarely participate in sports or non-academic activities. English Faculty Jordan Evans said, “At BPS, I didn’t know any teacher-coaches. It was very hard to be both.”

The “Nobles experience,” according to faculty with experiences in both independent and public schools put value in our community spaces. Whether in assemblies, small classes, or afternoon programs, faculty have the opportunity to make meaningful connections with their students. Though the list of noteworthy differences between the experiences of faculty transitioning from public and private schools is extensive, not all aspects provided are fairly comparable. History Faculty Reginald Toussaint, who worked in Boston Public Schools for many years, said, “It’s not comparing apples to apples. I think they’re very different institutions. While they are both schools, their goals are very different.”

The public school teaching experience is considerably different from that of an independent school like Nobles. Contracts, student bodies, and general missions vary based on the institution. Regardless, students at any school will always be largely similar. Students are driven, and faculty recognize the same sense of purpose at both independent and public schools.

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