This summer my family unexpectedly moved from Tucson to Phoenix, and as a result, I found
myself having to say goodbye to my work family and community. Four months later, I find myself
still grieving this loss and looking for community within my current workplace.
As of this moment, the loss of community among teachers and between teachers and students
is what I would say is the biggest difference between public and private schools. Take my
personal experience as an example. I made the switch from a private high school teacher of 90
students to a public high school teacher of 160. That’s a ratio change from 18:1 to 32:1. At the
private school, I was one of three teachers within my department who saw each other every day.
Now, I am one of eleven, some of whom I’ve never met and most I couldn’t comfortably put a
face to a name.
But let me back up. As a private school teacher I had a lot of preconceptions about public
school. Perhaps the biggest misconception was that teachers and students do not care about
each other or about education. I was wrong. Public school teachers care just as much for their
students as private school teachers do. The difference is they don’t have as many opportunities
for meaningful relationships with them, and perhaps the number one culprit for this is the high
ratios they are forced to endure.
Of course, there are other factors that contribute to a lack of community at a public school.
Besides a high student to teacher ratio, public schools suffer from ballooned bureaucracy,
federal and state requirements, and a disconnect between what goes on in the classroom and
what district professionals are forced to require their teachers to do in order to maintain federal
The bottom line is this. Mandatory education is meant to maintain stability and improve
American citizenship in one way or another. Under government control, this goal falls short. Due
to a traditional education system passed down for hundreds of years, there is already a lack of
desire to learn among young people of a certain age range. Coupled with this is a lack of
teachers who are capable of delivering quality education. Those that could have been run out of
our institutions due to pay and frustration over the factors aforementioned. Those that remain in
the vast halls of traditionalism are stunted creatively, their joy displaced.
There are solutions. As of this moment, I can come up with three. They are revolutionary and
will certainly raise eyebrows, perhaps even elicit anger from our traditional citizenry.
● Option One: Discontinue compulsory education past middle school, a fascinating idea
that was recently shared with me by a former private school headmaster.
● Option Two. Dismantle large public schools and require a maximum enrollment for each
to be limited to that of private school numbers.
● Option Three: A combination of one and two.
American education is in need of a major overhaul. Based on what I have experienced, the
majority of those working or learning in our public institutions are not thriving; we yearn for
community and positive, authentic relationships. This is possible, but it would require
dismantling hundreds of years of tradition.
Are you ready?
Mrs. Cassi Thomas
B.S. Secondary Education and Social Studies
M.A. History and Education