Avoiding the ‘Silver Spoon’ Effect at a Private School for Boys

Instrutor walking with boysMany parents who visit our independent private school for boys have a common concern: that their son will be too coddled at a private school. He’ll be treated too preciously; he’ll be sheltered from the realities of the outside world; he’ll emerge from school lacking in real-world experiences.

Movies and TV shows often portray a sheltered, “silver spoon” image of private school life, but this is inaccurate. At a strong private school, your son will be prepared to face the outside world as well as, or better than, at any public school.

‘How Do You Help Boys Fail?’

If most parents don’t ask this exact question on our campus tours, they’re wondering it – even if they don’t know it. From challenge—and failure—comes learning, and parents are worried that at private school, their sons won’t encounter enough challenges to learn.

In fact, the opposite is true.

Here at Fessenden (and at many other private schools) there is a breadth of opportunities available to students. These translate into a wide range of areas in which boys can be challenged, succeed, have setbacks, and learn. Whether it’s trying out for the varsity hockey team, or signing up for a Mandarin class, boys here have a host of potentially challenging opportunities.  And guess what—not all boys make the varsity team, and not all boys excel at Mandarin. But that’s where the real opportunity for growth comes. Some of the most enthusiastic and talented boys on our wrestling team wouldn’t have even considered trying it if they hadn’t been cut from another team’s roster.

‘Respectful Playfulness’

The relationships that form between faculty and students at a private school for boys are unique. They have nothing to do with being coddled and everything to do with the teachers’ commitment to their students.

Faculty-student soccer gameWe’ve coined the term “respectful playfulness” to describe the interaction between the students and teachers. At Fessenden teachers often have lunch and casual conversations with students, which helps them get to know each other as human beings. To our students, no math teacher is “just a math teacher.” And, to our teachers, no boy is just here to learn the how to calculate the square root of thirty-six.

This relationship makes the boys feel comfortable, confident, and engaged. Secure in their relationships with their teachers, boys will take on challenges they would have otherwise avoided.

The Fine Line Between Coddling and Nurturing

Our headmaster, David Stettler, says this about how our teachers challenge and nurture their students: “They raise the bar with one hand and, lift you up with the other.”

This sentiment illustrates the difference between the coddling you might expect at a private school for boys and the balanced support they will actually receive. Teachers encourage boys to reach a little higher and try a little harder, knowing that they might not always succeed, but certain they will be a better person for having tried.

At private schools like Fessenden, hard work is a core value. None of our boys are coddled but all of them are supported.

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3 Responses to “Avoiding the ‘Silver Spoon’ Effect at a Private School for Boys”

  1. Kyler Brown

    My wife has been wanting to put our daughter in a private school, but I’ve been a little hesitant. I actually really liked this article, especially your focus on not coddling the kids. I agree that kids need to have some challenges at school in order to help them grow and be prepared for the world. I’d let her go to a private school with the same attitude toward education as this one has!

  2. Margaret Kelly

    I’m glad to know the attitude here resonated with you. Private school can be a great place where children can be nurtured, valued, trusted, and held both accountable and to high standards without being sheltered, shielded or “coddled.” If a child feels safe in a classroom, that is when exciting learning and growth can take place. A private school can provide the type of environment in which a child feels most able to take risks and stretch beyond comfort zones … this, of course, is great preparation for life and not a disadvantage for the “real world”.

  3. John Carston

    I’ve been thinking about sending our kids to private school and it seems a school like this one would be a good choice. I like the respectful playfulness between teachers and students that you encourage. I think the headmaster’s philosophy for teaching is very enlightened, how they “raise the bar with one hand and lift you up with the other.”


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