The point of this digression is that when I jump to a prep school, I'm going to have to do a LOT more work. But what kind of work? And how much? I had no idea. To answer this question, I did a number of informational interviews, and in this process I ran into two kinds of teachers. The first of these was "Mary." She's a biology teacher at a prep school in California. She said that she works hard, but it's a job like many others, just with a weird schedule. She attends school plays, athletic events, and meets after school with the student paper editors.
Then I talked to "Steve" the head of a prep school in the midwest. He painted a radically different picture of teaching. A "real" teacher works 70-hour weeks (including weekly tutoring all day on Saturday), has the skill of a surgeon, the patience of a saint, and the dedication of a martyr. His unspoken assumption was that because I took the time to get a PhD, I am fundamentally unfit for teaching. (I suppose that if I really cared, I wouldn't have bothered. (Bear in mind that Steve's description fits many boarding schools, but he wasn't at one.)
Obviously these visions of prep school teaching don't have much in common, and the disconnect gave (gives) me the heebie jeebies. I think of myself as hard-working and dedicated to my students, but I have no interest in working 70-hours per week for $55k per year, even if I do have summers off. So I dropped a note to a friend who recently began teaching at a prep school and asked him if Steve was right. Here's what he had to say:
Well, it's about half BS and about half true.
1. As far as I can tell, there is a cohort among teachers who believe that we are saints from on high who must dedicate ourselves totally to our spouse: teaching. We must never, ever say anything critical, do anything grumpy, or fail to work ourselves into little nubbins. We should be proud to be paid so little, because it proves we're doing it for love.
So, obviously, this is a load of poo. This is self-righteous justifying by people who enjoy looking down their noses. The best example is that YouTube video about "What Teachers Make" where the dude rants along (enjoyably) and eventually gets to "I make a difference." Yes, but that doesn't make you any better than anybody else.
2. The true part. Students want to know that you care about them. And they exist in a psychological environment in which they are convinced that the entire world centers on them. So they can be easily hurt, or offended, and you must be careful. Also, they are deeply touched when you exhibit some interest in their successes. It's helpful in the classroom when they know you care about them outside of the classroom.
You cannot just teach your classes and go home. Maybe after 10 years. Being a part of the school community is part of the job. But it's - honestly - not that big a deal. I advise a student club, and two or three times per semester I go to something. A football game, a play, a debate tournament, whatever. I try to go once to games for a team on which my students play. But it's fun, too. They give out ice cream and I see my colleagues and relax a bit. This is my community so I socialize with them.
And yes, people want you to demonstrate your interest in the school by "supporting" things. You might go to a game but you will also be expected to wear red and give a dollar and clap enthusiastically and all that stuff. High school students are very earnest. Fine. It's easy.
If all that sounds terrible, you should factor that into your decision. You said that the dream job was working at a liberal arts college, though. And such schools expect *exactly* the same kinds of appearances. At [small college] I went to debate tournaments, lectures, plays, performances, and art shows. It was about the same level of commitment.