Most teachers have heard the horror stories about boarding schools, but there are actually 5 different types of schools on Indian reservations.
If you’re looking to teach on an Indian reservation, you need to know about the various kinds of schools you’ll run into when applying.
In this blog post, we’re going to dive a bit deeper into charter schools, private faith-based schools, schools funded by the Bureau of Indian Education, schools funded by the State Department of Education, and boarding schools.
Each type of school is run differently, so it’s good for you to know about these things before you apply.
I recommend bookmarking this page to help you as you search for teaching jobs on reservations.
If you’re brand new to the idea of teaching on a reservation, check out my ultimate guide here.
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We keep an ever-growing database of ALL (and I mean seriously THOUSANDS) of schools on reservations across the United States.
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Charter schools on reservations are publicly funded but operate independently from the local school district.
They’re usually established by community groups or non-profit organizations to provide alternative educational options for students.
Many charter schools on reservations focus on incorporating Native American culture and language into the curriculum, or they become magnet schools for particular skills (i.e. football, S.T.E.M., robotics, fine arts, etc).
Charter schools are free to attend, but they can have limited resources due to their independent status.
I’ve found that the salaries at charter schools tend to be lower, but that there’s more of a closer-knit community feel – so definitely do your research by individual school!
Pros of Working at Charter Schools on Reservations
One of the biggest pros of working at a charter school on a reservation is the sense of community.
Charter schools on reservations are often established by community groups or non-profit organizations, which means that they have a strong sense of community and are closely connected to the local culture and traditions.
On reservations, this often means that the charter school was planned and is run by various organizations who are established in the local community.
Another pro of working at a charter school on a reservation is the flexibility with how and what you teach.
This often means that you can tailor your approach to meet the unique needs of your students.
Many charter schools on reservations focus on incorporating Native American culture and language into the curriculum – and/or, they can have a certain focus, depending on the organization or founders.
Cons of Working at Charter Schools on Reservations
Charter schools on reservations often have limited funding and resources, which can make it challenging to provide a quality education to students.
This means you might need to be creative and resourceful when it comes to teaching supplies, learning materials, books, and/or even curriculum, if the school doesn’t have one.
Another potential drawback of working at a charter school on a reservation is the limited career advancement opportunities.
Since charter schools tend to have fewer resources when it comes to salaries, they’re quick to consolidate positions and delay promoting people. This is fine if you just want to teach somewhere for a few years – but if you’re looking to get promoted as an admin, or move to a different position, you might find it frustrating.
Teaching at a charter school on a reservation can be emotionally challenging, though this can be said for any type of school on the rez.
Many students on reservations face significant challenges, such as poverty, trauma, and lack of resources – but this is reservation-wide, so you’ll want to consider it in general before moving to one.
And sadly, suicide is the leading cause of death among young indigenous people.
In this YouTube video, Native American students share their take on what education on reservations is like.
You’ll also hear a bit about what it’s like to be an indigenous student on a school off of the reservation.
Private Faith-Based Schools
Private faith-based schools on reservations are usually run by churches or religious organizations.
They offer a curriculum that includes the ideals of the indicated faith, as well as standard academic subjects.
Many of these schools have a strong sense of community and emphasize traditional values and customs.
Pros of Working at Private Schools on Reservations
One of the biggest advantages of working at a private, faith-based school on a reservation is the sense of community around a shared identity.
Faith-based schools often have a strong sense of shared purpose, which can create a warm and welcoming environment for both students and teachers.
This can be especially important on a reservation, where community support and engagement is especially crucial to student success.
Another advantage of working at a private, faith-based school on a reservation is the opportunity for you to embed your own faith into your teaching.
While one could argue that you can do this anywhere, it’s openly welcomed and encouraged at faith-based schools.
Cons of Working at Private Schools on Reservations
Working at a private, faith-based school, especially one on a reservation, can be challenging.
One of the cons of working at a private, faith-based school on a reservation is the potential for cultural clash.
Many private, faith-based schools have a strong emphasis on the religion’s values and morals, which can sometimes conflict with the cultural traditions and practices of the local community.
This can create tension between the school and the community, making it difficult for teachers to build strong relationships with students and their families.
I’ve personally seen this happen in families.
There can be a rift if a certain family member becomes Christian and leaves the traditional tribal customs behind.
Another potential drawback of working at a private, faith-based school on a reservation is the limited curriculum.
Private schools often have a specific curriculum or teaching approach that they use, which may not allow for much flexibility or customization.
This can be frustrating for teachers who want to incorporate the local culture and language into their teaching, or who want to provide a more diverse and well-rounded education to their students.
Working at a private, faith-based school on a reservation can also be isolating. Private schools often have a small staff and a limited network of professional connections, which can make it challenging to build a support system or participate in professional development opportunities.
It’s a great commnity to be a part of if the school culture is inclusive. But when you’re new, it can sometimes feel “hard to break in.”
And of course, working in a faith-based environment can be emotionally challenging for some teachers.
Private schools often have a strong emphasis on character development from the perspective of a certain religion, which often leads to a higher level of scrutiny and accountability for teachers.
This can be uncomfortable or even downright stressful for teachers who feel like they are constantly being watched or evaluated, and who may not always agree with the values or practices of the school.
On top of that, if a teacher doesn’t agree with the faith of the school, there can be even more inner conflict and social friction.
Schools Funded by the Bureau of Indian Education
The Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) operates schools on reservations that are funded by the federal government – more specifically, by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).
These schools are often underfunded and understaffed, which can lead to challenges in providing a quality education to students.
In recent years, the BIE has recently been working to improve the quality of education in these schools by offering professional development opportunities for teachers and implementing new curricula that incorporate Native American culture and language.
The BIE is a federal agency that is responsible for providing educational services to Native American students in the United States. The agency was created to ensure that Native American students receive a quality education that is tailored to their unique cultural needs.
BIE funded schools are unique because they are designed to provide a culturally responsive education that incorporates the values and traditions of Native American communities.
If a school is BIE-funded, then it is most likely
This approach to education recognizes that Native American students have different learning styles and cultural backgrounds, and that these differences must be taken into account in order to provide an effective education.
BIE funded schools are also different from other types of schools on reservations because they are funded directly by the federal government. This means that they have access to resources and support that other schools on reservations may not have.
Overall, BIE funded schools play an important role in providing Native American students with a quality education that is tailored to their unique cultural needs. These schools are a valuable resource for Native American communities, and they help to ensure that future generations of Native Americans have access to the education they need to succeed in life.
Pros of Working at BIE-funded Schools
Typically, I find the overall benefits package to be better at schools that are state-ran – but the salaries tend to be higher at BIE-funded schools.
I know someone making almost $90,000 working on a reservation near Flagstaff, Arizona!
Not bad money, if you ask me – especially when you consider that she only pays like $400 a month for housing.
With BIE-run schools, the agencies that run the day-to-day operations tend to be tribal, and local – so there isn’t some off-site presence making decisions. It’s very much for the community, by the community.
Cons of Working at BIE-funded Schools
Ironically, with BIE-funded schools, the advantages also end up being drawbacks, in a way.
I’ve heard teachers describe some of the high salaries at these schools as “golden handcuffs.”
Once you’ve been there for a few years, you might feel tempted to move somewhere else so you can buy a house, change careers, take a sabbatical, etc.
But it gets hard to do that when you see how much you’re making and how little you’re spending by living and teaching on a reservation.
Another con is, BIE-funded schools are typically in what the locals will call “deep rez.”
That means these schools can be REALLY remote, and far away from services.
It also means more students, teachers, and community members are likely to speak the indigenous language, which is beautiful.
But this can also feel isolating or even uncomfortable if you’re the only one in the room who doesn’t speak the language.
I say, don’t let this stop you!
I’ve spent many quick breaks in the lunch room hearing the elderly ladies talk in Apache, and I always cherished the fact that they kept their language.
It’s an act of rebellion, honestly – as Native Americans weren’t legally allowed to speak their own languages publically (yes, really!!) in the United States until 1990.
Now, let’s talk about state funded schools on reservations.
This is where my experience lies.
Schools Funded by the State Department of Education
Some reservations have schools that are funded by the State Department of Education, just like public schools that are located off of reservations.
These schools may have access to more resources and funding than BIE-funded schools, but they may still face challenges due to their remote location and the unique needs of the student population.
One similarity between state-funded schools on reservations and other public schools is their focus on meeting state and federal standards.
However, one difference is that state-funded schools on reservations may have a greater emphasis on incorporating Native American culture and language into the curriculum.
Pros of Working at Public, State-Funded Schools on Reservations
The biggest pro of working at a state-funded school on a reservation, is that it’s likely to feel a lot like any other school you’ve taught at.
It’s interesting, because you’ll see similarities with both rural farm teaching and inner city teaching by being at a state-funded school on a reservation.
But many things about leadership structure, school culture, amenities, and resources will mirror whatever you have expeirence with.
Cons of Working at Public, State-Funded Schools on Reservations
Can I be really, really real here?
A couple years into my journey as a non-native teacher on a reservation, I started getting uncomfortable with how much we push the middle-class, white picket fence agenda onto students.
It’s not malicious, and I don’t think it ever was.
But it always made be wince when we focused so much on college, career readiness, and “getting a good job,” when their culture has a higher priority for other things.
By the way, I’m not saying those things are bad.
I love for all students to know about the options they have available to them.
However, it’s easy to get tunnel vision about your own values and experiences.
What if a student wants to:
- Go to a trade school instead of college?
- Take a gap year, or a few gap years – to start a family and/or travel the world?
- Start their own business?
- Work full-time for a while to gain experience?
- Apprentice under a journeyman to learn skills like logging, carpentry, fishery management, etc?
- Volunteer with a conservation organization and explore their ancestral homelands?
College and career readiness is great, but it’s not the be-all end-all to having a well-rounded life.
Though, I don’t know if this is just a problem on reservations, or with public schools in general.
I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Boarding schools on reservations have a long and complicated history.
Many of these schools were established in the late 1800s and early 1900s as part of a government policy to assimilate Native American children into mainstream American culture.
Today, many boarding schools on reservations are run by Native American tribes and offer a unique educational experience that focuses on traditional cultural practices and language.
One similarity between boarding schools on reservations and other boarding schools is their emphasis on character development and life skills.
However, one difference is that boarding schools on reservations may have a greater focus on preserving Native American culture and language.
If you’d like to learn more about Indian boarding schools, click here to read a blog post that goes more in-depth about this topic.
Pros of Working at Boarding Schools
One of the biggest benefits of working at an Indian boarding school on a reservation is free housing.
Most other types of schools on reservations offer some kind of subsidized housing – but what can get better than free?!
Another benefit of working at an Indian boarding school on a reservation is the deep connections you can form with your students.
Boarding schools often have a more immersive and personal approach to education, which can allow you to get to know your students on a deeper level.
This can create strong bonds that can last a lifetime, and can make your work as a teacher feel even more meaningful and impactful.
Cons of Working at Boarding Schools
Many sentiments that come from the early days of Indian boarding schools are alive and well on the rez.
As a non-native teacher, you might be met with some pushback for just being a teacher there, anyway – but this could be amplified should you choose to work at a boarding school.
Living where you work can also make it hard to have a work-life balance.
With other types of schools on reservations, you may live close to colleagues, but you still have separation from students.
This gets harder when living and teaching at a boarding school.
There’s no real “right” or “wrong” answer when it comes to choosing where you’ll teach on a reservation.
Each type of school is so different, and – as you can see – they each have their own variety of advantages and drawbacks.
If you’re considering teaching on a reservation, it’s important to understand the similarities and differences between these schools so that you can find the best fit
Ready to Learn More?
If you know you want to teach on a reservation, you probably have a ton of questions.
Use these blog posts to spend less time on research!