This article demonstrates some of the comparisons between working for a charter or county public school. It explains why teachers might leave charter schools through my own personal experience.
I began my career in education as a substitute teacher while completing my degree. My concentration was strictly middle school, as I preferred that age of children at the time. In fact, I became popular enough at one particular school, that I was always on call and never needed to seek out a job anywhere else.
Upon graduation, I had an offer at that middle school teaching the eighth-grade which I happily accepted. A great learning experience, by the time I had completed four years of teaching at that level, I had developed a certain degree of confidence. Then my world came crashing down.
With the economy in recession, schools were required to cut back on their staffs, so I was surplused, meaning guaranteed a position within the county, but unsure of where that might be. By the end of that summer, I was picked up at a high school, teaching the ninth-grade. Not a major change in age or maturity, but quite the difference in environments.
I was used to working in a “team” environment. This meant that all core subject teachers had the same students. This was extremely advantageous, as we would gather daily for lunch to discuss ideas and student concerns. In addition, we developed a wonderful comradery, one in which I miss to this day.
On the contrary, in high school I felt as if an island, pretty much on my own to sink or swim. While teachers were helpful and offered assistance where possible, with everyone having different schedules, it was very difficult to establish relationships similar to what I had.
Following three years of failed attempts to transfer back to middle school, an opportunity arose at a brand new K-8 Charter School. Taking a leave of absence in order to test the waters without losing my tenure, I took the position. The regrets of that decision began very early on.
I accepted a $4,000 reduction in salary, but this was of little consequence: I placed far more importance upon the working environment than the dollar value.
I did however leave a $150,000 life insurance policy with the county, whereas the charter had none. God forbid something were to happen to me, my wife would have been left high and dry.
With the county, I had 30 sick days banked. Great to have in the event of a major illness, they would also be paid out upon retirement. I was given six days at the charter, however with a major caveat: I was accustomed to going online when feeling ill and completing a substitute request, no phone calls, no explanations. In the charter system, it was necessary to personally call the principal in order to explain your situation and request the day off. In addition, the substitute pool was generally volunteer parents of students in the school.
The medical insurance was pretty much the same, so there was no loss in that area.
My schedule included three all boy sixth-grade classes, one all girl eighth-grade class, and one all girl eighth-grade intensive reading class. I didn’t mind the three preps. The one thing I did find challenging however was the reading class in which I had no endorsement, training, or experience. In addition, I didn’t even have a teacher’s edition of the textbook we were using. This made me feel very uncomfortable and ineffective.
One thing I learned very quickly: If you needed supplies, they were going to come from parents. For Open House, it was necessary to create a “wish list” of required items. If you wanted a printer in the room, you had to request it from a parent. If you wanted a class set of novels, put your hand out. Priding myself in being very self-sufficient, this scenario went against my very nature.
Finally, I can’t honestly complete the comparison without this issue. With the county schools of which I have been affiliated, you are treated and respected as an educator. You feel there is a value to the experience that you bring to the classroom.
On the contrary, in the charter environment, you are an employee. Just like any other corporation, you are expected to perform whenever and whatever task is asked of you. You have no bargaining rights and there is no union or “due process.” And, administration pulls no punches in reminding you of this certainty. As a matter of fact, when I decided to leave that particular school, it took four teachers in my position to complete the school year.
Following a few weeks, I decided to rescind my leave of absence and return to the county. Fortunately, a position was still available at the high school from which I had come. I was elated to have the opportunity to continue my tenure without losing any of my established benefits.
Am I glad to have gone through this experience? Absolutely. With their increasing popularity, If I hadn’t, I would have always wondered what the charter schools were like.
Simply put, “The grass isn’t always greener on the other side.”
In all fairness, this commentary in no way represents all charter schools. I am sure there are many very well-run organizations. I can only speak for the personal experience that I had.
Have you had a similar or contrary experience?