Charter Schools—a Teacher's View

A few days ago I was talking to a friend, who has been a teacher for more than thirty years, in both public and charter school systems. Because she was only licensed to teach art, and because art (unfortunately) is a very low priority in most school systems, she was displaced due to the lack of funds. The next job she found was in a charter school. I remember how she had complained about the public school system, but her complaints about the charter schools went far beyond her complaints about the public school system. She said, "They expect me to get to work at 7:35 am, and be on school grounds even before students appeared at the door. Then they want me to teach four 75-minute classes daily, and be present in the lunch room with the students every day. This means I have to be on my feet for more than seven hours at a time."

Prone to be a devil's advocate, I said, "But many jobs demand that. If you were a saleswoman you would stand on your feet for eight hours."

"If I were a saleswoman, I wouldn't deal with hormone-pumped teenagers all day. I wouldn't make lesson plans on weekends, and I wouldn't take students' work home to check it. And my duties of grades and other online and offline paperwork wouldn't be such a headache either."

I empathized with her, "You are appreciated as a teacher, I am sure you know that."

"The societies that appreciate teachers don't starve them."

Her rejection of my empathy brought my criticism out again, "But we hear so many complaints against public schools and their unions. Maybe charter schools are the solution."

"Unions may have protected inefficient public school teachers, but it shouldn't be an excuse for displacing teachers so that they can be exploited somewhere else …my youngest daughter doesn't know better at the moment so she was showing interest in becoming a teacher like her favorite Math teacher, and I came out loud in discouraging her."

"But the real question is whether charter schools do better than public schools? Everybody is interested in that."

"No, they are not doing better in terms of student performance. They're just becoming a haven for corporations. Each corporation runs a few schools at a time, and treat teachers the way children were treated in the past when child labor was acceptable."

I challenged her generalization.: "But do all charter schools treat teachers this way?"

"No, some treat teachers like humans, but they are few and far between, and unfortunately I've fallen through the cracks in the system."

"So what is the solution? How can we improve the performance of our students? On one side we have public schools with strong unions and on the other side we have corporations running charter schools, which you say are exploiting teachers. What's the solution?"

"There should be more accountability in the public schools, less paperwork and more professional development for teachers, and there should be less obsession with testing and more demand for well-planned lessons."

"But why don't you speak out and make these suggestions to the school system?"

"The decisions in the school systems are made by politicians who have no idea about the reality on the ground. They are not even interested in administrators' opinions, let alone teachers' opinion. We are on the lowest rung of the ladder."

I embraced her, "No matter if anybody appreciates you or not, I do."

She laughed and thanked me.

As a fiction writer, I cannot help but dramatize whatever I report. My hope is that these words will ring true . . . but in today's America, the truth has become relative.What is YOUR truth?

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