We all know that charter schools tend to have younger, less experienced teachers than their traditional counterparts. And there are pros and cons to that.
But this morning, I read an article in the New York Times that left a pit in my stomach. In the piece, “At Charter Schools, Short Careers by Choice,” reporter Motoko Rich concludes that charter schools foster an environment whereby it’s acceptable, and even welcomed, for teachers to stay in the classroom for a very short time before moving up to become an administrator or pursuing a more lucrative, prestigious profession.
Ms. Rich calls charter schools “youth cults.” That’s a provocative statement.
I’ve worked in charter schools for 14 out of my 17 years of teaching, so I understand their demands. In my 20s, I routinely worked 70 to 80 hours a week. At my school in San Francisco, we were young, and sometimes, we were tired. But rather than encouraging teachers to leave after a couple years, our school talked about sustainability. It’s a good thing, we believed, for students to have teachers with full lives, including families and outside interests. It’s a good thing for students to have teachers from diverse backgrounds. As a result, our school made changes, including adopting a salary schedule to encourage teachers to stick around for more than five years.
Now I’m learning that my experience was a rare one. In the past few years, big and powerful charter school networks have grown stronger. As a result, they no longer have to hide the truth. Check out what Jennifer Hines, a senior administrator of a Houston-based charter network, said:
There is a certain comfort level that we have with people who are perhaps going to come into YES Prep and not stay forever.
On the one hand, it’s comforting that there is truth-telling. On the other, as someone who taught for a long time and who still believes in the importance of the classroom teacher, I think it’s hugely bothersome. Also annoying: her language, which comes across across to me as too careful (e.g., “certain comfort level,” “who are perhaps,” “stay forever”). That’s a calculating sentence.
In the article, Ms. Rich goes on to profile a 24-year-old teacher, Tyler Dowdy, who is in his third year and is already looking for the next new thing. My first reaction was, That doesn’t seem to be a problem. My first school (not a charter school) made me a leader in my second month. But then came this quotation at the end:
I feel like our generation is always moving onto the next thing and always moving onto something bigger and better.
All I have to say is, Ugh, ugh, ugh. Like, a major ugh. There is so much wrong with that quotation. (Ms. Rich is likely very pleased to have gotten it.) There is so much pretension, so much privilege, and so much condescension in that statement.
Nonetheless, I can’t entirely blame Mr. Dowdy. He’s just a young teacher who is hard-working and smart and maybe unaware of the complexity of public schooling. That’s because he’s worked at a school with an expectation that matches his own.
(Yes, I just sounded old and curmudgeonly and jaded there! Sorry about that.)
Rather, maybe the problem is not with young people who want to teach for a few years and then become principals or doctors. As Ms. Rich suggests, perhaps the problem is with charter school networks and organizations like Teach for America, which “churn out” teachers, according to charter school detractor Diane Ravitch.
But even if that’s true, I’m not sure what the answer is. There’s too much of an either-or dialogue going on: either we stick entirely with the public school system, along with all of its faults, or we move toward more charter schools, along with their faults. I do wonder why we can’t figure out something somewhere in the middle that meets the needs of more young people.
What do you think?