Sunday, August 25, 2019

Charter School Hires Hopelessly Out of Touch Staff

I'm fascinated by this story in Chalkbeat. A former teacher, former school leader, and current leader of some after school program tells about his experience leading a charter that he taught in for up to six years. Evidently he was the only teacher of color there. Aside from all the standard charter school issues, all the other teachers were white, and none whatsoever were familiar with the community in which they worked.

You have to wonder exactly why a charter school had trouble attracting teachers of color, since this particular school only managed to find one. Actually charters have trouble attracting teachers period. Every single student teacher and observer I've ever met tells me charters are a last resort. They make more demands and pay less. In fact, the workload can preclude things like, oh, starting a family or having a life. I'd argue that doing these things can be helpful and important in a role model.

What on earth made any school leader hire virtually an entire staff that was utterly unfamiliar with the community it was ostensibly serving? It had to be either desperation or incompetence, neither of which inspires confidence in me, at least.

I've taught in many different schools, both in the Bronx and Queens. I've always walked the neighborhoods in my free time, if for no other reason, out of idle curiosity. I've always spoken with colleagues about the neighborhoods in which I've worked. On days when we had more free time than usual, we'd go out to walk or eat. I'm very surprised that teachers at whatever school this was lacked such basic curiosity.

Evidently they feared the community:

During the tour, many of these teachers realized that people in Camden, a city considered to be one of the most dangerous in the United States, are like those in rural and suburban areas. They saw people working. They saw people who loved themselves and loved their community. They saw life in a place they thought was dead.

Wow. How incredibly ignorant this staff appears. Afterward, though, they saw things they hadn't realized. I'd think they'd have gotten that sense from being with the students who lived in the community, but evidently they hadn't. One thing missing from the story is when exactly they found time to take this field trip. Though I think it might be a great thing for our school to do something like that, I can't imagine when we'd find the time. We're pretty busy just doing our jobs.

Of course, a whole lot of charters work more weeks than DOE schools do. Some charter teachers have tasks that go well beyond what we do. I'm sure you've read about teachers bringing home cell phones to answer homework questions. Evidently these teachers don't fritter away their time helping their own children with homework, since their workday is quite a bit longer than ours. Teachers ought to be able to conduct lives of their own after they leave school. (In fact, I hope our students have the same opportunity when they come of age. That's just another reason I oppose charters and privatization.)

I have a colleague who started in a charter school in Pennsylvania. She had to spend days visiting student homes. That might be a good idea if there is time for it, but this was in addition to all her other duties. She also made quite a bit less money than she does working for DOE. She was delighted to get out of charter schools, and she's never going back. She now has a baby, and also has time to care for her baby.

As for the writer of this piece, he spent six years as a teacher, maybe or maybe not all at this charter, became school leader, and then got out of the charter business altogether. Is that school staff all white now? Do its current teachers retain the awareness they may have gleaned on this field trip? Are any of them even still working at the school?

Who knows? While the author taught only six years, that's a long career at a charter school. I have a friend who's a charter teacher, a very intelligent friend who was screwed over by the DOE for no good reason. She tells me that there's rampant turnover in charters, and that it's par for the course. You just get a job somewhere else.

The turnover is good in that it's always easy to find another job somewhere. It's bad in that it renders teaching more of a gig than a career. It makes institutional memory a virtual impossibility. The lack of union leaves teachers few or no rights, and that's precisely why our enemies support charters. This is not the kind of career I want my child or my students to have.

It's great that teachers get to know their communities. It's awful that a school would hire people so ignorant or afraid of them. But it's pretty easy to imagine where there are more teachers who are more aware and less afraid.

That would be in the real public schools, working with you and me in UFT.
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