Charter School Teachers Vs. Public School Teachers (Education Nation) [Why We Write]

Jose VilsonJose5 Comments

Education Nation Teacher Town Hall 2012

She said she doesn’t like when teachers differentiate themselves between charter and public. I nodded cautiously.

At the Education Nation Teacher Town Hall, while NBC anchor Brian Williams feigned nervousness in front of the hundreds of educators in front of us, teachers from all different groups convened at the Public Library, some from groups like National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and the American Federation of Teachers (full disclosure: I went under the AFT) and other groups like Educators for Excellence (another full disclosure: -snickers hard-). One of the final people who got on the microphone said what she said about public school teachers versus charter school teachers to a good applause.

The whole crowd generally leaned towards things we believe: fractions are the hardest stumbling blocks for kids to learn in math, teachers shouldn’t be evaluated on test scores, the Chicago teachers strike needed to happen, and unions matter lots. We took surveys, had insightful discussion, and generally felt the lack of morale that most teachers in this country felt. We also felt energized by the idea that, despite how many different entities we represented, we actually care about the students we serve.


Now, there’s this often touchy subject about the difference between charter school teachers versus public school teachers (we’ll leave private / magnet / independent / parochial teachers out of this for now). The stereotype is as follows: public school teachers are old, bitter, lazy, and worn-out people just counting the days until they get to retire. They love to be protected by their union because they’re scared they’ll lose their jobs, and perpetuate the stagnation of a public school system bereft of new ideas. Except in small schools where new (often white, young, Ivy League) teachers come in.

The charter school stereotype, conversely, leans on new, inexperienced teachers who either got fed up by the public school system, came through TFA or some other elitist program, or don’t want to get all the qualifications a public school teacher has to get in order to become a real teacher (or a mix of all these pieces). The charter school teacher will most likely leave after three years because they’ll be so burnt out from all the hours they work on extra nights, weekends, and summers, and they’ll leave to law school or some job in education reform. But they’ll leave by saying how much they love the kids.

While these stereotypes might hold weight with a handful of people, I don’t care to hear it for three reasons:

  1. Strong pedagogy is strong pedagogy, no matter where it takes place.
  2. I know enough charter teachers who supported public school teachers during the Chicago Teachers strike.
  3. If we take issue with the proliferation of charter schools (as I do), hate the system, not the teachers who teach in it.

What often gets lost in the discussion between public school advocates and charter school advocates is that, at the end of the day, the average teachers on both sides want very similar things: a professional environment, a system that helps them do the best job for students, and a salary that assures that they’re fairly compensated for the job they do.

I’m not one of those “I disagree on some points that my ‘side’ makes” people who do it to serve some masters’ wishes. Instead, I proffer a better vision for this argument. We have teachers who don’t work for children on both sides of this. We have problems with salaries on both sides of this, too (though I would argue that they’re trying to get rid of public school teachers for ridiculous cost-cutting measures).

But I would never come at a charter school teacher if I knew they were as restless about getting back into class the next morning like I am. I prefer to keep the discussion on this about teachers who care about students (which is the majority of us).

So when the person who went up to the mike said that on Sunday, I nodded. I didn’t care which group she represented (alas, she didn’t have an E$E button on). I just knew she had a passion for her job, and probably wouldn’t want to leave her students. That puts us in very similar straits.

Jose, who prefers nuance over purity …

Comments 5

  1. Thanks for this! As someone who’s worked in terrific schools, with terrific, inspiring people, both charter & district (we’re all publicly funded), I hate the way other teachers’ faces sometimes change when they find out I currently work at a charter school. I don’t want to have to represent and/or defend all charters (even if I could!), engage in that same old political debate, or apologize for my choice to work at a place that was personally and educationally inspiring to me, every time I meet someone new. (For what it’s worth, I ALSO don’t want to engage in district school bashing when some from charters/reform orgs/the misinformed public/overenthusiastic parents try to take the conversation there.) I don’t assume the worst when someone tells me he or she works in a public school – I try to get to know him or her and find out what they are doing at their school that I can learn from, how I might share what I’m doing, and how I can connect with the individual on a personal or professional level. All the other stuff is exhausting and demoralizing.

    1. Post

      I guess that’s the point really, Kelly, so thanks for getting at the heart of the matter. Let’s be honest, too: we do have an overemphasis on the charter school as the solution for education’s woes rather than one of many ways to address what’s happening. But I don’t like the tenor of the way it reaches down to actual classroom teachers. Strong pedagogues are strong pedagogues, and they’ll prove themselves however need be. Many of us have an eye for a good teacher, really.

  2. Great job, sir! As a charter leader, I am here to say that charters are not the magic answer! All kids need good schools that believe they can educate any child! I have been a teacher and principal in traditional public schools since 1987 and have always preached that what we need to build successful schools is right within our own camps. We just need to work together! I applaud you for having the courage to tackle a very sensitive subject!
    We are all in this fight together! You love kids and care about their success…then we are family! My home is your home! My people are your people! Stay strong!

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      Salome, thank you. You’re right: charters aren’t the magic bullet, and I’m not happy with the proliferation of charters as the answer to our society’s ills in lieu of addressing the environmental and financial prejudice our children face just for existing. But most of the people I’ve met from charter schools don’t have the charter vs. public hang-up per se. Maybe it’s just me, though.

  3. Until we understand the devil is using our government, educators, students, parents and people to wage his battle on evilness we will continue fighting. Charter School teachers know they are being used by the devil to help destroy public schools, but they need the money. Public school educators knew this was coming because of the No Child Left Behind Law, but we said nothing because we were making money. Now we are on the battlefield, I will win my battle because I am protected not by the government but by the shield of God.

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