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

Jose Vilson Jose

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 …