Interview With a Former Charter School Teacher About Teacher Retention

DP: Where have your years so far been spent?

Teacher: I taught third and fourth grade for five years in one district after college, then three years in two different charter schools, then the last four in my current district setting. It will be 12 years total this month.

DP: You left a somewhat nearby charter school four years ago to take your current district job.  What were the main reasons you left the charter school to take the district position you are in now?

Teacher: I left in September of 2012, after the year had started.  I was driving almost three hours per day total, on top of the longer charter hours.  It wasn’t sustainable.  Especially since I was starting a family around that time.  It was resulting in an 11-hour total day, BEFORE working from home. The school’s leadership was in upheaval during that year. We had three different principals in 15 months, and that is no way to have a stable and normal feeling school year.

DP: What was positive about the charter school experience?

Teacher: The impact of how much the charter students needed me.  And I actually enjoyed the intensity of charter school accountability.  It absolutely made things crazy and most times not a lot of fun, especially for the kids.  But yes, they needed great teaching, and that was an attractive part of the job, knowing those students really couldn’t afford to have an off year with a teacher.

DP: What is your district life like now?  After four years.

Teacher: I’d say great collegiality as a faculty. I also have a great Principal.  But the intensity to absolutely perform, and be pulled in many different directions is not there.  There are rules the district must follow.  They can’t just change things on a Monday morning.  It does slow things down a bit.  I also love the opportunities my students have.  Sports, music, dance, whatever they want to pursue, they can find an outlet.  But I would not be the teacher I am today without my charter school experience.  It absolutely forced me to learn how to act on my feet and figure things out.  There was really no safety net.  If you were not good, you were going to not be returning.  I would actually recommend all teachers spend a couple years in a charter.  Practically, I know that is not possible, but it would be good for them.

DP: Things have changed.  Ten years ago, districts would not touch charter teachers.  Now many are pursuing them, mostly because they are seasoned and proven, even after a couple years.  What advice would you give a charter to retain the best teachers and not have them move to districts?

Teacher: The usual things you hear don’t apply to me.  I don’t care about tenure. I didn’t fear I was going to lose my job. My charter offered a generous retirement matching option, and I took full advantage of it.

My advice is to figure out a way to really value the teacher.  Make them part of the decision making process, the scheduling, the hiring of fellow teachers, whatever you can do to make the teachers feel valued, it will help.