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Charter Schools Work For Teachers

Public charter schools have been making headlines in recent years. As policymakers debate equitable funding and expansion, teachers like me are on the frontlines of this pioneering movement.

I believe it’s critical that teacher voices be heard when debating the future of charter schools in Georgia.

I’ve been an educator for five years. When I graduated from undergrad with a degree in English Language and Literature, my head was spinning in at least ten directions. Would I pursue a career in journalism as planned? Would I dedicate my time, energy and writing talents to a nonprofit organization? Or should I take my love for education and work to revive a crumbling school system – Detroit Public Schools.

I chose the latter route and found a home at a charter school in its second year of operation. The principal was a young, vibrant educator with a passion for perfection. Quickly, I fell in love with the flexibility and creativity that I was afforded even as a paraprofessional without a teaching certificate.

Once I was certified, I pursued other charter schools in Atlanta and surrounding areas. It is in this innovative environment that I’ve been able to experience the flexibility and autonomy that I’ve always envisioned for my career.

Despite serving millions of students and employing thousands of educators across the country, these laboratory-like schools are still misunderstood in many communities in Georgia. Independent charter schools in Atlanta are unique public schools offered bureaucratic freedom in exchange for real results. Just like traditional public schools, they don’t charge tuition, are publicly funded, and open to anyone who applies.

My charter school has the freedom to adjust the school day, choose new and exciting curriculum resources, and develop strong models for learning. Teachers like me are treated as equal partners with valuable experience and ideas, asked to lead professional development sessions and change actually happens when teachers’ voices are heard.

My reasons for staying at a charter school are simple, but the most powerful pull for me has been the fact that charter schools either fail or succeed because of their ability to make choices. Schedules and hours can be tweaked, curriculums can be discontinued if they’re not working, professional development opportunities are left at the discretion of both the leadership and classroom teachers – catered to the needs of the staff.

I also love the idea that teachers have more opportunities to move around within the educational setting. One year you’re teaching a classroom full of scholars, the next you may be positioned as a branding manager, parent liaison, or curriculum coach. Charters tap into the talents and passions of their teachers to better their schools…and better schools breed better students.

I know that teachers, not just in Atlanta, but across the state understand the transcending power of a high quality education. The vast majority of my colleagues enter the profession with dreams of changing lives and impacting communities. Nowhere is this dream more alive than in public charter schools designed to serve the Atlanta’s most high-need students. I’m proud to match my vision of education with a school that needs teachers like me.

The truth is educators on the front lines know a one-size-fits-all system does little to address the unique needs of all our students. Students learn differently, just as teachers have their own strengths and weaknesses. In adapting to system of choice across the country, professional educators are realizing that advances like charter schools are not only meeting needs for students, but also providing professional opportunity. We must see this progression across Georgia.

While the status quo would have you believe educators are not in favor of choice initiatives like public charter schools, thousands of teachers support this new direction and are working in schools of choice every day.

According to a membership survey by the Association of American Educators, teachers across the country are indeed warming to policies that advance parental and student choice. As a member, I couldn’t be more proud that my colleagues are embracing the wave of the future for our students and teachers.

My message to stakeholders in Georgia is simple. As a public charter school teacher, I’m directly benefiting from choices in education and I’m grateful. I wake up knowing that I am in an environment that challenges me professionally and allows me to work with scholars who need me most.

Ain Drew is a public charter school teacher in Atlanta.

This post was originally published by the Association of American Educators here.