Charter Teacher Champions: Opportunities for Teachers to Get Involved Outside the Classroom

September 19, 2012

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Love kids? Hate politics? Why Teachers Might Want to Think Twice About That

By Maleia Mathis, LEE Policy and Advocacy Fellow

Imagine if all charter teachers in the state of California advocated for their schools. How often do you think facilities bills would pass that excluded charters if every time one was up for a vote, local representatives received thousands of phone calls from every charter teacher in the state? How powerful would that be?

In a recent poll of teachers, CCSA discovered that the majority of teachers aren't chomping at the bit for the opportunity to advocate for charter schools. Only one in five teachers was "enthusiastic" about advocating for charters, about half said they were willing to advocate on a limited basis and 29% of charter teachers said they were reluctant or undecided on the topic of advocacy. What does this mean? Are charter teachers really unwilling to advocate for their schools and, ultimately, their kids? Not necessarily. As someone who just finished her first year of teaching, I can say with absolute certainty that the truth is really this - teachers are busy. During the year, they're giving all of their energy to classrooms full of learners and during the summer, they're trying to rest up in order to do it all again, even better, the next year. But do you know what's equally true? The charter movement needs teacher voices.

It's one thing for a public relations person to write an inspirational piece about a classroom they've visited for five minutes and about students they've known for even less time. It's another thing entirely for a teacher to speak about the victory and failure, joy and heart break that they experience in the classroom on a daily basis. Teachers' perspectives and experiences - with their poignant moments of growth and crippling moments of defeat - are what the charter movement really needs. Especially now. This year, we mark the 20th anniversary of charter schools in California, but so many Californians still don't know very much about what charter schools are, much less what the charter movement has accomplished.

You might even be wondering right now what exactly the charter movement has accomplished these past twenty years. I think a charter leader in south Los Angeles I interviewed said it best:

"Charter schools have made it impossible to ignore the children in our communities. It was easier ten or fifteen years ago to look at South Central and say that kids can't be successful because of all of the external factors. But we've shown that you can't blame these things anymore because of schools like Watts Learning Center and Synergy and Center for Advanced Learning - at some point you can't ignore their success." - Jennifer Epps, Principal, Synergy Academy.

Read the full interview here.

But yet, in spite of Epps' excellent point, 32.7% of Californians still admit that they don't know anything about charter schools. I teach at a charter school - a public school, but I still have people frequently asking me what it's like teaching at a private school. Questions like these show that more of the public need to experience charter schools - visiting our schools and talking to teachers, parents and students directly. People's experiences with charters, both direct and indirect, are the strongest predictors of their opinion about charter schools.

And the public doesn't want to get their experience with charters from just anyone; they want to hear from charter school teachers, from you. In an opinion poll CCSA conducted in 2011, respondents considered teachers, specifically charter school teachers, to be more credible than school board members, community leaders, teacher's unions and elected officials (who were considered the least credible).

We're down to three basic truths:

  1. Teachers are really busy.
  2. The public needs to know more about charter schools.
  3. When it comes to schools, the public really trusts what teachers have to say.

This could create quite the dilemma. The good news however, is that there are many great opportunities for teachers to get involved that require very little time, and have a very real impact. Furthermore, there are all different kinds of opportunities, from speaking out in public to engaging online to working behind the scenes with fellow teachers.

I put this short list of opportunities together to get teachers started and make it easy:

Big Impact, Individual Voices: 5 Ways for Teachers to Get Involved in the World of Education.

So, to the teachers reading this article - get involved! Your perspective, your experience, and your unique voice are exactly what are needed to continue to reform education in California. We can make the vision of all teachers advocating for their students come true. Starting with you.

Maleia Mathis is a current M. Ed candidate at Loyola Marymount University School of Education and teaches sixth grade at ICEF Lou Dantzler Preparatory Charter Middle School. She interned at CCSA this summer through the Leadership for Educational Equity (LEE) Policy and Advocacy Summer Fellowship. Learn more about Maleia.

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