Single, Young Female: The Ideal Candidate for NOLA Charter Schools?

With 93 percent of students enrolled in New Orleans’ charter schools, the highest percentage in the city, whether critics want to admit it or not, charter schools have shown they are here to stay, but can the same be said for its teaching and support staff who have families and additional obligations outside of the workplace?

Historically, since the vast emergence of charter schools within the city in 2005, I have come across the narrative similar to what is described in a piece from SAGE on educational policy,  Black educators lost union protections and were replaced with alternatively licensed and predominantly White teachers via Teach for America and TeachNOLA.”

How this often translates is:

  • Young– Eager to learn, enthusiastic, willing to do whatever is asked, early mornings, late nights, no history of employment within education, so there is no comparing of jobs (i.e. “At my last job, we did…”)
  • Single- No familial obligations.  No worry about childcare.  No worry about balancing a career and a relationship/marriage.  
  • Non-NOLA natives- No social networks outside of school staff. No necessity for time to foster meaningful relationships.

Research suggests that some of these factors are the same that contribute to teacher attrition.  

“The types of teachers who typically work in charter schools—young and inexperienced—are more likely to leave their schools and the profession.”

In awe, I watch many of my colleagues tirelessly generate academic and cultural systems and data while securing meeting on top of meeting, in addition to a taking on a host of other responsibilities.  For me, the exhaustion from my work days is compounded by the fact my family always comes first.  With guilt, I’ve had brief moments when I have wondered about how much more dedicated I could be if I were simply single and had no responsibilities, envying the younger, single female that sits in the coffee shop nights and weekends.  Because after all, as a black female, I don’t need to be good at this, I need to be GREAT!

Partially, I am envious of the fact others are able to find so much time outside of work to be so engaged.  I also feel insecure because my current lifestyle doesn’t allow for such, leaving me to believe I may not be a good match for the systems in place.  I know plenty educators in schools within Orleans parish, and they have the same sentiment, “I just want to teach.”

Slate focused on this dilemma in a recent op-ed:  

At urban charters like Success, which frequently serve mostly low-income, underprepared students of color, teachers are expected to work considerably longer hours than is typical—sometimes as much as 80 or 90 hours a week. Such charters, often referred to as “no excuses” schools, rely heavily on programs like Teach for America, which import young teachers for two-year commitments. And charter school teachers are far less likely to belong to unions, and have less job security as a result.

While charter school leaders don’t necessarily plan on high turnover, it might be “a necessary byproduct” of an intense, results-driven approach, says Andy Rotherham, a co-founder of Bellwether Education, a nonprofit consulting organization that works with charter schools.”

There is no denying we are tasked with addressing the critical needs of our city’s students and families, but does the cost have to be staff burnout?  This pattern is systematic; it’s cyclical. Underprepared staff comes in only to find the work responsibilities are significantly more than they anticipated, growing beyond just working with the students.  With case management, meetings birthing other meetings, professional development training, family communication and collaboration between other specialized disciplines, it’s no wonder teachers daze out while waiting for Xerox copies.  It’s probably the rarest moment of peace throughout the course of a day because lunch breaks certainly aren’t realistic option for most. While we all so proudly embark on this journey to “give back,” giving back never seemed so tough.  Those who can’t take it, simply move to a new school or leave the profession altogether.  This makes each summer a reset and restart of new systems school leaders hope will make the next year a better one.

A Vanderbilt study concluded:

47% of charter school teachers who voluntarily switched to new schools did so because they were dissatisfied with either the workplace conditions or administrative support. Additionally, the constant churning of teaching staff makes it difficult to collaborate, develop standard norms of practice, and maintain progress towards common goals. This can lead to fragmented instructional programs and professional development plans that must be adapted each year to meet the needs of a teaching staff in constant flux.

I’m challenged to think more about the reality of what I think would make an ideal school setting (i.e. more black male teachers, etc.), but the reality is that if even the young, single white women are unhappy and feeling the strain of working within urban schools, often leaving before they hone their craft, then how would a black male who is the breadwinner of his family be able to adjust and thrive?  When would he find the time to bring his son to karate or baseball practice while dedicating hours and hours to a school system that wants blood, sweat, and tears even at dismissal.  How does a mother of two with little to no help balance giving so much care to students while fostering the upbringing of her own children?

Center on Reinventing Public Education CRPE concludes:

Job security and workload are clear concerns for charter school teachers. School leaders can help address these concerns in a number of ways, through more transparent and consistent systems of evaluation, promotion, and dismissal, as well as by paying careful attention to how teachers are coping with the demands of the job and the formal and informal supports they need. Leaders might also experiment with alternative contracts that provide more stability and predictability for their strongest teachers.

If there is any silver lining, it would be the data is out there and shows us that teacher satisfaction is important for many reasons, so it’s up to school leaders to face the harsh realities their employees may be unhappy and dig into solution-based approaches to prevent teacher burnout and keep our students from needing to ask their favorite staff, “Are you coming back next year?”

Click here to read more on the Center on Reinventing Public Education’s report on teacher attrition.

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