Monday, October 14, 2013

Charter vs. Public School

I've had the opportunity to teach at both a regular public school and a charter school. A charter school is a free public school. Enrollment is just capped and enrollment selection is usually based on a lottery selection.

No two charter schools are alike. Each one has a different community feel and a different emphasis. But that's the thing you get at a charter that you don't find at a regular school: a community. Charter schools have a small student body. There seems to be more of a smaller community feel as well as a stronger sense of school culture. As a teacher, I knew my students very well and sometimes, had them in my class for a few years. I knew the student's siblings and parents much more than in a regular school. I felt like I had a much closer relationship with my charter students and families than in a regular school. Students can't get lost in a charter school. Each student has a name, personality and individual needs.
There also seems to be greater flexibility in a charter. These schools are not afraid to break the mold and try new things. They offer parents a choice in their student's education.

Regular public schools, at least on Utah, are much larger than charters. Students can get lost in the huge junior highs and high schools. However, there is much more variety in classes, teacher personalities and extra curricular activities. But regular schools feel like an educational machine with compartmentalized classes held to the relentless ticking clock (45-50 minute classes.) There seems to be a bigger emphasis on testing in the regular schools and even teaching to the test. Student test scores reflect heavily on the teacher, but there is really no student accountability for these standardized tests.

The workload for teachers is greater at a charter. Smaller schools demand that teachers wear lots of different hats which requires a great deal more preparation. At my charter school there was much more freedom than at my current school.

Charter schools typically have very supportive parents that are very involved which is good and bad (helicopters parents--bad, supportive parents--good). The board (at the charter) was made up of parents which was difficult because many times they had these unrealistic, grandiose ideas but they weren't educators so they didn't realize how difficult the implementation of these dreams would be.

In a regular school, policies and procedures and curriculum are pretty tried and true. Sometimes rigidly so.

I don't know that one type is any better than the other. There are pros and cons to both. I do think it's liberating and wonderful that there is a CHOICE!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Drawing a Line

In over five years of teaching, I can count on one hand the times I sent a student to the office. I typically like to deal with problems in my own classroom. The office is the final resort after lots of other strategies.

I sent one girl to the office for biting another student. She was an 8th grader. My response was, "I never thought I'd have to deal with students biting each other in junior high school." Turns out I was wrong. Most junoir high kids are like elementary kids; they're just bigger and can be a little mouthier.

If a student is over-the-top disrespectful, I'll send them out in the hall to cool off and then have a long talk with them before I notify their parents later the same day. I had to throw a girl out of my class the second day of school during my first year of teaching. She was arguing with me in front of the whole class, being totally disrespectful so I threw her out. It was a rude shock to be spoken to like that. And the thought did cross my mind that i don't get paid near enough . . .  We had trouble with that girl all year long. She was suspended over and over again for various reasons. And she was finally expelled the last week of school.

This year, I had to kick a kid out of my class during the first week of school. He was totally out of control, disrespectful, so I asked him to leave. I talked at him for quite awhile out in the hall. He wouldn't make eye contact or respond to me at all. I thought I was going to have a very long year with this kid. But I have been pleasantly surprised. The kid has totally shaped up, gotten in control of himself and is polite and respectful. There are occasions when he bursts out loudly about something, but never any disrespect. Never anything like that first week when I threw him out.

So sometimes, throwing a kid out once, drawing a line in the sand is all it takes to get them to come around. But no two kids are alike, just like no two days are the same while your teaching. There are no proven formulas on what will make a student behave and what won't.