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Teaching at a Charter School: Pros and Cons

Teacher teaching at a charter school.

Teaching at a charter school can be very rewarding, but it’s important to consider all of the pros and cons before signing a contract. While variety, flexibility and smaller class sizes may sound appealing, they often come with lower pay and longer hours. Charter school teaching jobs tend to be easier to find than positions in public schools, and this is a great option for new teachers. However, as in any decision in life, the experience will be much better if you go into it knowing all of the benefits and risks.

Setting Your Expectations

The great thing about charter schools is that they have a lot of flexibility. They have to work within certain state guidelines but the administration has a lot of autonomy when it comes to specific activities and curricula. Because of this autonomy, it is extremely important to do your research before you take a job in any charter school. Because style and curricula vary so widely, you want to be sure that the job you are taking is a good fit, and that you have a relatively clear picture of what the expectations are.

The way flexibility affects teachers varies depending on the style of the administration. A heavy handed administration might make all of the decisions themselves, in which case the teachers themselves do not enjoy the flexibility. On the other hand, an administration which has looser requirements allows teachers to benefit from the autonomy of the school as well. Charter schools exist on both extremes of this continuum, so you need to make sure that you know which kind of school you are committing to in order to ensure that you come in with the right attitude and expectations.

Charter School Curriculum

Whether the administration or the teachers themselves (or some combination of the two) are deciding what the curriculum will look like, having flexibility when it comes to lessons can be an exciting challenge. Charter schools tend to be more flexible to teacher input, which allows faculty to play a real role in the decision-making. While openness to new ideas and creative solutions might sound nice in theory, it often comes with an additional time investment as well. The more original lesson planning and curriculum planning a teacher has to do, the more time they spend in preparation outside of the classroom. When you have report cards to write and parents to call in the middle of a busy year, taking out extra time for planning might not seem quite as appealing as it did in the summer.

School and Class Size

One advantage of teaching at charter schools is that they are usually much smaller than regular public schools. This allows teachers to have some continuity with their students, as they are likely to still run into them in the hallways even when those particular students are not in their classes. Ongoing relationships allow teachers to be real mentors, enjoying the successes of their students, becoming an ongoing support for them, and feeling like they are part of a real learning community.

An additional benefit of a smaller school is smaller class sizes. With less students in the lesson, classroom management is likely to be easier. Smaller classes also allow more flexibility with activities, and make it easier to differentiate lessons. The smaller your classes are, the better you can know each individual student.

So what’s the catch? In a small school, it is possible for an educator to be the only teacher in a particular subject area in a certain grade (say, the only fourth grade science teacher). That means they won’t be able to divide planning duties and collaborate with someone who is teaching the exact same thing. However, there will always be colleagues in other subjects in the grade and also in the subject in other grades who you can bounce ideas off of.

Employment: Charter School Teacher Requirements

If you are looking for a teaching job, charter schools tend to have a high demand for teachers. This is a good way to get experience in a close-knit, smaller school community which likely combines guidance and freedom. However, one reason there are often a lot of job openings at charter schools is because they have “at will” employment, meaning a teacher’s contract can be terminated at any time. Charter school teachers are not protected by a union, which means they also tend to make lower salaries than public school teachers. The upside of “at will” employment is that teachers need to stay on top of their game, which hopefully means that the educators you are working with are motivated to do a great job. The obvious downside is that if you are having a hard year, even after many years of working in a school, you won’t have tenure and they can still terminate your employment.

One thing is for sure, there are a lot of things to take into account if you are considering taking a charter school teaching job. If you do your research and find a school that is a good fit, you can have a very rewarding career. However, if you make a commitment without being properly informed about the environment and expectation, there may be some unpleasant surprises in store.

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