Ever wonder what it is like to teach at a Success Academy charter school in New York City? I have been contacted by several teachers who quit and told me their stories, but they were never willing to allow their name to be published. They were afraid that their future job prospects would be damaged. Here is a statement by a former SA teacher, Sasha Guiridongo, posted on her own blog and then shared with Mercedes Schneider.

What is unusual, of course, is that Sasha is not afraid to tell her story and give her name.

She didn’t last long at Success Academy. She explains why in her post. SA is known for teacher churn and burn out. That explains why Eva Moskowitz’s supporters in the Legislature were pushing hard to get a special exemption for charter teachers in the law, relieving them of the necessity of being certified to teach for three years. Since so many teachers don’t last three years, this creates a large pool of prospective “teachers,” wannabes without certification.

Sasha complains about the competition among teachers to produce the highest test scores; I had earlier heard from a leaker at SA that the charters post the names of teachers in public and rank them by their students’ scores. This is an inherently humiliating practice. They also post student test scores in public. It must be humiliating for all but those at the top.

Here is an excerpt from Sasha’s post:

I was set to join “the team” for T-School, a brainwashing series of seminars aimed to mold you into a “Success teacher” because it’s somehow different than a regular teacher. Success teachers are notregular teachers, no sir, they are above that. The seminars retaught me how to teach and fed my newfound Success ego while stealing an entire month of my well deserved summer vacation. The outcome? I was thoroughly convinced that it took a “special” kind of teacher to teach at Success and I was part of the chosen few. This mentality is what kept me there as long as I did despite looming depression due to my sudden loss of identity and free time to pursue personal passions.

I had heard horrors about SA prior to accepting the job: the long hours and pressure to perform, but coming from another charter school I had confidence that I could accept and overcome any difficulties; Besides I was coming from teaching in East New York and nothing toughens you up more than working in a school where someone is shot dead at the end of the school block during Parent-Teacher Night. So was I intimidated by SA? No. But once I began teaching as a newly baptized SA teacher I quickly realized the toxic environment SA strived to create and force feed educators who had real passion for teaching. SA had managed to create an educational environment that disregarded the well-being of the teacher. It promoted a cut-throat, monetarily incentivized corporate environment in which you prayed for the demise of your peers for an opportunity to inadvertently glorify yourself. Is this what teaching is about?

My 6 months at Success forced me to evaluate who I was as an educator and revise my motivation, a minute personal gain. Success mostly made me doubt my personal success every day. I became doubtful of the importance of teaching; if we could all be trained to be the same, think the same, and act the same then as educators we were inevitably relaying this same message to our students. Every day I relayed the message that just as all teachers had to think and act and be the same, consistency among classrooms, the same was expected of students. SA didn’t celebrate originality or praise the individual, no, SA thrived on doubt, on the inevitable fear of not doing enough, being there enough, talking enough, thinking enough, preparing enough, or absorbing enough information. The underlying message was that this doubt and fear somehow made you better because it encouraged you to take immediate action as you strived to BE THE BEST at the expense of your mental stability, of course. If I couldn’t survive here, I often thought, I had failed and I was not “one of a kind,” I was weak and had no business teaching.