I received this letter as an email. The writer asked that I not include her name. She sent her resume to demonstrate her bona fides.
It is an honor to email you! I am emailing you in hopes that you will be able to publish this email on your blog regarding my (brief) experience teaching in a no-excuses charter school in upstate NY. I do not want any identifying information published, including about the charter chain that I worked for, although I am including my resume simply to highlight my qualifications. I am a newly-certified teacher who finds myself without a job in October of my first year of teaching due to my HUGE mistake in taking a job at a no-excuses charter school. I want this letter to be publicized in order that other young teachers do not make the same mistakes that I do, and that others can realize what an empty promise the no-excuse charter schools really are!
I am originally from New Jersey, and I graduated from a prestigious public university in Virginia in 2015 with my MA in Secondary Social Studies Education. All my life, I had wanted nothing more than to become a history teacher. Throughout college, I tutored at local schools, volunteer-taught adult ESL classes, spent a summer teaching English overseas in Eastern Europe, completed an international research project that involved a placement in a school in England, and only took courses related to history, politics, and education. Throughout my education, I was always at the top of my class–I graduated undergrad Phi Beta Kappa in three years and finished my master’s degree in one year with a 4.0. I was extremely fortunate to have a wonderful cooperating teacher for student teaching, and received excellent reviews from my university supervisor and my cooperating teacher. All of the students that I worked with throughout college–from adult and child ESL learners to the students in my placement–told me that they could not imagine me being anything else than a teacher. I truly could not imagine another path for myself as well. My friends jokingly called me “Teacher XXX.” Teaching and education was my passion and my life. I am not saying this to brag or to appear entitled to anything, just to show that I was a newly-minted teacher with a lot of potential and a lot of passion for what I was doing!
Instead of immediately pursuing a career in K-12 education in the United States, however, I decided to apply for a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship. Fulbright ETAs are placed at primary, secondary and tertiary schools throughout the world. My motivation applying to a Fulbright was simple–I had gotten a taste of teaching abroad during a summer of undergrad, and I wanted to go back and learn more about the culture and history of Xxxxx. I spent an amazing year teaching at the University of XXXXXX. My placement was at an Islamic theological university, and although it was difficult at first for me to relate to the students or even get them to respect me, by the end of the year I had the best evaluation results of any professor at my university and the unwavering support of my students. I also volunteered in numerous other community agencies, including frequent guest-teaching at high school and middle school classes, and was well-thought of by my embassy contacts and local contacts. Again, I’m not bragging or tooting my own horn here–I just want to stress that I am (was) passionate about what I do (did) and am competitive for a job, even in an extremely competitive market for new grads.
My long-term boyfriend (now fiance) had been accepted to a PhD program in Ithaca, New York. At the time he decided to go to Cornell, the edTPA was a brand new requirement, and I didn’t realize that my Postgraduate Professional Teaching License in Virginia would only transfer into a Temporary Provisional Initial Teaching License in New York. It was extremely difficult for me to even get interviews with this licensing, and I decided, against my better judgment, to interview with the XXXXXX Schools chain in Rochester, which was about two hours away from Ithaca. From the start, I had some qualms about [charter chain]–the interviewers never showed for the first interview and then when they did show, led an extremely perfunctory interview that briefly glossed over, without much detail, how they had a very set system and very strict, set, scripted lesson plans. I hadn’t received any other offers and it was the end of May, so I panicked and accepted their job offer to serve as an “Apprentice ELA Teacher.” They told me as an apprentice I would be assisting another teacher with monitoring students and gradually accepting responsibility for my own classroom. I was a bit nervous about managing 30 middle schoolers after working so long with college students, especially teaching out of field in ELA, so I said yes. My only real motivation to work for XXXXXX was 1) I believed that the schools were making a difference and 2) I wanted to secure my NY teaching license in Social Studies and ELA.
I returned to the US and moved to Rochester. From the start, the move seemed to be a mistake; I had barely enough time to adjust to being back in the US, much less contemplate a move to a new city and a new job. I had my first day of “Orientation” with XXXXX and almost quit right then. The school had an extremely strict set of discipline procedures and teaching procedures that they expected all teachers to follow to a t. Most of them were taken from Teach Like a Champion (TLAC), and most of them focused on controlling rather nurturing students. All lessons were entirely teacher-centered, taught with a document camera with a teacher at the “perch” in the corner of the classroom to engage in maximum “monitoring” of student behavior. Students would listen to direct lectures, participate in teacher-led discussions, and occasionally work in groups while being “aggressively monitored” by teachers. Teachers stopped lessons to ensure students were in “SLANT” with their fingers laced; students got deducted for not being in SLANT or for resting their heads on their hands (a move called “kickstand.”) I struggled in “behavior labs” during professional development, because I just couldn’t see the point of stopping a lesson because one “student” had one hand under the desk. While I believe in some of the philosophies of “TLAC” had a point, this was taking everything to a ridiculous extreme.
We spent 90% of time in our 3-week professional development learning to “control” children and 10% of time actually going over lessons and content. As someone with no ELA training, I was completely overwhelmed by my content and the discipline system. I didn’t even get my scripted lesson plans for the first few days of school until three days before, and of course I couldn’t create my own. A few days before school began, I was told that instead of “apprenticing” like I’d been hired to do, I would have my own class for half the day and shadow another teacher for the other half. As a trade-in for not having my own class for half the day, I would have to do all of this other teacher’s grading for her. There were so many discipline issues I had issues with–constantly telling the kids to be in SLANT, the fact we checked their pockets before they went to the bathroom, the fact they had silent lunches in their homerooms in their assigned seats. There were kids in the eighth grade who were held back so many times that they were 16 or 17–clearly, they were not going to graduate high school and close the achievement gap.
School began. I struggled with discipline; I didn’t buy into the system of SLANT and my students knew it, so they began to push back. I was told by my supervisor how poor my management was. When I cried to my mom about this on the phone, she asked me “What did the kids do, fight?” “No,” I sobbed, “They put their hands under their desk!” I was working 13 hour days, living alone, and staying up all night as I dealt with crippling anxiety, worrying if my lesson plan for the next day was memorized. My “supervising” teacher made me grade all of her homeworks daily for accuracy–I was looking at 300 pages of homework a week, plus nearly a hundred exit tickets for accuracy and teaching two-hour blocks of memorized lessons. We were told our lessons were centrally planned to allow for more time to devote to data, but in reality, since we had to complete the “exemplars” (20 page student packets) and then memorize the lessons, having scripted lessons actually took time away from us. I had zero support system in the city I was living outside school, and a very minute support system in school. I was miserable, wanted to go home, and was afraid that I was going to hurt myself by driving while tired. It’s a month out, and I can’t even type this without crying.
My school leaders knew I was struggling because I had broken down in a grade-level meeting about making the students stand on lines in the floor for “transitions.” Once they found out that I was feeling overwhelmed, I knew my time at the school was limited. Instead of trying to support me, my principal forced me to admit everything I found questionable about the school by bullying me in a meeting where she repeatedly said “It’s ok, this isn’t for everyone, we understand if you don’t want to teach with us, we have a plan.” We had numerous check ins over the next week where the same thing was said. I made it two more weeks and then quit. At that point, I felt like I was deciding between career suicide and actual suicide. My quality of life was nonexistent and I hated spending my days enforcing this ridiculous level of discipline on kids.
Right now, I’m living back home with my parents in New Jersey, three hours away from my fiance. I took a huge financial hit as a result of my decision, but I don’t regret it. I am working part-time in medical administration and tutoring at several organizations while I apply to jobs at traditional public schools in NJ and try to get my life back together (I know I should be subbing, but this pays more!) I don’t know if I will ever teach again, and quite frankly. I’m not sure how I will ever get a job near my fiance, or anywhere in education, and I’m not sure what career path I will take. I’m looking at going into international education administration or higher education administration. I don’t miss the charter school I was teaching at, or the pressures of education, but I do miss my students from all my previous teaching experiences. I have so much love for students and for my craft, and I’m not sure what the outlet for all that love is going to be now. I cry almost every day. In short, I’m a mess. I really do want to teach again, I am just afraid after this experience I’m not mentally healthy enough to do so. I am thinking of moving back overseas. I cannot believe how much the charter school took from me in just five weeks of working there.
Thank you for taking the time to read my email! Writing this has been therapeutic to me and hopefully informative to your readers. I do hope that you get a chance to share this on your blog. I would also love to hear your advice in this situation.