The new school year is just around the corner and I find myself feeling as if I should be somewhere other than sitting in my recliner typing this. I expect the feeling will pass but my thoughts are on the teachers who will soon be welcoming students into their classrooms and those students themselves.
With all the political debate over private and public education, South Carolina’s dismal ranking, teacher pay, House Bill 610, vouchers and the like, I wondered if I was just lucky and somehow caught lightning in a bottle late in my career as I ventured over to the “dark side.” … to a charter school.
A traditional public-school teacher my entire career, I had not been a supporter of the charter school programs, considering them to be havens for the elitist and entitled offspring of parents who “Didn’t want THEIR kids going to school with those other kids.”
I was confusing charter schools with elitist and entitled private schools like…I’ll let you fill in that blank. I also believed charter schools were just the educational program “de jure” and, like dozens of other “innovations” I had taught through, would eventually run their course and disappear from the landscape of education. I was wrong…and rightly so.
One might ask if I was so against the charter school programs, why was I teaching in one? I wanted a job. I had retired six years previous and had enrolled myself into the Teacher and Employee Retention Program, TERI for short, which allowed me to teach after retirement while building a “nest egg” for later down my life’s pathway. NO, IT IS NOT DOUBLE DIPPING! My TERI had run out and I had become an “at-will” employee and could be terminated without cause which is exactly what happened.
My timing was not the best…it never has been. With a declining economy, my district did not want to pay a thirty-nine-year veteran with multiple advanced degrees when they could pay a first-year teacher less than half of what I was making. A sound fiscal policy? My argument was of course, “I was worth every damn penny of my salary!” I was…I was.
In 2009 I found myself, along with six other teachers, a secretary, and an administrator, opening a new charter school, Greer Middle College Charter High School. A mouth full. I was teaching geography to 90 or so fresh-faced freshmen who might have been the most diverse, curious and interesting group I had ever taught.
Many of my students were refugees from “normal” public schools (If there is such a thing). Some had attended Christian private schools their entire lives; others had been homeschooled and only a few had made it through the public-school system…unscathed and without some type of baggage. We had a few who were combinations of all three and carrying steamer trunks loaded with baggage.
This was not what made them curious…and delightful. They were all over the political and religious spectrum. Third generation “flower power” hippies interacting with the religiously fundamental and politically way right. I consider myself to be a political and religious moderate which put me far to their political left and religiously…a heathen despite my Methodist up bringing and my public dunking into the Baptist Church. Somehow, we all got along and there is a lesson there somewhere.
During a mandatory student-parental conference, one parent offered to pray for me because of my “liberal” belief that the earth was a bit older than her belief of six thousand years. I thanked her and considering my many indiscretions decided to allow her to intercede on my behalf.
Due to a glitch, we opened our first year in a church far from what would eventually be our campus and in very tight quarters. Sausage casing tight. Everyone knew exactly what every other teacher was teaching, and which student was in trouble.
During my last five years of teaching, I would find I missed the comradery developed with those students and teachers in those close quarters. It turned out not to be the dark side at all.
Don Miller’s author’s page can be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM
Don Miller writing as Lena Christenson can found at https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B07B6BDD19
Image from https://steemit.com/funny/@lordvader/one-of-your-teachers-needs-to-learn-a-lesson