What I’ve Learned from Working at a Charter School

Photo credit: noble network.org

I started working at Johnson College Prep about 2 months after I returned home from teaching overseas in South Korea as an English teacher. Teaching at Johnson was the first teaching job upon my arrival back stateside. Needless to say, my transition was fairly quick.

Based upon my experience working in the Chicago Public School System, working for Johnson was my first experience working for a charter school. I am unable to fully compare Johnson with any other charters. But, I can say that the teachers here play a huge role in creating and maintaining a positive culture within the building, and in the community surrounding the school. We are well aware of the demographics of the students we serve. Majority of our students come in with an array of deficits. From social, academic, to economics. These can potentially create learning barriers for these young people. Being aware of this, the educators in the building create warm, inviting, safe, and rigorous learning spaces for all of our learners. We create high expectations for our learners, pushing them socially and academically to help them actualize their potential.

I realize that not every school, particularly in Chicago, has the silver bullet to create the absolute best learning experience for every learner. There are many strengths within charters, particularly Johnson. On the other hand, we all have our weaknesses.

Our strengths are our commitment and dedication. The educators at Johnson realize what is at stake for our learners and we create a learning space to optimize their chances of not only graduating high school, but college as well. We see the end goal for our learners and walk with them along that oftentimes difficult path to success. Our educators realize the greatness within our student body, whereas others wouldn’t. We understand the dedication, including the long grueling hours it takes in a day, and on the weekends to meet the needs of our students.

However, we also know that it doesn’t have to be done in isolation. Our administration team creates a warm and welcoming environment, helping and honoring the strengths of everyone in the building. This translates into a happier staff, which in turn creates happy educators.

However, don’t be deceived. We also have times where we don’t get it right. Within any learning institution there will be moments you don’t shoot “100 for 100.” But, we reflect on those moments as learning experiences to do better.

Charter schools as a whole embody something that is new and revolutionary. Historically, they have done better statistically than public schools, and the public recognizes that. However, I have to be critical about access to quality education. Charters often transform traditional neighborhood schools to just “schools in the neighborhood.” This limits access to quality education the public not only wants, but requires.

This leaves me with one question: How can all children, regardless of race or economic background gain access to quality education?

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British Reynolds

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