Pros and Cons of Teaching at a Charter School
Teachers exploring their employment options may find themselves deciding between a charter school or a more traditional public school. While weighing their options, they might wonder which type of school offers a better combination of environment and opportunity.
In the end, the answer depends on what the individual teacher expects, requires and feels comfortable with for his or her working environment. Would-be educators should examine the following pros and cons of a charter school position when making their decision.
Pro: An empowering environment
The typical charter school endows its teaching staff with more say in the school’s goings-on than a traditional public school. The more intimate environment can help establish a “family” atmosphere among teachers and administrators, and teachers may experience more leeway regarding their curriculum and teaching style while feeling empowered to give input on aspects of school operation. This sense of ownership and involvement extends to the relationships teachers can form with their students, allowing them to pay closer attention to each student’s success.
Con: Potential for overwork
The openness to teacher input may translate into a voracious demand for teacher hours. In an article written for Scholastic.com, Caralee Adams cites the example of Boston’s MATCH Charter Public School in which teachers commonly put in 60 to 80 hours of work each week. Charter schools in their first year of operation can prove particularly demanding in this respect. Young, ambitious teachers may respond to this grueling schedule with everything from exhilaration to burnout or resentment, and many may opt to leave the profession altogether.
Pro: ‘At-will’ employment
Although the NYSED (New York State Education Department) Charter School Office states that a charter school members may accept union membership, charter schools themselves are under no requirement to unionize, meaning that most of them offer “at will” employment. While this condition gives the school administration the power to dismiss a teacher without advance notice for any reason, it also gives the teacher flexibility to resign a position without penalty or legal repercussions. Young teachers still looking for their long-term career or geographic “home” may find this consideration attractive. Teachers who opt not to belong to a union will also retain more money in their paychecks by not having to pay union dues.
Con: A smaller paycheck
The savings on union fees, if they apply, may not offset the fact that most charter schools offer lower salaries than their traditional public-school counterparts. Adams notes that charter school teachers tend to earn 10 to 15 percent less than they might get elsewhere, regardless of their experience level. Many charter schools lack the financial resources to compensate for this inequity with a strong benefits package. They may not take part in a teacher retirement program or offer full health insurance coverage for entire families. This shortfall may seem particularly harsh in light of the longer hours charter schools tend to require from their teachers.
Pro: Plenty of opportunities
Demand for qualified teachers remains high, and charter schools are searching for the best. According to Adams, 300 to 400 new schools launch each year, for a current estimated total of 4,300 nationwide. Beth Fertig, writing for WYNC Schoolbook, reports that more than 133,000 applicants battled for 14,600 seats in New York City’s charter schools in 2012. This boom in popularity makes charter schools a safe bet for young teachers entering the job market. As the popularity continues to spread across the U.S., teachers may find themselves with plenty of location and relocation options as well.
Con: Management and quality uncertainties
Unfortunately, the same relative autonomy that gives charter schools such flexibility, and that provides teachers with so many opportunities for direct student involvement, also means that quality of management can vary wildly from school to school. A mismanaged school under an incompetent board of directors can lead to a substandard curriculum, inadequate teaching materials and a high level of both parent and teacher dissatisfaction. This lack of quality control, coupled with the aforementioned compensation issues, can lead to a high turnover rate among the teaching staff.