Real story: I work in a New Orleans charter school
October 5, 2016
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One year ago,  I wouldn’t have been able to tell you ANYTHING positive about charter school systems because all I’d ever heard was nothing short of a pile up of negativity.

Too strict. Too many white teachers. Too few qualified teachers. Harsh discipline. The list goes on.

And now, I work for one. And I love it.

The Background

During my prior job serving children with a local Mental Health Rehabilitation Agency, I recall the shock I experienced upon entry into certain charter schools. The teachers of color, especially the male ones, were missing. I remember wondering where had all the teachers born and raised in New Orleans gone? I remember feeling worried that the differences between the adults at the front of the classroom and the students in the seats would make it harder for relationships to grow and for kids to learn.

Fast forward and here I am, working in precisely the kind of place I myself had felt uncomfortable visiting. The kind of place about which I had heard nothing but negative stories. I reflected even more on this question after reading a blog written by a former coworker of mine, someone with whom I had developed a good relationship during my first year.

In the blog, my former colleague depicts ASA as nothing more than an institution that ill-prepares kids for success beyond high school as a result of unrealistic goals and ideals. The piece was saturated in assertions about poor college persistence, unqualified and ill-equipped teaching staff, and questionable discipline practices. It was riddled with reports of grief and harm. There were no bright spots to be found. This was particularly troubling to me because I had just written about positive changes happening in the school that were helping to build stronger community ties and improve students’ high school experience.Education Post even ran my piece and yet here was someone saying the opposite.

Now I’ll be the first to admit, there was a time I agreed with some of what my colleagues had to say. But I also know that scandal is more entertaining than improvement and progress and it was too bad that he didn’t include any of the good with the bad.

The Joy I Feel Doing this Work

With the bad rap New Orleans charter schools get, where does it leave those of us who are employed by the very system that so many don’t trust?  This job, at a charter school, is without a doubt  the most fulfilling job I have had since graduating from college. And while it definitely becomes overwhelming at times, it brings me such joy. My soul is fed by seeing my students demonstrate their learning of not only classroom content, but of life.

It is why I do this work.

As a member of the school culture and discipline team, I feel pride when I see my students working hard to utilize their coping skills to manage conflict.

It is why I do this work.

I celebrate the moments when students come to find me just to make sure I know that they’ve gone the whole day without being asked to leave class because they’ve been so on task.

It is why I do this work.

And there is nothing that comes close to the emotions that fill my heart on graduation day.

They are why I do this work.

We Are the Solution

When I ask myself whether or not I am a part of the problem or the solution, I believe wholeheartedly that I am part of the solution. And although I may be a small fish in a big pond, I stand on my faith that with persistence, confidence, and fearlessness. I plant the seeds needed to help leadership teams, teachers, students, and their families to think differently.

91 percent of our children attend charter schools. So while parents and community members may not always trust us, we, as educators and New Orleanians must help to bridge the gap between the charter community, the families they serve, and the community as a whole. Only then will we all be a part of the solution.

We must get this right. We owe it to our community. We owe it to our children. And as a mother of a son who will soon be entering the New Orleans public school system, I owe it to him.


Danielle Sanders is an educator in New Orleans. The post was republished from Second Line Blog.

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