What “Choice Schools” Should Be.
I teach in a “Choice School” in Dallas Independent School District and despite some recent positive media recognition for my classroom I’m actually struggling mightily. I anticipated teaching at a school where students and parents chose to attend would mean better behaved, more conscientious, more motivated, more mature students who could perform at grade level. I had the false notion that families opting into a different school implied some kind of agency that meant I wouldn’t have to deal with the challenges of the urban neighborhood schools I’d taught in before. Simply put I thought students would be easier manage and teach because their families had made a conscious decision.
This was a foolish expectation and its rooted in a popular perception of what choice schools are supposed to be or represent. I have a lot of teacher friends who teach in a variety of settings, and I’ve heard from many of them that choice schools, these are also called charter schools, get to hand pick their students and weed out bad apples. Thats the perception — good kids go to charter schools and neighborhood schools are tougher because they don’t have any say over the student profile. Charter schools are easier to teach in because the students are “better” and don’t have the issues students in neighborhood schools have or because the student body is smaller. It’s true some charter schools might selectively recruit and counsel out students with behavior problems, or implement zero tolerance discipline policies. Again, these are policies and attitudes that are rooted in a misperception of what choice schools are supposed to be or represent.
My students come from a variety of backgrounds. They are black, white, hispanic, and asian. Some of them are middle class, but most of them of socio-economically disadvantaged. They are weird, they struggle to manage their emotions, they struggle to communicate in productive ways, they are frequently off-task or disengaged or unmotivated, they are angry, they can be aggressive and rude and impolite, many of them do not complete assignments on time or at all. That doesn’t mean they’re not good kids because they are. None of them are perfect,and none of them fit into neighborhood school because neighborhood schools aren’t for all kids. Thats what school choice means. Choice schools should have a diverse student body with teachers who are ready to meet kids where they’re at wherever that may be. Kids everywhere need intensive social-emotional coaching and academic intervention, and if they aren’t getting that at a neighborhood school they should be able to go somewhere where they can. That should be the role of choice schools and they should be open to every single student regardless of their prior history.
I’m struggling because I wasn’t ready for that and I had the misperceptions I mentioned earlier. I was ready for the small class sizes and motivated students that so many teachers, students, and families falsely associate with choice schools. I wasn’t ready to have tough conversations with kids and coach them through a variety of issues. Now I’m burnt out and realizing I wasn’t a great fit for this gig, but maybe someone will read this and we can reframe the conversation and make choice schools everywhere more responsive to student needs and a better solution within a range of solutions for the problems in our educational system.